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Bold Predictions for the 2020 NFL Draft Class: AFC North Edition

Part Two of our Eight Part mini series recaps the NFL draft classes from the teams in the AFC North. The Cincinnati Bengals went into the weekend as the talk of the town for this division. They had the number one overall pick, they were guaranteed to land their franchise quarterback in Joe Burrow, and because of all the talent in the draft class, their first pick on day two was going to be a stud.

However, there is no question that the Baltimore Ravens exited the draft as the real winners. As they so often do, General Manager Eric Decosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh found a way to scoop up talented players throughout the draft process. The defending AFC North Champions are ready to roll once again.

Nevertheless, the NFL Draft brings all fan bases a sense of hope. As fans, the NFL Draft is the moment where the previous season is in the past, and the new season is upon us. Each fan base believes that the players selected in the draft will help their team in future seasons and beyond. The Ravens may have had a great draft, but every team in the division has a restored sense of belief that this will be their year to reach the promise land.

So which team did the most in this division to challenge Baltimore in 2020? What player will succeed in their new system, despite being disliked by the draft media? Which player will fail, despite being a media darling for the majority of the draft process? Who had the deepest draft, who had the weakest draft, and what team was able to find their next superstar?

Here are the NFL draft recaps and bold predictions for the teams in the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

The Selections: Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins, Justin Madubuike, Devin Duvernay, Malik Harrison, Tyre Phillips, Ben Bredeson, Broderick Washington Jr., James Proche, Geno Stone

How do the Baltimore Ravens steal the show every year? The Ravens found the three down linebacker they desperately needed in round one with Patrick Queen. Queen has incredible sideline to sideline speed, and has elite ability in coverage. He reads and reacts well from zone, but he can also man up tight ends and running backs.

Speaking of running backs, the Ravens somehow landed the best one in the draft. People slept on JK Dobbins during the entire draft process. He’s just as shifty in the open field as D’Andre Swift, he can catch the ball out of the backfield despite some drops, and he is a home run waiting to happen every time he touches it. This dude is going to be a star in Baltimore.

Eric Decosta even found starters in the later portions of the draft. He stole Justin Madubuike in round three following a trade down. Madubuike should have been picked much earlier because of his disruptive nature in the passing game. Next, Decosta found another starting linebacker in Malik Harrison. Harrison’s transition to the NFL will be much easier in Baltimore because he won’t play on third down. While he improved in zone coverage during his time at Ohio State, his strength is still playing downhill against the run. As if that were not enough, he scooped up Ben Bredeson on day three. Bredeson’s intelligence and ability to gain leverage at the point of attack could help him earn a starting role out of camp despite being a day three selection.

Bold Prediction: JK Dobbins Leads the League in Rushing Before the End of his Rookie Deal

Originally, this prediction was simply that Dobbins would be the top fantasy football running back among rookies for the 2020 season. However, that’s not too bold. Dobbins will split carries right away with Mark Ingram, and it could be a scenario where Dobbins shines early like Alvin Kamara did with Ingram as his wing man in New Orleans.

Instead, we’re going for the jugular here. Dobbins is a perfect fit in the Ravens offense. With Lamar Jackson under center, the offense is going to be very reminiscent of the one he just left at Ohio State. A lot of zone reads, and simple decisions for the running backs in terms of cuts between the tackles. Once you hit the hole, it’s time to turn and go.

Dobbins is the best open field player in the draft class because of his top end speed. He’s just as shifty as D’Andre Swift, but the separation between the two is their ability to break the 40+ yard gain. When you put Dobbins into this loaded rushing attack the Ravens have created, it’s going to be amazing to watch.

Even if this prediction is off, buy as much stock of JK Dobbins as you can in any fantasy football league you play in. The former Buckeye is going to be a star in the NFL. The Ravens killed the NFL draft, and this pick is one of many great ones.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Selections: Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Khalid Kareem, Hakeem Adeniji, Markus Bailey

The worst kept secret of the nfl draft was the Bengals selecting Joe Burrow first overall. It got so bad that Cincinnati just stopped hiding it, and told Burrow he would be the first overall selection before the draft actually started.

Having said that, the concern is that the Bengals do not have the pieces to make Burrow successful. Truthfully, the argument can be made both ways. On the one hand, the Bengals weapons are much better than people realize. Not only do the Bengals get A.J. Green back, but they added Tee Higgins to play opposite him during the draft. Tyler Boyd, who was the top option in Cincy last year, is now in his proper role as a primary slot receiver. Also, Joe Mixon is still one of the better running backs in the league. Lastly, their offensive line should be much better. The Bengals will finally get to see what Jonah Williams can bring to the table. Last year’s first round selection missed all of 2019 with a torn labrum.

The counterargument is, just how good are all those pieces? When healthy, Green is one of the top receivers in football. The problem is, the last time he was truly healthy, Burrow was in a training camp battle at Ohio State. Even with Williams coming back, the offensive line is still subpar. The right side of the line is a mess, and most of the starters from last year’s debacle are still there.

While many believe Burrow has the talent to restore order in Cincinnati, the questions surrounding this offense could hinder his growth out of the gate. If the Bengals can keep Joe Burrow upright, he should blossom into the franchise quarterback this team has been missing.

Bold Prediction: Each of the Bengals First Four Draft Picks Start Week One

On the surface, this may look extremely bold. However, when you go more in depth, it’s actually a fairly tame prediction.

Burrow and Higgins are locks. The Bengals do not have any reason to sit Joe Burrow right away. He’s mature, calm in the pocket, and shows the ability to make proper reads. Similar to Burrow, the Bengals need Higgins to produce right away. Higgins has to take pressure off of Green and Boyd as the team’s “Z receiver.” He will see plenty of one-on-one coverage early in his career. His ability at the catch point, as well as his catch radius, should help him make those reps count.

Even Logan Wilson feels like a lock. Wilson is a thumper in the middle of the defense. He plays under control when moving downhill. Wilson generally fills the proper lane against the run, and he stays composed on plays that go outside the tackles. The question for Wilson at the next level is his athleticism and ability in coverage. Even though he shows good instincts in zone, he may lack the athleticism to make the plays at the next level. Despite his limitations, Wilson should start at the strong side linebacker spot of the Bengals defense.

Therefore, this pick really hinges upon one player; Akeem Davis-Gaither. Davis-Gaither is a great athlete with terrific sideline-to-sideline range. His ability in coverage is also a strength. He is a perfect weakside linebacker in the NFL, which is something the Bengals are missing. The question will be how quickly he can pick up the playbook, and if he can disengage from blockers in the run game.

As you can see, this prediction is not as bold as you may have thought. In fact, it’s probably more of a spoiler than a prediction.

Cleveland Browns

The Selections: Jedrick Wills Jr., Grant Delpit, Jordan Elliott, Jacob Phillips, Harrison Bryant, Nick Harris, Donovan Peoples-Jones

The Browns had two primary needs heading into the 2020 NFL Draft. They had to find their left tackle of the present, and the future, with the 10th overall selection. They also needed to find an impact safety amidst a surprisingly quality safety class.

Fortunately for Cleveland, they accomplished both tasks in their first two selections. Jedrick Wills was the top tackle among many mock draft analysts. He strikes with power and precision in both the run game, as well as in pass sets. Wills is light on his feet, and adept at getting to the second level. He was the safest of the four tackles, even though all of the tackles are going to be studs.

Delpit fell down the draft board because of a lackluster 2019 campaign at LSU. Even though he battled injury, Delpit’s missed tackles and poor angles to the football showed up way too much on tape last season.

Having said that, Delpit is a game wrecker when he’s right. He makes impact plays close to the line of scrimmage. Delpit flies sideline to sideline, and has good range when he’s playing cover one or cover two in the back end of the defense. His game is very reminiscent of former LSU star Jamal Adams, which is why many think the Browns got a steal with Delpit in round two.

Bold Prediction: Grant Delpit is a Bust

The problem that Delpit has at the next level is the system he went to. During this offseason, the Browns added Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo to their secondary on one year deals. Of those two players, Joseph is much more likely to start, which means Delpit is going to play the cover one/cover three free safety position.

This presents the issue. Delpit is much better when he’s playing closer to the line of scrimmage. He can rush the passer off the edge, he fills the right lanes against the run, and his athleticism is on full display when he’s attacking the football.

When he’s in the single high spot, some of his flaws are magnified. For example, Delpit sometimes struggles to take the right angle to the ball from the deep safety spot. He also has that tendency when he’s the last line of defense versus a ball carrier. Not to mention, Karl Joseph isn’t going to help him much as a cover safety, because Joseph also plays close to the line of scrimmage.

In reality, this bold call is probably a stretch. Even if Delpit is playing a lot of cover one and cover three during 2020, he can move to his more natural position of a traditional in-the-box safety in the future. However, if Delpit’s struggles with tackling and angles continue, he will not be successful no matter what position he’s put in.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Selections: Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, Anthony McFarland Jr., Kevin Dotson, Antoine Brooks Jr., Carlos Davis

The Steelers draft class is less than stellar, but we have to remember that their first round selection is Minkah Fitzpatrick. Pittsburgh acquired Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins last season, and he completely changed their defense. He makes impact plays all over the field, and that impact on the Steelers secondary was immeasurable in 2019.

When you look at the actual selections, the Steelers tried to address a few future needs with their selections. Chase Claypool could become their number two receiver when he becomes a better route runner. His athleticism is tremendous, and he makes plays down the field. Alex Highsmith could be the edge rushing replacement for Bud Dupree after this year. Highsmith is also a great athlete, and it shows when he turns the corner as a pass rusher. His technique needs to be refined, particularly his ability to counter-punch as a pass rusher. Still, there is enough there for him to develop into a quality edge player on passing downs.

Anthony McFarland, Antoine Brooks and Carlos Davis all have the chance to be situational depth pieces for multiple years as well. The guy that is particularly intriguing is McFarland. Had it not been for injuries, McFarland could have heard his name called on day two. He’s elusive in the open field, and a big play waiting to happen. McFarland adds a nice compliment to James Conner in the immediate future.

Bold Prediction: None of the Steelers’ 2020 Draft Picks Earn Second Contracts with the Team

Let’s call a spade a spade; this nfl draft class ain’t it. Claypool was a combine wonder with limited production on tape. Now that’s not always a death sentence, but when all you have is one route, it kind of is. Donovan Peoples-Jones was deemed to be a player in a similar vein. Many thought Peoples-Jones was open a lot on tape, and just didn’t have a quarterback to get he fell to the sixth round. Claypool in round two always felt like a stretch, and his production will probably never warrant his selection. This doesn’t mean Claypool won’t have a solid career, it’s just unlikely he warrants that big second contract from a team.

That last statement also applies to Alex Highsmith. Highsmith is going to be a quality rotational pass rusher during his career in the NFL. The issue as far as earning a second contract, is what happens if the Steelers opt to pay Bud Dupree? Highsmith becomes an expendable piece at the end of his rookie deal.

The depth picks on day three also have limitations moving forward. McFarland’s injury history is too great to ignore, and the rest are likely depth pieces that eventually go by the wayside.

Overall, the Steelers 2020 NFL draft should be recapped in a simple statement; Minkah Fitzpatrick, and a bunch of rotational depth pieces.

Jordan Katz
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