Written By: Jake Leicht
The Cleveland Browns are in a perfect position heading into the 2018 NFL Draft later this month. They have the #1 and #4 draft picks overall and a number of options as to how they could most effectively use those picks.
Cleveland could look to take the number one prospect on most draft analysts’ big boards, Saquon Barkley. Barkley would immediately spark the Browns’ offense by giving them a dynamic running and receiving threat out of the backfield. His playmaking ability would be a huge asset for an otherwise stagnant Browns’ offense. The Browns could also look to add pass rusher Bradley Chubb out of North Carolina State. Slotting Chubb opposite of Myles Garrett for the next five to ten years would be a nightmare scenario for opposing quarterbacks. Both players are relentless pass rushers, and their presence would be huge for the Browns’ secondary as well. After having one of the worst secondaries in the league last season they did add some playmakers this offseason such as Terrance Mitchell, T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines, and Damarious Randall, but adding another pass rusher to force the opposing quarterback to make quicker decisions would help that unit even more. The team has also been linked to defensive backs, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Denzel Ward. Of course, the Browns could also trade down in the Draft. Many fans are tired of missing out on great players because the Browns have traded back so often, but if they could get a massive haul of picks for #4 while only moving down a few spots, GM John Dorsey might be interested.
One thing is for certain: the Browns HAVE to come out of this draft with a franchise quarterback. The Browns’ QB woes have been well documented. Since the franchise restarted in Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have drafted nine quarterbacks: Tim Couch, Luke McCown, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Cody Kessler, and DeShone Kizer. Needless to say, those draft picks have not worked out well. What is the difference between this draft and the previous drafts for the Browns? In this draft, they have the #1 overall pick. Sure, Tim Couch was the first overall selection in the 1999 Draft. He was a bust, no doubt about it. But since then, the Browns have selected quarterbacks later in the draft that were far from sure things. Brady Quinn and Johnny Manziel fell to the 22nd overall pick of the 2007 and 2014 drafts respectively because other teams had some serious concerns about them as prospects. They drafted Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick of the 2012 draft even though he was already 28 years old. McCown, Frye, McCoy, and Kessler were all selected as mid-round development options that never panned out. Last year the Browns drafted talented Notre Dame product DeShone Kizer in the second round, and he showed signs of promise during his rookie season, but turnovers and lack of playmaking ability hurt him.
The argument could (and should) be made that the Browns should have taken Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the 2016 and 2017 Drafts when they had the chance instead of choosing to trade back and get future draft picks. Rumors swirled during the 2016 draft season that had the Browns had the first pick, they would have drafted quarterback Jared Goff out of California. Instead, they had the number two overall pick and did not feel that Carson Wentz could be their savior. Clearly, they were mistaken.
The last draft, Deshaun Watson was sitting there for the Browns at pick #12 overall. They decided to trade the pick to the Houston Texans for their first-round pick. All-in-all, the Browns are in a unique position to finally select any quarterback they CHOOSE to lead their franchise for years to come. They have their pick of the litter in this draft class.
This draft class is also unique in-and-of itself. According to Adam Schefter, this is the first time in fifteen years that four quarterbacks have graded out as a 90 or higher by Scouts Inc. Sam Darnold (94), Josh Allen (92), Josh Rosen (92), and Baker Mayfield (91) are all in contention to be the #1 pick. Each quarterback has their positive and negative attributes, and I also believe that none are a sure-fire All-Pro prospect either. The question for the Browns’ front office and coaching staff to answer is which of the four highly rated quarterbacks fits their system and scheme the most. That player, whoever it is, should be chosen with the first overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft. Let’s examine each of them and how they fit (or don’t fit) in with the Cleveland Browns.
How He Fits: Blitzalytics’ own Jason Feiner ranks Darnold as the number two quarterback in this draft class. Darnold is a big, thick, physical quarterback that has the ability to make plays out of the pocket. Those characteristics alone scream AFC North quarterback. Coming into last season Darnold was thought to be the bonafide top overall quarterback in this class. He did struggle with turnovers during his third season at USC, throwing 13 interceptions and fumbling a staggering 11 times. Luckily, the Browns added Tyrod Taylor this offseason, which would allow Darnold to come in and fix some of his issues in practice. Darnold’s playmaking ability is off the charts. His footwork in the pocket needs to be refined, but outside of the pocket, he can reset his feet and push the ball down the field with ease. At the Combine he outperformed many quarterbacks in the three-cone drill with a 6.96 seconds time, proving his athleticism.
Darnold is also thought to represent the blue collar attitude necessary to be a beloved Cleveland sport’s figure. According to ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., many NFL teams believe that Darnold has a true love for football. That sounds like it should be a given, but for a city that had to endure the Johnny Manziel era, a blue-collar quarterback that loves football is a necessity. Darnold has even gone so far as to say that he would love to be a Cleveland Brown while Josh Rosen has all but said he doesn’t. Sam Darnold is pretty much at the top of most draft pundits’ mock drafts. Heck, the Cleveland Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam even sat with Darnold’s parents during his Pro Day.
How He Doesn’t Fit: For Darnold, there are few attributes that he has that won’t translate well, and he checks many essential boxes for the Browns. One thing that does have me a bit worried is his hand size. Cleveland is notorious for its treacherous weather, especially as the season comes to a close. The larger a QB’s hands are, the easier it is to control the football, especially in the pocket. Darnold’s hands recently measured at 9 ⅜ inches which is pretty much average for a quarterback, according to Todd McShay. The biggest problem is that there are other quarterbacks in this draft class that have much bigger hands, and those quarterbacks do not have the fumbling issues that Darnold had at USC. Darnold fumbled the ball 20 times over 24 games at USC. That is a staggering statistic. In a city like Cleveland, where the weather is rough, and the wind is blowing, hand size can be important.
Overall Evaluation: Darnold FITS the Browns.
How He Fits: Josh Allen simply looks like a prototypical NFL quarterback. He measured in at 6'5 and weighed 237 pounds, and his hands measured a staggering 10 ¼ inches. At the Combine, Josh Allen ranked as a “top performer” in the quarterback class by NFL.com. In four of the five events in which he tested, including the 40-yard dash (4.75 seconds), the vertical jump (33.5 inches), the broad jump (9.91 feet), and the three-cone drill (6.9 seconds). He also flashed improved footwork at the Senior Bowl, and he carried that on to both the Combine and his Pro Day. Like Darnold, Allen has a “Midwest” attitude. He has also publicly said he would love the opportunity to dig the Browns out of their unbelievable losing hole. Also, like Darnold, Allen would benefit from a year of tutelage under Tyrod Taylor. Simply put, he has the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft class. As one scout told me at the Combine, “Allen could literally be a top-five quarterback in this league within the next four years or he could be completely out of the league.” That is a pretty strong statement. Jason Feiner has Josh Allen ranked as his number four quarterback prospect overall. Feiner cites Allen’s mechanics, footwork, and decision making as issues that need to be corrected. Again, the Browns can certainly make him better by merely giving him time to develop at practice behind Tyrod Taylor. Allen’s strongest attribute, one that has the scouts drooling over him, is his electric arm down the field. During his Pro Day, he was making 75 yard passes on target with ease. He claimed on one sports’ podcast that he could throw the ball 81 yards in the air. In a city like Cleveland where arm strength is significant, he fits right in. In my opinion, the Browns could look to simply hit a home run and draft Allen #1 because of his body, attitude, and potential.
How He Doesn’t Fit: Allen has mechanical issues, as stated earlier. The Browns COULD look at that one of two ways. They could say that the problems are correctable through reps and practice time. They could also decide that he isn’t worth the risk. Again, this is the double edge sword of scouting. Some scouts see a problem that can easily be fixed, while others see a problem that they would rather not deal with in their scheme. Accuracy issues have been well documented with Allen. Over his career at Wyoming Allen made 25 starts and had a 56.2% completion percentage. That is not good. Some draft pundits feel as if Allen’s completion percentage would have been better had he been surrounded by more talent in college. I am sure that is somewhat true, but Allen’s mechanics definitely caused most of his inaccuracy. On film, it almost looks like his legs, and upper body are not in sync. The positive for Josh Allen is that he looked better at the Senior Bowl and he built on that success at the Combine and his Pro Day. The question is if these fixes can translate on the field with a pass rush coming after him.
Overall Evaluation: Allen FITS the Browns.
How He Fits: I personally love Baker Mayfield. His passion on the football field is incredible to watch, and even the average NFL fan can visibly see how much he enjoys playing football. This passion is one of Mayfield’s best characteristics but can be a negative as well– More on that later. Overall, Jason Feiner has him as his number one quarterback prospect in the draft class. Specifically, Feiner cites Mayfield’s accuracy (68.5% completion percentage) and ball control (131 TD’s vs. 30 interceptions) Mayfield’s ability to throw his receivers open is also a big positive, as well as his quick release and timing. He has some excellent pocket awareness that allows him to naturally find throwing lanes that other shorter quarterbacks cannot see. Another advantage for Mayfield is that he started 48 games at Oklahoma. That is double the amount of starts that Sam Darnold made at USC (24) and almost double the number of starts that Josh Allen made at Wyoming (25). In terms of a pure production from a football standpoint, Baker Mayfield fits the mold of a quarterback that could be very successful in the NFL.
How He Doesn’t Fit: The question is whether or not Baker Mayfield could be a success in Cleveland. I think that Mayfield will be successful no matter where he is drafted, but I don’t think he is a natural fit in Cleveland. For one thing, he does not have the build of a prototypical AFC North QB. He is not very tall at “only” 6'1, and he only weighs 214 pounds. He also has some on- and off-field concerns the latter of which primarily stems from his February 25,, 2017 arrest in Arkansas. Mayfield tried to run from the police after he was stopped for public intoxication, and one of the cops had to tackle him to prevent him from fleeing the scene. Other than that, Mayfield seems to be pretty clean off the field, but will some teams see this video and his mugshot and have second thoughts about making him the face of their franchise? Possible, though I think that would be a mistake. Also, Mayfield has done some things on the field that are questionable as well. He grabbed his crotch as he yelled at the Kansas bench during their game on November 18th, losing his captain status soon after. He also spiked an Oklahoma flag on Ohio State’s field after defeating them early in the year. Although these two incidents are not terrible by any means, they lead to more questions for Mayfield. The most significant problem in the minds of Cleveland Browns fans is that he will probably remind them of Johnny Manziel. Although Mayfield is a much more polished product, his run-in with police and his physical size harken back to Manziel. Should that scare away this new Browns’ regime? Probably not. However, these factors certainly do not help Mayfield’s claim to be the #1 pick come draft night.
Overall Evaluation: Mayfield FITS football-wise, but his question marks would lead me to believe he would be more in play at number 4 overall if the Browns were to take a guy like Saquon Barkley at number 1. I could see both sides of the argument.
How He Fits: To me, Josh Rosen is the most polished quarterback prospect in the draft. I love Rosen’s ability to step into his throws, and he seems to have a solid football IQ as well. Jason Feiner has Rosen listed as his number three overall quarterback prospect. Rosen is 6’4” but weighs only 220 pounds– more on that later. Rosen’s height allows him to see over the line and read the defense earlier on a snap-by-snap basis. He started 30 games at UCLA, which slots him between Allen’s/Darnold’s career starts and Mayfield’s career starts. His completion percentage was only 60.8%, but he has more arm talent than any other quarterback in the class. He does not have the same power in his arm as Allen, but he does have a strong arm and a “natural” release. He also played in a pro-style offense under Jim Mora Jr. which will help him at the NFL level. If teams did not have some concerns about his love for football and his attitude, Josh Rosen would probably be the consensus top QB prospect in the class.
How He Doesn’t Fit: There are some significant concerns about Rosen. Jim Mora Jr. recently stated in an interview with MMQB that Rosen would not be a good fit in Cleveland. He said that Rosen is a millennial that needed to be intellectually challenged in order to be successful at the next level. That sounds like a headache to me. It was also stated early in the draft process that Rosen did not want to go to Cleveland and preferred to play in a more prominent city such as New York. As a Browns fan, I certainly do not want them to invest the #1 pick on a guy that might not want to be there. He’s been described as high maintenance by some draft analysts, certainly not fitting the blue-collar Cleveland attitude. Rosen is also not built exceptionally well for the city’s weather. It has been well documented that Rosen has “small” shoulders, as he is 220 pounds at 6'4. In this division, Rosen will probably be hit quite often. He has missed several games at UCLA due to injuries, and his upper body frame may scare Cleveland away from Rosen.
To me, there are too many question marks surrounding Rosen’s attitude towards playing in Cleveland and his slight shoulders to warrant being the team’s #1 pick.
Overall Evaluation: He does NOT fit the Browns.
This is the most important draft in the history of the Cleveland Browns’ organization. They have to come out of this draft with their answer at the quarterback position for the foreseeable future. As a Browns fan, I trust John Dorsey. At the NFL Combine this year I was able to speak to Dorsey briefly, and he assured me that this front office would right the ship and make Cleveland relevant again. Shortly after that, he made trades to bring in Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor, and Damarious Randall.
I have been thinking about these four quarterback prospects for several months. In my mind, Rosen is the most talented, but he simply is too risky for the Cleveland Browns to trust to be their savior. Mayfield is also very gifted, and he may have the most passion of any of these four quarterback prospects. As a fan, I could get behind him as the leader of the Cleveland Browns, but he does not have the prototypical size of an AFC North quarterback. His off-field questions may be overblown since he has succeeded in meetings with all of the teams interested in drafting him already. Cleveland may love him, but I would prefer if they selected either Darnold or Allen. Josh Allen has the size and potential to be the best quarterback in this class, but he has some accuracy and mechanical issues that need to be fixed before he can be successful in the NFL. I love the idea of the Browns drafting Josh Allen, as he by far has the highest ceiling in the class, but he also has the lowest floor as well. I think it’s likely that the Browns could try to go for it and hit a home run by drafting Allen.
That leaves us with Sam Darnold. Darnold is kind of in the middle of all of the other prospects. Darnold doesn’t have the high ceiling like Allen, but he doesn’t have as low as floor as him. He doesn’t have the overall arm talent of Josh Rosen, but he also doesn’t have the high maintenance attitude that comes with it. Darnold looks much more like an AFC North quarterback than Mayfield does, but he also doesn’t have the same on-field fire that Mayfield brings. I think this is why many experts have mocked Sam Darnold to the Browns for so long. He seems to have the least amount of question marks amongst all of the QB prospects.
In the end, I believe that the Browns will choose between the high ceiling of Josh Allen and the higher floor of Sam Darnold, and I hope they make the right decision. Both of these QBs could be very successful in the NFL for the next decade, but the question remains: Can the Browns finally find their franchise quarterback to take them out of the NFL cellar?