Battle of the AFC North: Assessing the 2013 3rd and 4th Round Draft Picks

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Two weeks ago I started a series revisiting the 2013 draft for the AFC North. You can read about the first-round picks here and the second-round picks here.  

I’ll skip the disclaimers about drafting being an inexact science, if it is science at all—it seems to be more art than science—and get right to the players.

The Picks and the Pundits:

Baltimore Ravens: Pick No. 94, DT Brandon Williams; Pick No. 129, DE John Simon; Pick No. 130*, FB Kyle Juszczyk

Cincinnati Bengals: Pick No. 84, S Shawn Williams; Pick No. 118, LB Sean Porter

Cleveland Browns: Pick No. 68, CB Leon McFadden

Pittsburgh Steelers: Pick No. 79,  WR Marcus Wheaton; Pick No. 111, S Shamarko Thomas; Pick No. 115, QB Landry Jones

*Compensatory selection

There were a few trades involved. The Steelers were involved in a multi-team trade which resulted in giving the Browns their 2014 third round pick to move up four slots and take Shamarko Thomas. Landry Jones was taken with their existing pick.

The Browns once again complicate the picture. Shortly after picking McFadden in the third round they announced they had made a deal with the Miami Dolphins to get WR Davone Bess. In exchange they gave up their fourth and fifth round picks, got Miami’s fourth round and seventh round picks, and of course Bess. They then parlayed Pick No. 111 into the Steelers’ 2014 pick.  

This is particularly annoying, as any thorough assessment of this draft has to include the value of what they traded away and what they got in return. 

As to what happened to the 2014 pick, it’s actually more complicated than this, but basically  they used it to move up four spots in the first round. They then drafted Johnny Manziel, also giving up a third round pick in the process. This is, of course, a move which will either turn out to be sheer genius or a massive mistake. We will have a better idea of which after this season, I suspect.

What they ultimately ended up doing, I suppose, was trading a fourth round pick for a seventh round pick and Bess, so I’m going to evaluate Bess along with the fifth through seventh rounds, coming soon to a computer near you. I’ll have to defer adding any value for the part of the Manziel pick.

Let’s check out what the draft experts had to say about the guys who actually got picked. Naturally as one gets lower in the draft the pundits had less to say. Furthermore, the Kiper grades and commentary for 2013 have apparently completely disappeared from ESPN, other than, strangely, the one for the Ravens. And the 2013 regrades don’t appear to be available either. So we’ll regretfully drop Kiper and use Rob Rang of CBS Sports instead:

Rob Rang, CBS Sports:

Ravens:  Brandon Williams has become one of my favorite players in this draft. The broad-shouldered, three-time All-American really impressed me at the Combine and took up a spot on my all-underrated team. He’ll play early (and well) at nose guard, potentially freeing Haloti Ngata to wreak havoc all over the defensive line. I’m particularly high on the selection of pass-rusher John Simon in the fourth round…

Bengals: Cincinnati nabbed one of my personal favorites in Shawn Williams, a no-nonsense safety who’ll bring some toughness in the secondary.

Browns: I love cornerback Leon McFadden’s athleticism, but he’s just 5-10.

Steelers: Markus Wheaton is a virtual clone of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, the lean, highly athletic wideouts the club has stolen in the middle rounds of past years.

Rang’s grades for each team: Ravens, A, Bengals A, Browns C, Steelers B+

Bucky Brooks: NFL Network:

Ravens: Tackle Brandon Williams and end John Simon add depth to an already imposing defensive front. 

Bengals: Defensively-speaking, coach Marvin Lewis scooped up a few intriguing pieces in end Margus Hunt, safety Shawn Williams and linebacker Sean Porter. Those three might start the season in backup roles, but their collective talent upgrades the depth of the defense and gives coordinator Mike Zimmer options for exotic sub-package looks.

Browns: McFadden is a potential starter with a balanced skill set that will enable the Browns to use press or off coverage on the perimeter.

Steelers: Biggest Steal No. 2 [in the AFC North]: Markus Wheaton: Wheaton is poised to make a major impact on the Steelers’ passing game as a vertical threat. Not only will he fill the void created by Mike Wallace’s departure, he could surpass his predecessor’s production and effectiveness, due to his polished overall game. In offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system, route runners are coveted at a premium, and Wheaton’s ability to get open against any coverage could quickly make him Ben Roethlisberger’s top target in Pittsburgh.

Brooks’ grades: Ravens, B; Bengals, A; Browns, C; Steelers, A-

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports:

Ravens:[no comment on any of the players taken.]

BengalsFourth-round linebacker Sean Porter was once considered a first-day prospect. Getting him where they got him is nice value.

Browns: Best pick [in the Brown’s draft]: Corner Leon McFadden is a tad undersized, but he is a solid cover corner who fits a need.

Steelers: I love third-round receiver Markus Wheaton out of Oregon State. He could be the next mid-round pick to star at receiver.

Prisco’s grades: Ravens, B; Bengals, A; Browns, C; Steelers, B-

The Actual Numbers

Part of the value of your draft picks is just being on the field. But it will become increasingly uncommon for most of the players to make it to the field any substantial amount as we get into the lower rounds, save for exceptional cases, or with special teams.

Therefore I’m just going to note how many, if any game snaps were played, and the Pro Football Focus rating for said. Since special teams is going to comprise the bulk of a lot of these players’ work, I’ll also list how many games they played special teams and what they were rated. Naturally it will become more common to see players end up on the practice squad or be cut altogether, and this will be noted as well.

The other thing I’m going to do is eliminate any quarterbacks taken from the discussion. Quarterbacks who are taken below the second or third round are essentially always a faintly intriguing guy whom you assume will be a backup at best. No one in the AFC North took a Russell Wilson equivalent this year, so there is little point in looking at QB stats, and they don’t play special teams. I will throw them into the final assessment, however, as that’s a consideration for the final value.

Here are the numbers for Round 3:

Round 3 2013Round 3 2014

And here they are for Round 4:

Round 4 2013Round 4 2014

The Conclusions—For Now

How does any of this translate to this coming season?

For starters, let’s look at the least impressive guy on the lists, LB Sean Porter. Here’s what the Bengals website has to say:

Fourth-round 2013 draft choice, bitten hard by injury bug, seeks a full season of action for 2015 … Made NFL debut in Game 4 of 2014* but suffered season-ending knee injury on opening kickoff … Missed first three games of ’14 due to hamstring injury suffered in preseason finale … Had his rookie ’13 season derailed by a training camp injury (torn labrum) 

In other words, you can’t make the club from the tub. It will be interesting to see if he bounces back this season, but in the meantime he has provided little of value to the Bengals.

The Steelers’ Shamarko Thomas, who seems to have spent a lot of time in the tub, actually played a good bit more than I thought. While he has played all of two snaps outside of special teams, he has played in 23 games as a special teamer, and was graded pretty well by PFF as well. (They don’t provide any overall special teams comparisons, so it’s not possible to come up with a ranking. But just to compare to an active member of special teams, Terence Garvin was rated 0.0 for both 2013 and 2014. Probably for all those illegal blocks in the back…)

And as long as I’m in the fourth round, I’ll finish it with the two Ravens picks. At this point it’s fair to say that either of their fourth round picks would head the class. Fullback Kyle Juszczk was the only one of the four to see any actual game action in 2013, albeit just a few snaps. He played an impressive number of snaps in 2014, and PFF deemed him the ninth-best FB that season.

While John Simon didn’t make much noise in 2013, he played a good bit more in 2014 and his PFF rating puts him in the top quarter of OLBs that season. There’s only one hitch—he accrued all that lovely value while playing for the Houston Texans. It turns out that the Ravens demoted him to the practice squad in 2014, and Houston picked him up in October. scout.com is calling him a “key piece” of the 2015 squad. So it seems the Ravens got great value, but if he’s gone, it’s hard to think it counts.

Now back to the third round.

The Browns’ sole pick in the third and fourth round, Leon McFadden played the most game snaps of any of our rookies, but was fairly dreadful. His PFF rating put him in bottom 10% for 2013.  In 2014 he improved, although he only played about a third as many game snaps. But just like Simon, this improvement came with another team—he was playing for the San Francisco 49ers. The Browns cut him at the end of camp in 2014. He was picked up by the Jets, cut, and then signed by the 49ers.

Just in terms of number of snaps, Marcus Wheaton wins hands down. And although PFF wasn’t totally enamored of him either year, they didn’t think he was dreadful, either, and as we saw at Jacksonville, there is good reason to think he will be a very important part of the 2015 offense.

The Ravens’ Brandon Williams didn’t play much at all his first year, but played a lot in 2014, and PFF loved him, grading him as the 10th-best nose tackle in the league.

In Shawn Williams it seems the Bengals got a proficient special teams player who hasn’t made much impact on the regular squad, at least yet. In fact, his numbers are pretty similar to Thomas.

So who “won” the 2013 third and fourth rounds? Cleveland, however you look at it, lost big time. Unless Johnny Manziel turns into a totally stud quarterback while still on the Browns (the only faint hope for value from their third and fourth round picks,) the Browns got essentially nothing.

Cincinnati is showing as pretty uneven at the moment. Their third-round pick hasn’t shown up big yet. Their fourth-round pick is close to being a bust at this point. But maybe one or both players will really come into their own this year.

Pittsburgh did pretty well, really. Wheaton is looking like a stud, and Shamarko Thomas was a very good special teams player last season, and will hopefully move into his envisioned role as Troy Polamalu’s replacement. Not that it would be fair to put that onto the young man. You don’t “replace” a once in a generation talent like that. But he hasn’t shown that he is ready to take over the position either. So he’s still a question mark.

And the other pick in the fourth round, QB Landry Jones, has been the subject of intense scrutiny this pre-season. It’s certainly fair to say the Steelers have derived little value from him so far. However, I have to think they wouldn’t have stuck with him as long as they have if they didn’t see something. It seems safe to say they aren’t grooming him as Ben’s replacement. However, the news out of training camp in the past few days is that he is looking like a different guy, and that when he is working with the first team he has been pretty impressive. It certainly will make the remaining preseason games more interesting if he is gaining significant confidence.

It’s pretty hard not to think the Ravens “won.” Even with the loss of Simon they picked up a good fullback and what might end up being a great DT. But it’s still early days. Although, given the disparity of the position types, it might end up being tough to say in the end.

4 comments

  • I particularly like the fact that you had the getses, Ma’am, to say something encouraging about Landry Jones! On that other site you would be immediately assailed as an insane heretic!

    While his performance to date has not yet approached the level of competent back-up, you are not the only one to notice a greatly increased level of confidence and painfully slowly some fledgling degree of actual competence from this kid that his greatly increased recent playing time has afforded him. Bruce Gradkowski’s unfortunate injury could prove in the long run to have been something of a blessing in disguise as it has put this kid on the field a lot! And he is slowly getting better and gaining much needed confidence.

    I hope that after the first two series in the Green Bay game, they sit Ben and give this kid a couple series with the ones! With Grad banged up, it is absolutely essential that the Steelers find out RIGHT NOW if they can actually turn to this kid in the event of catastrophe!

    If only to take the overwhelming bulls-eye off Ben, I hope he not only succeeds, but makes Grad start to look over his shoulder, because anyone who thinks that the Steelers are going to enter THIS season with less than three quarterbacks are deluding themselves.

    Like

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