The regular season is not typically what fans of the Cleveland Browns look forward to. They’re fresh off an 0-16 campaign, and the product on the field since the arrival of head coach Hue Jackson has been far from stellar. The silver lining is the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. Pretty much since Cleveland’s football team returned in 1999, the real treat for Browns fans everywhere has been the lead-up to the draft. This is said almost every year in Cleveland, but the Browns may finally have their time to shine.
Besides blind Cleveland optimism, there’s actually legitimate reason to believe Cleveland could turn things around rapidly. The Browns brought in a well-respected “football guy” in John Dorsey to be their general manager, which should bode well for them as free agency hits and Draft Day approaches. Along with that, Dorsey got more long-time scouting credibility by recently bringing in former Green Bay Packers colleague Alonzo Highsmith to be a vice president in the Browns personnel department, as was reported by Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
They’ll be a few of the people tasked with fixing the Cleveland personnel situation, and it remains to be seen how Dorsey and others will mesh with Jackson, who has not proven much credibility as a head coach and talent-developer. According to Scout.com’s Jared Mueller, Cleveland has “7 picks in the Top 108” of the draft. Mueller also noted how there are “4 sets of picks clustered near each other.”
In short, the Browns will need to hit early and often in this draft, and how the first two picks pan out could very well determine the fate of the Jackson-Dorsey regime. Cleveland owns the 2018 NFL Draft’s first overall pick, and also the fourth overall selection (due to a trade with the Houston Texans, as per SB Nation’s Harry Lyles Jr.). That pick could be a huge playmaker for the Browns, and it’s a selection they absolutely cannot miss on. The first round will likely be where the Browns either sink (as they usually do), or finally swim, like the more consistent drafting franchises in the NFL, such as their rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft Lead Writer, Matt Miller, gave his take in regards to Cleveland’s first two picks. A fan wanted to know what Miller would do at first and fourth overall, and his response was self-explanatory. Nonetheless, it provided clarity to fans of the long-suffering franchise.
QB1 and Saquon https://t.co/mF37nv92n5
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 4, 2018
It seems pretty clear that the Browns need to grab their franchise quarterback first overall, and the choice should either be UCLA’s Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold. Rosen first gave his draft declaration via Twitter, and that was followed by Darnold announcing his draft entrance via Instagram. The Browns can’t really go wrong with either one of these QB’s, as both have shown they can make plays with marginal talent around them from an offensive line standpoint. The key is the Browns not getting cute, and potentially passing on one of these two talented signal-callers for an undersized, and at times hot-headed guy in Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, or an inaccurate project QB in Wyoming’s Josh Allen who needs more talent around him to be serviceable.
The Browns can’t settle for serviceable, and they need a player who can come in and make his teammates better. Both Rosen and Darnold have shown that ability on the big stage, and both have shown they have all the makings of a leader of men. Both have some “California cool” in them, and often times big moments don’t seem too big for either. Rosen is the most refined quarterback prospect in this year’s class, who can make accurate throws with relative ease to all three levels, including both inside and outside the numbers.
Darnold isn’t as ready in terms of his pocket awareness and he doesn’t have a rocket arm, but his off-script ability and sturdy frame makes him especially enticing. Cleveland hasn’t had any consistency in their QB in an eternity, and now is the time to make it right. They have to take Rosen or Darnold first and have conviction in their selection. From there, the fourth pick should either be Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. Both could be ready-made starters with game-breaking abilities.
Barkley’s combination of size and speed is of the prototype variety in regards to today’s NFL running backs. The aforementioned Miller broke down why he thinks Barkley should be the “No. 1 overall pick” in a recent article.
“I could quote you the physical resume-5’11”, 233 pounds, runs a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, power cleans 405 pounds, squatted 525 pounds five times, has no injury history and is only 20 years old.
I could also quote you his on-field resume-almost 5,000 yards rushing and receiving in three seasons despite being the focus of every defensive coordinator in the Big Ten this year. To go along with that he added 51 total touchdowns-two on kickoffs.”
Barkley can do it all, and it’d be incredible for Cleveland’s balance offensively, and his rushing acumen could help give the Browns’ defense rest. That being said, Fitzpatrick would not be too shabby, either. The Alabama product is another freak athlete at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, and he’s proven to be an impact player in a variety of coverages, is sound in his run fits, and could be special as a blitzer. Having the ability to play press man and be a presence in the deep third of the defense is quite the combination, and Erik Lambert of Fansided’s NFL Mocks blog recognized that.
Lambert’s NFL comparison for Fitzpatrick was safety Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings. The Browns desperately need help at the safety position, and Fitzpatrick could also get everybody on the same page. The middle of the field can’t be wide-open as often as it was in 2017, and this guy could help clean that up.
The first two picks could jump-start Cleveland’s rebuild. If the Browns keep it simple, they’ll do that.