The AFC North was right in the middle of the flurry of first round activity in the 2012 NFL Draft. It started with the Cleveland Browns trading up one spot an hour before the draft began and finished with the Baltimore Ravens trading out of the first round altogether. Here's a rundown on how we saw the picks from each of the AFC North teams. Rather than grading with letters at this early stage, we'll award each team a pass, fail or incomplete.
Cincinnati Bengals: Pass. The Bengals got their cornerback at 17 in Alabama's Dre' Kirkpatrick. At 6'2" with a 30-inch wing span, Kirkpatrick gives the Bengals a physical presence at corner they don't have in their stable of defensive backs. He lacks great ball skills, but as head coach Marvin Lewis told Andy Furman this morning, that's something he can learn. He also gives the Bengals some security at the position with Leon Hall's recovery still in doubt and three free agents coming up after this season.
Many, including Bengals 101, coveted Stanford guard David DeCastro at 21. After the Bengals traded down with the Patriots and allowed division rival Pittsburgh to select DeCastro, we were left scratching our heads. Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler, however, is the player the Bengals' staff really wanted. They graded Zeitler even with DeCastro and liked his versatility to slide over to play center if necessary. Zeitler's run blocking skills are unquestioned and a tremendous upgrade from last season. If he can solidify his pass blocking, the Bengals will have a great player there, plus the additional third rounder picked up in the trade.
Cleveland Browns: Pass. Barely. The Browns gave up three picks to move up into the Vikings slot to ensure they got Alabama RB Trent Richardson. The picks weren't premium, so that move was worth it. Richardson is regarded as the best back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson. He gives the Browns a home run threat at the position that they haven't had there in a long, long time. Outside of Ray Rice, the Browns now have the best running back in the division.
With their 22nd pick, the Browns took Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. Sources say the Browns really wanted Baylor WR Kendall Wright there, but the Titans took him at 20. Weeden has better quarterbacking skills than incumbent Colt McCoy, but he's 29 years old and will have to adapt to learning the West Coast offense. Weeden is probably a long-term upgrade from McCoy, but by how much? Would the Browns have been better off addressing their offensive line or receiver problems there and getting another QB prospect later, or even deciding to stick with McCoy for now and looking at next year's crop of QBs? Probably so.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pass. The Steelers were going to get a very good player to rebuild their aging team. They were high on Alabama's LB Dont'a Hightower, but when David DeCastro dropped to their slot, they couldn't pass him up. The Steelers have been trying to replace Alan Faneca since he bolted to the Jets in 2008. They just did. He and Maurkice Pouncey will combine to make Pittsburgh's interior line very strong once again.
Baltimore Ravens: Incomplete. The Ravens didn't have either player they wanted at 29, so they traded out of the round. They wanted Hightower as an eventual replacement for Ray Lewis, but New England moved up into the Bengals' position to get him. They also coveted Zeitler to replace the departed Ben Grubbs. Cincinnati got him. The Ravens have multiple picks in the second, fourth and fifth rounds to address these needs. if they don't hit their targets there, this could be a bad draft for them.
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