Newsome: Ravens' rivals made AFC North 'that much tougher'

The Ravens came into the 2012 NFL draft looking to round out their roster and add depth and create competition at several positions. They appear to have addressed all of their immediate needs, even if they made a few interesting selections Saturday. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw may end up being a steal and Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski bring athleticism and versatility to the offensive line.

Many draft analysts gave the Ravens solid marks for the draft (and they have also given them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the selection of three FCS prospects on draft’s final day).

But they have also handed out strong grades to the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Ravens’ other AFC North rival, the Cleveland Browns, put together a deep, above-average draft class.

The Browns got an elite prospect in Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the third pick in the draft and made the bold selection of 28-year-old Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden later in the first round. With their 11 picks, they added two offensive linemen, two defensive tackles and two linebackers, but used just one draft pick (fourth-rounder Travis Benjamin) to try to improve one of the NFL’s worst receiving corps. Still, there is bound to be some quality in the quantity of picks the Browns made.

The Bengals arguably had the best weekend. They addressed two big needs in the first round with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler. Later in the draft, they made great value picks in defensive tackles Davon Still and Brandon Thompson, wide receiver Mohamaed Sanu, and safety George Iloka. With this fine 10-player class, the Bengals could be scary in a couple years.

And then there are the cap-strapped Steelers, who took care of some big needs they aren't able to address in free agency. They watched two talented linemen in guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams fall into their laps in the first two rounds. Linebacker Sean Spence will be a nice fit in their stable of linebackers. Chris Rainey bring explosiveness to the return game. And Alameda Ta'amu could be the successor to Casey Hampton as nose tackle.

As the third day of the draft wound down Saturday evening, Ravens general manager Newsome said at his press conference that all three of the team’s AFC North rivals got better during this draft.

“You start with Cleveland, anytime you can get a running back, it shortens the game," he said. "And them getting a guy like Trent [Richardson] and then getting a quarterback -- but not only a quarterback -- a quarterback that has some maturity, I think that learning curve may be a lot shorter with him. So, they did a good job. And then Cincinnati,Marvin [Lewis] having two first-round picks to get the offensive lineman and the corner that they got. … And then you move on to Pittsburgh,” Newsome said. “So, I think all three teams really helped themselves in this year’s draft, and they just made competing in the AFC North that much tougher.”

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