The best way to build a team is through the draft. Teams that are known for being successful in the draft are also known for being successful on the field.
Last season, the AFC North was the best division in football, sending three teams to the playoffs and having all four teams at or above 0.500 for most of the season.
During the second day of the 2015 NFL Draft (rounds two and three), all four AFC North teams had successful nights, finding value across the board.
Round 2 (Pick #51, from Texans): OLB Nate Orchard, Utah
Round 3 (Pick #77): RB Duke Johnson, Miami (FL)
Round 3 (Pick #96, from Patriots): DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State
Starting the night off, the Browns decided to trade down from their original pick with Houston, gaining more draft picks––which later allowed them to trade up with New England. Even with the trade down, Cleveland still landed the player they wanted in Orchard. With 18.5 sacks last year, he was second in the FBS in sacks. Cleveland needed another pass rusher with Jabaal Sheard leaving in free agency.
Despite having Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell on the roster, the Browns selected another running back in Johnson. Mike Pettine wants to run the ball on offense and with no franchise quarterback on the roster, this makes sense. Johnson, West and Crowell will form a great three-man running back committee.
Finishing the night, Cleveland traded up to the last tradable pick––compensatory draft picks can’t be traded––and added their second defensive lineman of the draft. Cooper will play defensive end in the Browns scheme and provides more help to a defense that ranked last in run defense last season. Trading up didn’t leave the Browns without picks, as they still have five picks left.
Overall, Cleveland selected three good players and improved their roster on day two. The only complaint is that they still haven’t drafted a wide receiver since the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
Round 2 (Pick #53): OT Jake Fisher, Oregon
Round 3 (Pick #85): TE Tyler Croft, Rutgers
Round 3 (Pick #99, compensatory pick): LB Paul Dawson, TCU
With their first pick, the Bengals surprised many people by taking their second offensive tackle of the draft. With Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi selected in the first two rounds, the Bengals are now set for the future at tackle, but it surprising to see them take two players who likely won’t see the field as rookies. Fisher was going to be their pick in the first round if Ogbuehi was gone, so the value here is great. Fisher could also slide inside to guard if needed.
Finally taking a player who will play plenty as a rookie, Cincinnati took Croft. The team needed to add a second tight end as Jermaine Gresham is no longer around and Hue Jackson likes to run two tight end sets. Croft is the run blocker that they wanted to compliment Tyler Eifert. Eifert has struggled with injuries during his short career, so Croft may see more playing time than initially expected if Eifert goes down again. I was surprised by this pick as there were multiple talented defensive tackles left on the board who Cincinnati could have taken.
Due to Michael Johnson signing with Tampa Bay in free agency last year, the Bengals had a third round compensatory pick. With this pick, the made their best pick of the night in Paul Dawson. Dawson fell to this spot due to off-the-field issues, but Cincinnati has a good record with players like this. He is a very instinctive linebacker who is always around the ball, even if he isn’t very athletic. He compares very well to current Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Fisher will probably be a backup as a rookie, but Croft and Dawson should see the field and contribute right away for the Bengals.
Round 2 (Pick #55, from Cardinals): TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota
Round 3 (Pick #90): DT Carl Davis, Iowa
As we have come to expect from general manager Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens had arguably the best day two of any team in the draft.
With tight end Dennis Pitta‘s career in question due to a second major hip injury in as many years, they selected the best tight end in the draft in Williams. In order to acquire him, the Ravens traded a fifth round pick to Arizona to jump up a few spots, likely to get ahead of the Steelers. Williams is likely to be a day one starter for the Ravens and will see plenty of the field as a rookie. Quarterback Joe Flacco has shown that he loves to throw to tight ends in his career, so Williams is in a great spot.
At the end of the third round, there were plenty of good players still on the board––especially on the defensive line. Baltimore took one of these players in Davis, who was the best scheme fit of these defensive linemen. If not for questions about his effort, he would have been a much higher selection. At the Senior Bowl, he dominated competition, so he has the potential to be one of the better defensive linemen in the draft.
Baltimore has yet to take a defensive back, which is a big need, but they have addressed other needs so far in the draft while finding great value.
Round 2 (Pick #56): CB Senquez Golson, Mississippi
Round 3 (Pick #87): WR Sammie Coates, Auburn
With the least eventful day two in the AFC North––no trades and two picks––the Steelers sat back and selected two players who should contribute as rookies.
Nobody knows for sure, but it is likely that the Ravens stole Williams away from the Steelers by trading up with the Cardinals. With him off the board, Pittsburgh addressed their biggest need: cornerback. Golson finished second in the FBS last season with 10 interceptions, including one that sealed Mississippi’s upset over Alabama. Frustrating SEC quarterbacks all season, Golson is only 5-foot-9, meaning he is likely going to be limited to slot duties in the NFL. However, he has good talent and would have been a higher pick if he was taller.
Wide receiver wasn’t a major need for the Steelers, but they couldn’t pass up Coates at this point in the draft. Currently, he is limited to a deep threat, but he could develop into a more rounded receiver. Big and fast, he has unteachable traits at receiver. Pittsburgh has been very good at developing wide receivers recently, so it will be interesting to see what the coaching staff can do with him. He compares very well to current Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant––a fourth round pick last year.
Addressing needs in the first and second round, the Steelers were able to take their best player available in the third round in Coates who oozes potential.