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Watch That Rookie! AFC North One’s To Watch

In line with our weekly podcast, I wanted to put together a post detailing each rookie signing, and the one I would look our for on each roster. Some will obviously be the first round superstar, but some have interesting prospects a little further down the order, who could turn out to be great additions to the corresponding NFL teams. This week we’re looking at the AFC North…

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

  • 1 (24) Najee Harris – Alabama RB
  • 2 (23) Pat Freiermuth – Penn StateTE
  • 3 (24) Kendrick Green – Illinois C
  • 4 (23) Dan Moore Jr. – Texas A&M OT
  • 4 (35) Buddy Johnson – Texas A&M ILB
  • 5 (12) Isaiahh Loudermilk – Wisconsin DT
  • 6 (32) Quincy Roche Miami – OLB
  • 7 (18) Tre Norwood – Oklahoma CB
  • 7 (27) Pressley Harvin III – Georgia Tech P

The Steelers had an… interesting draft, in which we didn’t quite see them address the offensive line as we expected they should. We talked about this during the AFC North in depth division breakdown podcast this week, which is a total belter, you should listen to that…

Rookie to Watch: Najee Harris – HB

I can’t see a scenario where life is going to be easy for Najee Harris in year one. As a fantasy team owner, I know he’s young and exciting and was totally dominant in college, but he is moving to a team with the third worst run game last season, and the second worst run blocking offensive line. That offensive line then lost three starters and replaced them with downgrades.

HOWEVER. Najee Harris is still very capable of changing the way the Steelers look on offence. What he achieved in college is incredible, and his combination of power and pure athleticism will translate to the pro’s. There was a lot of pressure on the pass game last season, which ultimately cost Pittsburgh a playoff push, because they couldn’t run the ball. With James Conner out of the picture, and Benny Snell not showing enough ability to play the starting role, the Steelers obviously felt it priority enough to choose running back before any other team did.

Najee will start week 1, he’ll get a tonne of carries, the question is not his ability or superstar potential. I’d love to see him ball out as a rookie, and that’s what makes him Pittsburghs most interesting prospect. If he can do it under duress, with a defensive line in his face all season, then he really is going to be more special than any of us think he might be to this point. It’s also already been confirmed that the Steelers would like to split him out as a receiver, which is odd, but I guess why not. Najee Harris is a capable pass catcher and great with the ball in his hands! Keep an eye on him this year. I just hope Pittsburgh aren’t about to waste two years of his rookie deal with a terrible offensive line feeding him to the wolves week in week out.

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

  • 1 (27) Rashod Bateman – Minnesota WR
  • 1 (31) Odafe Oweh – Penn State OLB
  • 3 (31) Ben Cleveland – Georgia OG
  • 3 (41) Brandon Stephens – SMU CB
  • 4 (26) Tylan Wallace – Oklahoma State WR
  • 5 (16) Shaun Wade – Ohio State – CB
  • 5 (27) Daelin Hayes – Notre Dame DE
  • 5 (40) Ben Mason – Michigan FB

Rookie To Watch: Ben Cleveland – OG

I love Rashod Bateman and what he will offer to the Ravens. He’s a genuine number one receiver. In fact, the Ravens had an extraordinary draft, with the value of Shaun Wade in the 5th round, the undrafted free agent signing of safety Ar’Darius Washington, and Tylan Wallace will be a real contributor as a receiver too.

However, the Ravens are a run heavy team, and that’s why Ben Cleveland is the man to watch from this years draft class. This one is almost like a homage to Tom, who if you listen to the podcast regularly, you’ll know has an extreme love for the linemen. Ben Cleveland, who apparently catches squirrels in his back garden… is a total mauler in the run game. He’s a beast. 6 foot 6, and 355 pounds of power. Coming out of Georgia, who are notorious for their run game and offensive linemen, Baltimore have got themselves a good one here, who I can see playing a starting role at guard as the season progresses. Potentially a long term replacement for legendary guard Marshall Yanda.

PODCAST: AFC NORTH SEASON PREVIEW

AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

  • 1 (5) Ja’Marr Chase – LSU WR
  • 2 (14) Jackson Carman – Clemson OT
  • 3 (5) Joseph Ossai – Texas DE
  • 4 (6) Cameron Sample – Tulane DE
  • 4 (17) Tyler Shelvin – LSU DT
  • 4 (34) D’Ante Smith – East Carolina OT
  • 5 (5) Evan McPherson – Florida PK
  • 6 (6) Trey Hill – Georgia C
  • 6 (18) Chris Evans – Michigan RB
  • 7 (7) Wyatt Hubert – Kansas State DE

Rookie To Watch: Ja’Marr Chase – WR

The obvious choice. What Tee Higgins did as a rookie, with a rookie QB last year is under appreciated. He took over as the primary target, allowing an ageing AJ Green to finally move on, and land with the Cardinals. It looked as though Joe Burrow settled really well, and with a shambles of an offensive line still managed to rank 22nd amongst all Quarterbacks until he got hurt. Burrow is going to be fine and Bengals fans should be excited.

The addition of Ja’Marr Chase, who he knows about as well as anybody in terms of chemistry and quarterback to receiver timing, is only going to elevate Joe Burrow’s ability further. The issue is still the offensive line, but on plays where Burrow does have time and isn’t getting hit, he’ll connect with Chase & Higgins beautifully. Ja’Marr Chase could easily be a 1100 yard 12 touchdown rookie for the Bengals, and the LSU receivers could go back to back on offensive rookie of the year.

AFC North: Cleveland Browns

  • 1 (26) Greg Newsome II – Northwestern CB
  • 2 (20) Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – Notre Dame ILB
  • 3 (28) Anthony Schwartz – Auburn WR
  • 4 (5) James Hudson – Cincinnati OT
  • 4 (27) Tommy Togiai – Ohio State DT
  • 5 (9) Tony Fields II – West Virginia ILB
  • 5 (25) Richard LeCounte – Georgia S
  • 6 (27) Demetric Felton – UCLA WR

Rookie To Watch: Anthony Schwartz – WR

First round pick Greg Newsome is going to find himself targeted a lot. Denzel Ward is a great corner, and will cause QBs to look at the other side of the field. That doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t hold up, or rise to the challenge, but it’s notoriously difficult to be great in the NFL in your rookie year, and even more difficult as a cornerback. Vet QBs go right at you, receivers will challenge you at every turn, it’s tough. I do also LOVE the Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah pick in round two, who was a victim of the draft day slide. Koramoah had a heart scare come up in one of his pre draft examinations, and as a result dropped down the order. That scare has since been cleared, and the Browns get themselves a first round talent in round two. I think he could be great there too, in a roaming linebacker role.

All that being said, the most intriguing prospect for the Browns here is Anthony Schwartz (pictured above). I want to see how Kevin Stefanski plans to utilise him. He’s unlike anything they currently have. The Browns were elite on offence last year. Baker had a career year, Stefanski continued to prove how great he is as an offensive mind, but none of the receivers they have possess track star speed. Anthony Schwartz does. Growing up a track athlete, the transition to football was one he had to debate with himself. But he can run in the 4.2s on a good day. Adding somebody like that to Stefanski’s weaponry could be very interesting. Consider the Mecole Hardman role in the Chiefs offence. Lot’s of screens, returns, end arounds, jet sweeps, all of that. Get the ball in his hands and cause mayhem. This is a high upside pick, and could compliment the receiving cast of OBJ, Jarvis Landry, Higgins and Peoples-Jones. Schwartz brings a different dynamic.

You can find all draft picks by team here!

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