By the end of the second round of the NFL Draft last Friday night, all four AFC North teams had used at least one pick on an offensive lineman. Such picks kept coming, too, as the draft progressed.
Fans want sizzle in the draft. Coaches want guys who can win — and thrive — in the trenches and on both sides of the ball.
The following is a quick look at how each of the four AFC North teams addressed needs on the interior line in the draft and which picks could pay immediate dividends.
WHO THEY DRAFTED: The Ravens took massive Iowa State offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele in the second round and Delaware guard/center Gino Gradkowski, brother of Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, in the fourth. They selected Georgia defensive end DeAngelo Tyson in the seventh round.
HOW THEY FIT: With Ben Grubbs having departed via free agency and center Matt Birk set to turn 36 just before the start of training camp, the Ravens needed line help and didn't wait long to get it. It's too early to know how they'll fit since Osemele is a college tackle who might have to move to guard and Gradkowski's long-term position is also unknown. A seventh-round pick like Tyson won't make up for the free-agent losses of Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, but the Ravens hope other young players like Sergio Kindle and second-round pick Courtney Uphsaw will help the pass rush, and they also hope Tyson can compete for a roster spot and provide depth.
THE RISK INVOLVED: Osemele is an impressive, 335-pound specimen, but he's a projection. Gradkowski is, too, in coming from the I-AA college level. The Ravens kept Bryant McKinnie and have a developing young player in Jah Reid, but they also have a lot of questions on the line to answer between now and September.
HOW THEY'RE BETTER: No rookie is going to be better than Grubbs anytime soon, but the Ravens have survived offensive line shuffles before. They've always drafted wisely and with the future in mind, and Osemele's position versatility and strength are definite pluses.
WHO THEY DRAFTED: The Bengals traded down in the first round and then picked Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler. In the second round they got Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, then used the additional third-rounder acquired in the first-round trade to take Clemson nose tackle Brandon Thompson.
HOW THEY FIT: Zeitler should immediately have a spot, and Still and Thompson should immediately have spots in the rotation. Still and Thompson will both push and learn from the incumbents on the interior of the Bengals' front, Domata Peko and Pro Bowler Geno Atkins. Fourth-round tight end Orson Charles could be considered an interior addition as well as offensive coordinator Jay Gruden loves multiple tight end alignments.
THE RISK INVOLVED: In making the trade down in the first round, they knew they were likely taking themselves out of position to get the draft's consensus top guard, Stanford's David DeCastro. That they made the move anyway then took Zeitler says that the Bengals liked Zeitler as much or even more than they liked DeCastro. With Still, they got a first round-type talent who will need to be pushed but could end up being an impact contributor.
HOW THEY'RE BETTER: Via additions made in the draft and free agency, a deep and talented defensive line rotation that suffered two free agent losses has a chance to come back just as strong as it was last year. Thompson can be a run-stuffer, and the Bengals hope Still can be a two- or three-down player almost from the start. Zeitler should slide in as an immediate starter on the offensive line, probably at right guard, and strengthen an offensive line that grew as a unit last year.
WHO THEY DRAFTED: The Browns got their starting right tackle early in the second round with the addition of Mitchell Schwartz and drafted three likely backup linemen later in the draft: Ryan Miller for the offensive line and John Hughes and Billy Winn for the defensive line.
HOW THEY FIT: The Browns hope Schwartz immediately emerges and the other three are ready to be rotational or backup players; all three are needed. Miller was a tackle in college but is projected by some as a guard in the NFL; he'd figure at least an option at right tackle should Schwartz struggle or have an injury issue. The Browns praised Hughes' interior strength, suggesting he can help a run defense that needs help.
THE RISK INVOLVED: In Hughes, the Browns used a third-round pick for a guy who likely won't be a starter, leaving other needs untouched — and there are a lot of needs. There's always a risk in asking a rookie to immediately step in as Schwartz will be asked to do, but the Browns had the entire offseason to find a right tackle and he was their guy early in the second, a sign that the team's decision-makers think he's up to the challenge.
HOW THEY'RE BETTER: If Schwartz is ready to play, he'll immediately start and should be better at right tackle than either an injured Tony Pashos or a platoon of veteran journeymen Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks was last year. The Browns' only free agent signings were at defensive end, so Hughes and Winn provide much-needed depth inside between young and gifted starters Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor.
WHO THEY DRAFTED: With their first two picks, the Steelers got maybe the draft's best guard in David DeCastro and one of its most gifted offensive tackles in Ohio State's Mike Adams, who probably cost himself some money by testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine in February. The Steelers got a nose tackle, Alameda Ta'amu, in the fourth round and another offensive tackle, Kelvin Beachum, in the seventh.
HOW THEY FIT: DeCastro starts right away — did you see how quickly the Steelers turned in the pick with DeCastro still on the board? — and Adams probably does, too. How it all fits, and whether Adams ultimately ends up on the right or left side, remains to be seen. A true nose tackle, Ta'amu joins a rebuilding defensive line and will get a chance to learn from and play behind Casey Hampton for a year. A seventh-round offensive tackle is almost certainly a project, but the Steelers must feel Beachum is one worth taking on.
THE RISK INVOLVED: Barring injury, very little with DeCastro. Adams will have to prove he's tough enough to be a Steeler and battle in the trenches in the AFC North, but if the Steelers thought the off-field stuff was an issue they wouldn't have drafted him. The Steelers had a variety of needs, but addressing the trenches with three of their first four picks says a lot about how they prioritized those needs.
HOW THEY'RE BETTER: They're immediately better on the offensive line, which was probably their biggest weakness a season ago. The defensive line lost some longtime producers, but Ta'amu joins recent first-rounders Cam Heyward and Ziggy Hood as part of the next generation. The Steelers are still flawed, but they still reload more than they rebuild.
Zac Jackson appears courtesy of