Predicting the Best Newcomers in the NFL: AFC North Edition

Instant Impact Veteran: Tony Jefferson — Ravens


After consulting with EA’s Madden NFL during his free agent process, the 25-year old Jefferson settled on Baltimore as his new home. The former Oklahoma Sooner is coming off the best season of his young career, helping anchor a strong Cardinals secondary. Baltimore struggled at the safety spot opposite Eric Weddle for much of 2017 – having to deal with the uneasy play of converted-cornerback Lardarius Webb, and the continuous legal issues of first-round bust Matt Elam.

Under-The Radar Acquisition: J.C. Tretter — Browns

Whomever ends up taking snaps under center from the Browns, they’ll need some massive protection. Cody Kessler, Brock Osweilier, and DeShone Kizer aren’t exactly known for their scrambling abilities, so bolstering the line is a wise move on Cleveland’s part. Grabbing Kevin Zeitler was a great move – but since he played for Cincy last year, he technically isn’t new to the division. We’ll go with Zeitler’s neighbor on the line in Tretter. The former Packer only played half the season last year, but was a top-10 center during that half season according to Pro Football Focus. Both players are in their prime (27 and 26) and will be able to build with the rest of that young offense.

First Rounder: Myles Garrett — Browns


The Browns will be in a lot of trouble next year if this prediction doesn’t come to fruition. The first overall pick comes with lofty expectations, and Garrett’s development and impact throughout the year will be imperative to Cleveland’s success moving forward. The franchise and the tormented fan base can’t afford another draft bust. Garrett possess the athleticism and skillset to be an eventual All-Pro talent, and will have a substantial amount of pressure to flash that potential in his rookie season.

Late Round Sleeper: Second Rounders


All four teams have a second round pick that have the opportunity to make a big impact on their respective squads in 2017. Cleveland took a potential starting quarterback in DeShone Kizer. Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster is a gifted wide-out that will benefit from defenses focusing on Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Virtually every defender Baltimore drafts ends up being high quality – Tyus Bowser will continue that trend. Joe Mixon could be the starting back in Cincinnati before long, possessing arguably the best skills as a ball carrier in the 2017 draft class. These four rooks all have a place in the league.

Non-Player: Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams — Browns

Williams, along with the rest of the remnants of Jeff Fisher’s regime, was released from the Rams following the 2016 season. The defensive guru quickly signed on with Cleveland, hoping to bring the best out of this underachieving group. Talent won’t be an issue, as Cleveland’s defense is filled with good-to-great veterans in Joe Haden, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, and Christian Kirksey. He’ll also have a slew of promising high draft picks in Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, Emmanuel Ogbah and Calvin Pryor. Williams is a great motivator, and will have this group playing with energy. If that energy can be segued into production, it’ll take a massive amount of pressure off of the Browns’ shaky offense.

Sources: Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports, Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports, Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports, USATODAY.com