2021 NFL Draft: Reviewing the AFC North
Updated: 5 days ago
It’s the turn of the AFC North today as we continue to review the 2021 NFL Draft classes around the NFL. The AFC East has been covered here, and the AFC West here.
As part of the 35 episode journey we started on the NFL Draft Punk Podcast we covered a lot and it only feels fitting to give my own opinions on this year's picks per division in a staggered article that will be regularly updated. There will be no grades here, they can only realistically be evaluated further in the future, but we can all have opinions, right?
So, without further ado let's run through by division in order of draft hauls I liked, taking into account the UDFA market also...let’s get into it.
Editor’s note: Links above will become active as divisional articles are published.
R1 (26): CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
R2 (52): LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
R3 (91): WR Anthony Schwartz, Auburn
R4 (110): OT James Hudson, Cincinnati
R4 (132): DI Tommy Togiai, Ohio State
R5 (153): LB Tony Fields II, West Virginia
R5 (169): S Richard LeCounte, Georgia
R6 (211): RB Demetric Felton, UCLA
Fave Pick: Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah; I had “JOK” as my second overall linebacker. He has outstanding versatility playing as the overhang defender to pick up the running back out of the backfield with an option to blitz, which he does really well and gets to top speed quickly. His instincts in coverage are the best among the position in this class. However, all his reps for Notre Dame were in the “Rover” specialised role meaning he was aligned in the slot or outside the tackle and hence not in any way in the traditional sense of the linebacker position. However, the role put a lot on his plate from a diagnosis level and despite being ultra-light for a linebacker in the NFL a creative coordinator can use Owusu-Koramoah in a number of ways effectively. He also hits like a bull, so much so that a clever person at Notre Dame decided to try and make a Good Will Hunting style equation out of it… Cleveland come out of the second round with two Top-25 players.
Least Fave Pick: Richard LeCounte; I don’t dislike any Browns picks but if forced to select one, I wasn’t high on the Georgia deep field man. I felt he was restricted in his coverage range and an inconsistent tackler, but his willingness to come downhill and make plays combined with a resolute toughness playing through injury gives him some upside. The Cleveland safety room is fairly loaded so this feels like a Special Teams addition. The value feels about right too.
Late Round Steal: Demetric Felton; The UCLA receiver/running back has a tough job getting on a loaded offensive roster, but he could be used as an “X Factor” on designed plays making use of his skillset. A former running back turned receiver in Chip Kelly’s spread offense led the PAC-12 in 2020 in all-purpose yards and really caught the attention at the Senior Bowl by excelling in both rushing and receiving reps. Lacking ideal height and weight may limit him but in a season where the Brown (yes the Browns) are challenging it’s good to have an explosive playmaker on the roster.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Marvin Wilson; Before the start of the 2020 season Marvin Wilson was in (way too early) mocks. His talent alone put him in this spot, huge and powerful at the point of attack with an added side portion of violence (watch him destroy Mekhi Becton in 2019 vs Louisville). The reasons he was undrafted is really unknown, with rumblings of attitude, weight issues, decline in play and outspoken on current affairs. If Cleveland can get him in the building and get the best out of him, he’ll be a full time starter by 2022.
Summary: The Browns draft value compared to prospects evaluation is among the best this year. They selected players who can contribute in their first season and I expect all to make the roster. The mid round selections of Tommy Togiai who will cause havoc on the interior and having the luxury to select a prospect who can sit at offensive tackle shows the sudden turnaround and depth of the Brown’s organisation. It’s a shame it took so long to make them relevant with years of bad decisions and mismanagement but they’re now in excellent shape to challenge for the AFC North title in a strong, yet open division. Keep an eye on speedster Anthony Schwartz who boasts legitimate Olympic track speed (yes, quicker than DK Metcalf).
R1 (27): WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
R1 (31): EDGE Odafe Oweh, Penn State
R3 (94): G Ben Cleveland, Georgia
R3 (104): CB Brandon Stephens, SMU
R4 (131): WR Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
R5 (160): CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
R5 (171): EDGE Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame
R5 (184): TE Ben Mason, Michigan
Fave Pick: Odafe Oweh; From his Superman performance at his pro day, Odafe Oweh has had Draftniks salivating at his potential. With a 6’5 frame and long levers combined with a genuine first step to trouble offensive lineman, would pro teams think the same way? The Ravens sat patient at their spot as they always do and picked a player I couldn’t have found a better landing spot for. Oweh’s ability to put stress on lineman in space sets him aside from other rushers in this class. The concerns on finishing will follow him to the Pro game with zero sacks in his final season at (an admittedly poor) Penn State until he proves otherwise. However, Baltimore blitzed more than any team last year and will initially put him in spots to win, scheming him free pass rush opportunities and overloading the offensive line.
Least Fave Pick: Brandon Stephens; Stephens has a bulky muscular frame and is a former running back and only switched to corner two seasons previous. It looks like Baltimore have gone to the same well as the Oweh pick in drafting athletic traits and scores based on potential rather than opting for safer picks. Stephens showed surprising ability in defending the pass with 23 passes defended in two seasons but his career at the next level will require some time and space to develop. Whilst the Ravens addressed immediate needs early, I felt there was better value at the end of the third round.
Late Round Steal: Shaun Wade; If Shaun Wade had opted out of 2020, I wonder where he’d have been drafted? Third round potentially as a slot only corner. No single player saw their profile dip publicly as much as Wade, moving outside from his previous role in the slot which was damaging to his confidence regarding his ability to play the position. You could tell in games how he was terrified of opponents’ speed playing off man coverage by 10 to 15 clear yards. However, there is a player underneath this who’s a willing tackler and has good size for any position in the secondary, and with a loaded corner unit to nurture, I'm betting on the Ravens finding a role and bringing the best out of him.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Ar’Darius Washington; Small in stature, big on character. Trevon Moehrig’s co-safety at TCU has truly outstanding instincts and it has to be size limitations that took him off team’s boards altogether. He powers into tackles and understands route concepts working out of a two-high role. I cannot believe he won’t make the roster.
Summary: It was an initial surprise to see the Ravens omit from addressing the offensive tackle need but it was clear following the signing of Alejandro Villanueva (and conveniently affecting Steelers comp picks) that this was pre planned to the draft. The Ravens have always historically let the board come to them and selected team fits and bargains through the entire draft, this year was no different. Bateman will give them a hugely reliable physical pass catcher over the middle and at the sideline, team him up with Tylan Wallace’s ability to highpoint the ball and the Ravens passing attack may look different and not so one-dimensional next year as long as Jackson can work on his timings on out breaking routes. The addition of Ben Cleveland gives depth along the line although he’ll need some improvement in his footwork at the next level. Ben Mason is as mean and physical as they come at the Fullback/H-Back position. The Ravens have added some nice weapons on both sides of the ball in this draft, whilst player development will be key for Oweh and Wallace this draft goes down as another success for Baltimore.
R1 (5): WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
R2 (46): OT Jackson Carman, Clemson
R3 (69): EDGE Joseph Ossai, Texas
R4 (111): EDGE Cameron Sample, Tulane
R4 (122): DI Tyler Shelvin, LSU
R4 (139): T D'Ante Smith, East Carolina
R5 (149): K Evan McPherson, Florida
R6 (190): C Trey Hill, Georgia
R6 (202): RB Chris Evans, Michigan
R7 (235): EDGE Wyatt Hubert, Kansas State
Fave Pick: Ja’Marr Chase; Whilst I am firmly in camp #DraftSewell I applaud the Bengals for drafting what they considered the best receiver in the draft and building on a strength and by all accounts listening to their franchise QB. The Bengals should be a dangerous team not to be underestimated on offense next season. Joe Burrow and Chase combined for 1,780 receiving yards at 21.2 Yards per reception and 20 TDs in 2019 – half that would be a great opening season for the rookie.
Least Fave Pick: Jackson Carman; The Bengals sat pretty on the board with options at 38. They traded with the Patriots and proceeded to watch Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg and Walker Little fly off the board before their pick at 46. It could be argued that tackle spots are set, and guard was always the need with Carman being selected. Whilst the Clemson Tiger’s own skill set of strength and anchor aligns more with guard especially considering his slow footwork, in three seasons he has never played a snap there. The interior still remains a need for Cincinnati post draft, which considering the hits their QB took last year is not a good look.
Late Round Steal: Chris Evans; The Wolverine was a late riser on draft boards, and as a former 4-star recruit from high school the talent is there. Having only had 25 touches of the ball in the past two seasons after an academic opt out is a concern but the ability and “wow” factor on the pro day are what made this pick, he could be yet another Michigan player who is better in the pros than in Ann Arbor.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Pro Wells; The TCU Horned Frog led the team in receiving TDs in 2020 and lined up in various positions in the offense. He’ll need to develop his game as a blocker to make the roster but his ability to get open quickly and understanding of routes make for a potential depth player who will be overlooked in 1-3 alignments.
Summary: Time will tell whether the most talked about decision outside of the QBs was correct. I personally am on the side of a tackle being more important than a receiver, but analytics will tell a different story. There’s no denying the tantalising options pairing Burrow back with Ja’Marr Chase following LSU’s incredible record-breaking season. Chase’s bully mentality at the catchpoint will give a young receiving corps a physical mentality on an already diverse group. The drafting of a kicker always makes me raise an eyebrow followed by the word “Why?”, but McPherson has a huge leg. The Cam Sample pick is an intriguing one alongside Ossai. Sample is the power rusher who led the AAC in pressures in 2020 and blossomed in Senior Bowl reps whereas Ossai is the speed, effort rusher who’s raw but will earn plenty of fan plaudits for his relentless motor. I am a huge Ossai fan but remain underwhelmed for the fit. Ossai needs refinement and would benefit from aligning in a predominantly 3-4 scheme standing up and building on his inexperienced but accumulated coverage skills. D’Ante Smith was a draft day three darling due to his pro day athleticism and will be groomed behind Riley Reiff who was a savvy Free Agency pickup. I like a lot of the Bengals draft, but key selections at certain positions don’t do it for me. For example, why draft Tyler Shelvin when you have D.J. Reader? The division is a tough, competitive one which relies on draft pressures to get immediate starters and difference makers and outside of round one, I don’t believe they got that.
R1 (24): RB Najee Harris, Alabama
R2 (55): TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
R3 (87): C Kendrick Green, Illinois
R4 (128): OT Dan Moore Jr., Texas A&M
R4 (140): LB Buddy Johnson, Texas A&M
R5 (156): DI Isaiahh Loudermilk, Wisconsin
R6 (216): EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami (FL)
R7 (245): S Tre Norwood, Oklahoma
R7 (254): P Pressley Harvin III, Georgia Tech
Fave Pick: Pat Freiermuth; This is a double-edged sword as I like the pick and match but don’t understand Pittsburgh’s draft strategy. I understand giving Ben Roethlisberger weapons and Freiermuth is unequivocally the second-best tight end in this draft, but they had offensive line options on the board (which could’ve been addressed in the first round; we’ll come onto that). Whilst not a sudden mover, he’ll get open over the middle of the field and will fill that Heath Miller role which was always 7’s safety valve. He’ll be a willing, competent inline blocker too.
Least Fave Pick: A Running Back as the first pick; I really like Najee Harris and I’d love him on my team. He’ll never leave the field and will run all day, has surprising athleticism and safe hands. Pittsburgh’s O-line needs depth and players fighting for roster spots this season. Whilst they needed to diversify the offense and not have the game constantly on their QB’s arm they need to protect him and had ample options in the first round (and second) to do so.
Late Round Steal: Quincy Roche; The loss of Bud Dupree means more playing time for Tyson Alualu and Alex Highsmith but Roche falling to the sixth round was great value. I believe he’s limited based on his lack of burst and bend, but he has really mature hand usage and a quick first step. He had multiple years of production at Temple before transferring to Miami and continued to cause ACC lineman problems. He has a nice inside counter move and will benefit playing opposite established players like he did opposite Jaelan Phillips for the Hurricanes.
UDFA To Make The Roster: Shakur Brown; A surprise UDFA from Michigan State offers superb ball production with six interceptions in his past 12 starts. Like a lot of UDFAs you have to assume his lack of top end speed and burst were his undesirable traits but he has good instincts and is a willing competitor and with Cam Sutton being brought back on a short term deal and an aging Joe Haden, this is a nice landing spot.
Summary: When the Steelers finally did draft an O-lineman they drafted an excellent center prospect, but not one I saw as a match for their scheme. So, are they drafting for now or for the future? Mike Tomlin is one of the best coaches in the NFL and will have this team competitive, but they need to hope their receivers get open and their inexperienced O-line carves open holes for Najee Harris as he’s not a player that will create from behind the line. Finally, the Buddy Johnson and Isaiahh Loudermilk selections were huge overdrafts compared to other talent on the board with both players being limited in role at the next level.