Every NFL Team’s Top Impact Rookie Candidate: AFC North

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Apr 25, 2019; Nashville, TN, USA; Marquise Brown (Oklahoma) is selected as the number twenty-five overall pick to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft in Downtown Nashville. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 25, 2019; Nashville, TN, USA; Marquise Brown (Oklahoma) is selected as the number twenty-five overall pick to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft in Downtown Nashville. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

For the next week, we will pick the rookie most likely to make the biggest splash on their new team. That impact could entail instigating a turn-around a la Baker Mayfield or Darius Leonard, or simply fitting into an already-strong system and helping said system take a leap, a la Derwin James or Bradley Chubb

In many cases, the team’s top pick will earn the spot, by nature of their talent. However, that will not always hold true. Some top picks will have to wait their turn this year, or the players around them do not project to bring out the best in them right now. With that being said, let’s get started with the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Marquise Brown

Despite somewhat pedestrian passing numbers, Lamar Jackson’s rookie season was largely a success. Sure, his clean pocket rating of 86.5 was not spectacular and he struggled with accuracy in seven starts. But through it all, Jackson made some big plays (93.8 rating on passes over 20 yards, second among first round rookies) and performed fairly well against pressure (79.7 rating, best among first round rookies). Even though there were some red flags in his throwing, Jackson showed enough to inspire confidence that the Ravens are moving in the right direction. And Jackson showed that promise and won games with one of the thinnest receiver groups in the league. 

Enter Marquise Brown. The first receiver off the board this year, Brown possesses the brand of game-breaking speed and agility that could make him nigh unguardable, despite his lack of size. Antonio Brown is the obvious connection to Marquise, given their similar statures and their familial relationship. While that does not inherently point to success, we know that the two work out together, which would indicate a similar work ethic to the All-Pro receiver and a similar attention to detail. And for a team like Baltimore that is starved for game-changing weapons, Brown could immediately be their ace receiver in his debut season. 

Cincinnati Bengals: OT Jonah Williams

Cincinnati’s offensive line rebuild was supposed to hit a new level last season when they took center Billy Price with the 21st pick. Alas, Price’s injury troubles and a lack of performance around the unit kept them near the bottom of the league once again. So how do they address it this year? Well, they merely selected the most NFL-ready tackle in the draft. Jonah Williams’ status as top line prospect was a bit in doubt, due to his “lack of length.” But Cincinnati has seemed to squash any of those perceived inadequacies, as they slotted Williams in at left tackle with the first team offense.

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Williams may not be the jaw-dropping physical specimen we have seen from other franchise left tackles. However, what he does possess are impeccable technique and fluid athleticism, which indicate that he should have no trouble acclimating to the NFL. He does not take bait often, and his ability to slide under control mitigate his shorter arms. Simply put, he has no major weaknesses. As long as Cincinnati gets adequate performance along the line, Williams should have Andy Dalton’s blind side secured for the long haul.

Cleveland Browns: CB Greedy Williams

Cleveland may ultimately boast one of the poorest tackling cornerback duos in football, but they may also have one of the best in coverage. Greedy Williams earned the reputation as the top man cover in the class, but slipped due to his perceived hesitance to tackle. However, John Dorsey downplayed Williams’ struggles as he believes a corner’s job is coverage. That attitude largely proved true with Denzel Ward a year ago. Though granted, his poor tackling technique did cost him a few games due to injury.

Assuming Williams can add some weight and physicality, he could be the perfect complement to Ward on the other side. Ward is smaller, but uniquely gifted athletically with the quickness to stay with any manner of receiver. Williams, with his length and speed, has the frame to take on the bigger, faster receivers in the league. Williams’ transition may take some time, as he is thin and lanky and plays accordingly. But his coverage ability paired with Ward could give the Browns a young corner duo unparalleled in the league. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Devin Bush

Pittsburgh traded up to nab Devin Bush at 10th overall for a reason. Not only is he the ideal representation of a modern day off-ball linebacker, but the Steelers have struggled to get strong linebacker play for some time. Bush is a day one starter in most systems, and that will hold especially true in Pittsburgh where their top two tacklers in 2018 were the starting safeties.

While Bush’s smaller frame would indicate he should be a finesse player, he is aggressive downhill. He has no hesitation engaging at the line of scrimmage and frequently rushes the passer, both at the line and from off the ball. His biggest assets, however, are his elite speed and quickness. Bush ran a 4.43 at the combine with a sub-seven three-cone time, so his ability to cover sideline-to-sideline is without debate. His coverage skills are also strong, particularly in zone. But he could run into trouble when engaged with taller tight ends, as Bush stands under six feet tall. That said, his instincts in coverage are excellent, as indicated by 11 defended passes his last two seasons at Michigan. Bottom line, Bush is the Swiss Army Knife linebacker Pittsburgh needed to push their defense to a higher level.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

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