Lost in the afterglow of how the Browns drafted is what the rest of the AFC North did last weekend in the annual National Football League college lottery. The division got stronger.
The defending champion Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals all had strong showings, arguably better than the Browns, who nevertheless remain favored to win their first division title since the return in 1999.
The Ravens provided second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson with some new weapons; the Steelers made moves attempting to replace Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Ryan Shazier; and the Bengals made significant improvement along the offensive line.
Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin beefed up a Ravens wide receivers corps that lacked serious speed last season, and Justice Hill joins free agent signee Mark Ingram Jr. to form a much stronger offensive backfield.
The Steelers jumped up to No. 10 to grab Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, who will be plugged into the hole created by the unfortunate injury to Shazier; MAC receiver Diontae Johnson was taken to replace Brown, another MAC receiver; and Benny Snell, a running back, has already ingratiated himself by requesting to wear Bell’s old No. 26.
The Steelers also snatched cornerback Justin Layne, a Clevelander (Benedictine High School) who should have been drafted by the Browns, three selections after Cleveland took Sione Takitaki in round three.
The Bengals, who can’t do any worse than last season’s basement finish, improved their offensive line with tackle Jonah Williams and center/guard Michael Jordan from Ohio State. Linebacker Germaine Pratt and tackle Renell Wren upgrade the defense.
It’s entirely possible the AFC North will be one of the strongest and most competitive divisions in the entire NFL this season after some wise drafting by the aforementioned trio of teams.
* * *
John Dorsey really meant it when during the pre-draft meeting he had with the media said, “You can’t have enough cornerbacks on your team to move this thing.” Seeing is believing.
The Browns currently list 11 cornerbacks and six safeties on the roster, numbers that are likely to increase when the general manager fills out the roster by the time training camp rolls around.
* * *
Third-round picks continue to confound Dorsey since arriving in Cleveland. The man who took Kareem Hunt in the third round while GM of the Kansas City Chiefs a few years ago drafted defensive end Chad Thomas and Takitaki in that round the last two Browns drafts.
Thomas hardly saw the field last season, but the Dorsey remains confident the pick will pay off. “I think Chad is a very talented football player,” he said. “Usually, guys in their second year make exponential strides and growth.
“I see him getting a lot of playing time this year. I can see him getting some rotational playing time and really developing into a really good football player.” Worth keeping an eye on, especially with the Olivier Vernon trade with New York.
* * *
Among the attributes that attracted the Browns to Takitaki were his motor, his explosive hitting, his speed and the fact he runs around a lot. Sounds undisciplined to me. The converted defensive end is just learning how to play linebacker.
* * *
From the department of “wish I hadn’t said that” (future edition) come these gems from new Browns cornerback Greedy Williams after the Browns drafted him in round two Friday night:
“I know one thing: The Browns are going to the Super Bowl this year. That’s a fact.” And: “John Dorsey has done a great job of getting the right guys in the right positions. I feel like this team will be the Super Bowl champs this year.” Then: “This team will be the Super Bowl champs. We’re going through the whole league, We’re definitely making the Super Bowl.” And finally: Omigod. Me and Denzel (Ward), we are going to tear up the league.”
The last time we heard “tear up the league,” it was uttered by Johnny Manziel all those years ago and we all saw how that turned out.
* * *
Duke Johnson Jr. is not an ex-Brown yet, having survived draft weekend. The guess here is the Browns will hang on to him until Hunt comes off the suspended list for the final eight games of the season.
* * *
What attracted Dorsey to kicker Austin Seibert in the fifth round? It certainly couldn’t have been the four field goals (in nine attempts) between the 40 and 49 the last three years. Or his one-for-three in 50-yards plus attempts.
The young man is nails from 45 yards in. But this is the NFL, where field goals from 50-plus yards are expected. Seibert was a much better punter at Oklahoma.
* * *
Finally . . . Dorsey must be satisfied with his defensive front, passing on a defensive lineman in the draft. Ditto the wide receivers. . . . Ten trades were consummated in the draft’s second round. . . . With draft choices like Sheldrick Redwine and Sione Takitaki, wondering why the Browns didn’t draft Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo or sign him as a free agent. . . . The Westgate Super Book in Las Vegas predicts the Browns won’t make the playoffs for the 17th season in a row. Tempted to take that bet.