The Cleveland Browns will have a major decision in the coming months that will go a long way in deciding the future direction of the franchise.
Cleveland clinched the much-coveted No. 1 overall pick with a hard-fought 27-24 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. With the loss, the Browns finish the season with a franchise worst 1-15 record. But they nearly blew the opportunity to pick first in the draft as had they defeated the Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers (2-14) would have been awarded the top pick due to the NFL’s tie-breaking procedures.
The Browns led the Steelers 14-7 at halftime and tied the game at 21 on a five-yard run by running back George Atkinson with 3:28 remaining in regulation. Cleveland then won the coin toss in overtime and marched down the field to the two-yard line, but they couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone, settling instead for a 34-yard Cody Parkey field goal.
That wasn’t the opportunity the Browns blew. The Browns also fumbled inside the Pittsburgh five-yard line with a minute to go in regulation for their fourth turnover of the game. Also, they had a potential pick-six by cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun turn into a touchback when Pittsburgh’s Darrius Heyward-Bey punched the ball out of Boddy-Calhoun’s hands as he stretched for the goal line in the third quarter. Cleveland managed a season-high 437 yards of total offense, getting a career-high 152 rushing yards from running back Isaiah Crowell. Although they only converted three of their six red-zone opportunities into touchdowns.
“It’s good,” owner Jimmy Haslam told Pat McManamon of ESPN when asked about earning the No. 1 pick. “But I’ll say this. We wanted to win a game today. We obviously have the No. 1 pick, and we need to use it wisely and make good decisions. The reason we’re 1-15 or 3-13 or whatever it’s been the last couple years is that the Cleveland Browns, including on our watch, have not made good decisions in the draft. It’s real simple.”
Cleveland has some needs on both sides of the ball as a 4-24 record over the last two years would indicate. Rumors are swirling that the Browns will select a quarterback with the first pick though they are also said to be high on Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. This will be the fourth time that the Browns have had the No. 1 overall pick, including the third time since 1999. They selected quarterback Tim Couch (1999) and defensive end Courtney Brown (2000) in the two other years that this version of the Browns owned the first pick.
Scott Patsko of the Cleveland Plain Dealer suggested that the choice may come down to quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina or DeShaun Watson of Clemson. However, McManamon believes the Browns should select Garrett or Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer also has been linked to the team.
Jason La Canfera of CBS Sports reported that the Browns have honed in Trubisky, even though the junior has yet to declare for the draft. The six-foot-three, 220-pound Ohio native has the tools and intangibles to become a quality starter in the league.
In his first season as a starter, Trubinsky led the Tar Heels to a Sun Bowl bid and an 8-5 overall record. He completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions. He added 308 yards and five touchdowns on 93 rushing attempts. Trubinsky completed over 70 percent of his passes (seven times) and passed for 295 or more yards on six occasions, which includes surpassing the 400-yard mark three times.
Watson, who has already declared for the draft, has been the best collegiate quarterback the last two seasons. He will lead the Tigers into the College Football National Championship for a second consecutive season against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The six-foot-three, 215-pound junior has excellent intangibles to go along with very good mobility and a strong arm. Watson has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 4, 173 yards along with 38 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He has 586 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 144 carries.
Kizer is huge, standing at six-foot-four and 240 pounds, with very good mobility. The junior didn’t have a fantastic season, finishing with a 58.7 completion percentage for 2,925 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine picks. He had three games of over 300 yards with his best performance coming against Syracuse where he completed 23 of 35 passes (65.7 percent) for 471 yards along with three touchdowns and one interception. Kizer also had 473 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 129 attempts.
Garrett officially entered the draft on Dec. 31 per USA Today Sports. The six-foot-five, 270-pound consensus All-American finished his junior season with 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for losses despite missing two games and being limited in several others. Garrett is a versatile pass rusher who possesses a high-motor.
Allen is also a very versatile defensive lineman who is outstanding rushing the passer and against the run. The six-foot-three, 291-pounder has recorded 62 tackles with 9.5 sacks this season. He registered six tackles (two solo) and a sack in the Crimson Tide’s College Football Semifinal victory over Washington on New Year’s Eve.
Whatever way the Browns ultimately decide to go with the pick, it is important they make the right choice. As the Browns don’t have a solid draft history.
Since 2011, the Browns have had nine first-round picks. Only three remain with the team. The misses include cornerback Justin Gilbert, quarterback Johnny Manziel, linebacker Barkevious Mingo, running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden.
[Featured Image by Mark Lambie/AP Images]