AFC North Rookie Report


We have come to the end of rookie mini camp, and OTA’s in the NFL and are upon mandatory mini camps. There are always the usual story lines that pop up; players holding out for bigger contracts, as well as players returning from season-ending injuries. The most intriguing story line however is that this will be the first time rookies will interact with their veteran teammates in meaningful exchanges. It must seem so long ago for these rookies since their big draft days and congratulatory texts from current players welcoming them to the team. What teams want to see is how their first round picks are adjusting to NFL life, and if they will be ready by week one.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Terrell Edmunds, S

Edmunds was not high on anyone’s draft board, especially as a first rounder. However,  the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to grab him with the 28th overall pick. While safety help was an area of need, it may not have been a first round need, as they needed some inside linebacker help with the loss of Ryan Shazier. Edmunds had an average OTA experience, and on the final two days, he dropped two interceptions. This game is all about not missing on the big play, and if Edmunds wants to be a play maker, he’s going to have to hit the jug machine.

Readiness: Backup

Mason Rudolph, QB

While he is not a first round draft pick, Mason Rudolph could be the potential replacement for Ben Roethlisberger in a year or two. Rudolph has all the same physical attributes that Big Ben contains: 6’5″, over 230 pounds, and the ability to extend plays by shrugging off oncoming tacklers. However, if they thought he was a sure bet to be Roethlisberger 2.0, they would have drafted him in the first round.

Roethlisberger made it quite clear that he didn’t approve of the Steelers drafting a quarterback, especially when he feels he can play another few years. However, an athlete’s body can only play for so long at a certain level, and the punishment that Roethlisberger has taken may eventually take him out.

Rudolph needs to develop as an out-of-pocket passer and work on his accuracy.  It will be good for Rudolph to study Roethlisberger’s tape, and even study him during the upcoming sessions.

Readiness: Backup

Cincinnati Bengals

Billy Price, C

The Cincinnati Bengals played it safe with this draft pick by picking up an interior lineman replacement for Russell Bodine. Center Billy Price did suffer a tear to his pectoral during the scouting combine, and hasn’t been able to fully participate in any of the on-field team activities until he is medically cleared. It seems that the Bengals won’t rush his return, and will wait until training camp to make any judgement calls. As a rookie, Price is already a few steps behind his teammates. He is known to have a bit of a mean streak, and that could be a concern for a young player.

Readiness: Immediate Starter

Baltimore Ravens

Hayden Hurst, TE

Hayden Hurst is the oldest rookie to come out of this draft class at 25-years old, but that’s only because he tried his hand at professional baseball previously. His age is a concern when it comes to the NFL, but his big play ability is why the Baltimore Ravens drafted him. The Ravens know how to draft tight ends, and that’s justified by looking at the likes of Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.

Hurst has already developed into an NFL ready player that takes most rookies at least three years to grow into. In addition, he has also been the best tight end pass-catcher on the team so far.

Readiness: Immediate Starter

Lamar Jackson, QB

By selecting one of the two Heisman trophy winners in the first round, the Ravens may have found their quarterback of the future. There is no denying that Lamar Jackson is the most electrifying quarterback in the draft, but he comes into a situation where he doesn’t have to start right away. However, the impact of Jackson is already being felt, as Baltimore has attempted to line him all over the offensive side of the ball to see how they can best utilize him, while Joe Flacco is labeled as the go-to guy.

It will be interesting to see how Jackson plays at true NFL speed, but the fans are excited about his potential. He is not expected to start this season, but with Harbaugh’s job on the line, I believe there will be a short leash on Flacco.

Readiness: Potential Starter

Cleveland Browns

Baker Mayfield, QB

We haven’t seen the Cleveland Browns this happy since they drafted Johnny Manziel, but Mayfield is the anti-Manziel; Mayfield is all about football and proving his critics wrong. However, it appears that he will be starting the season behind free agent acquisition Tyrod Taylor. Mayfield struggled a bit in OTA’s, but most rookies do as he took most of his snaps with the third team. It will be interesting to see if he ever gets to throw to Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon, but Mayfield isn’t going to complain about his current situation. The Browns don’t want to thrust Baker into that role until he is ready, but I believe he will be starting for this team before the season is over.

Readiness: Potential Starter

Denzel Ward, CB

Since the departure of Pro Bowl conerback Joe Haden, the Browns had a glaring need at the position, and decided to draft the Ohio State standout. Some argue that the Browns had a chance to draft two dynamic offensive stars if they selected Saquan Barkely with the first overall pick, and then Mayfield, but they decided that Mayfield was more of a long-term assurance.

However, Ward has been having a solid off-season by defending fellow teammates and previous Pro Bowlers Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon. He will surely be tested against receivers such as Antonio Brown, Micheal Crabtree, and A.J. Green, but it appears that he adjusting to NFL receivers pretty well.

Readiness: Immediate Starter





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