By: Jake Leicht
Before I begin breaking things down in this article, I think that it is important to note that I am a Cleveland Browns’ fan. It is not always easy being made fun of because of how bad the Browns have been for the past twenty years. Every year we have a fairly high draft pick, and most years the Browns seem to whiff on their selection. I am constantly convinced that the Browns will turn their fortunes around and be successful. Whenever we make a pick, I tell myself that the player will turn out to be an All-Pro. It doesn’t matter who it is, I trick myself into believing that the Browns’ made the right pick at the time. I think that’s the beauty of fandom. As a fan you talk yourself into seeing the best in your team. You see potential in players when no one else seems to see it. Coming into the draft this year, I felt great about the fact that John Dorsey and his constituents were making the Browns’ picks. Dorsey has a long track record of success, and having successful personnel guys like Elliot Wolf, Scot McCloughan, and Alonzo Highsmith helps as well.
It was roughly one hour before the start of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. As I sat on my computer trying to get myself mentally prepared, Robert Robinson, our graphic design extraordinaire at Blitzalytics, asked me a very simple question. He asked, “What’s the one thing the Browns could do tonight that would cause you to throw something at your television, Jake?” Most Browns’ fans were probably most concerned with pick 1. Throughout the entire process, I kept telling everyone that I would be behind whichever quarterback Dorsey chose with the first pick in the draft. He has a great track record of drafting quarterbacks, and I just felt like he was going to find the right guy to lead the Cleveland Browns. My reply to Robert’s question was very curt and simple. “Denzel Ward at 4,” I said.
I didn’t say it because I didn’t like Denzel Ward as a player. He was one of my favorite prospects in the draft. I didn’t like the idea of Ward at pick 4 because that would mean that the Browns were passing on either Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb. I couldn’t fathom picking Ward over either of those two players at number 4 overall because of their perceived value in the draft. I was convinced that if the Browns really wanted him that they could simply move back a few picks and get him. No big deal.
As the draft unfolded, the Browns took Baker Mayfield with the first pick. The Giants snagged running back Saquon Barkley with the second pick, and the Jets were all too happy to select Sam Darnold with the third pick. The Browns were sitting at pick four with the opportunity to get Bradley Chubb, or trade out of the pick and gain some more draft capital. There were still two quarterbacks on the board in Josh Rosen and Josh Allen that several teams were rumored to be connected to in the draft process. I remember the time dwindling down and thinking that no big time offer must be coming in to the Browns at that point. John Dorsey confirmed that there was very little action for pick 4 during the draft. As Roger Goodell walked up to the podium, I held my breath. “With the fourth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft,” Goodell said, “the Cleveland Browns select, Denzel Ward, cornerback, Ohio State!” My heart dropped. Denzel Ward at number 4, when Bradley Chubb was still there?! NFL Draft analysts broke down the pick, and most of them were shocked that the Browns’ opted to pass on Bradley Chubb. I know I was stupefied by it. The draft continued on, but I was snake bitten for the rest of the top ten picks.
But per usual, I began to talk myself into Denzel Ward. By the end of the first night of the draft, I began to feel much better about the pick. After hearing John Dorsey break it down later that night, I rationalized that maybe Denzel Ward was a better pick than Bradley Chubb for the Cleveland Browns.=
Here is why:
1. Need For a Shutdown Corner
The Browns’ secondary was abysmal in 2017. They gave up big play after big play throughout the season. Breakdowns in the secondary, as well as blown coverages, were a major reason why the Browns went winless. According toNFL.com, the Browns were in the bottom half of the league in passing defense, and they had the second fewest interceptions as well with only 7. Dorsey has turned over the secondary during his first offseason as the head decision maker for the team by adding players like Damarious Randall, T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines, Terrance Mitchell, and ultimately Denzel Ward.
In his post-draft press conference, Dorsey told the media that he had an identical draft grade on both Denzel Ward and Bradley Chubb. In the end, he decided to go with Ward because of his versatility and ability to play press man coverage. Defensive coordinator Greg Williams was said to be enamored with Ward’s skills, and he had the young defensive back as the number one defensive player in the draft. Ward is a perfect scheme fit for the Cleveland Browns, and he will be the player that they build their secondary around for years to come. Because of his ability to play in the slot or on the outside, Ward will be able to move around and defend the opposing team’s best receiver no matter where they are on the field.
2. The Emergence of Emmanuel Ogbah
If you’re not a Cleveland Browns’ fan, you probably do not know much about Emmanuel Ogbah. He is a 24 year old defensive end with a ton of upside. During his rookie season in Cleveland, Ogbah started all 16 games and accrued 5.5 sacks. He was hurt and missed 6 games during his second season. That did not stop him from flashing more potential. Ogbah played in 10 total games in 2017, but he had 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 pass deflections. His ability to get to the quarterback with a combination of speed and power are pretty rare. He has gotten progressively better with his hands over his first two seasons in the league as well. Ogbah disengaged from offensive tackles much easier in his second season than when he was a rookie. Pro Football Focus rated him as an average defensive end last season, which is pretty impressive for a second year player that was forced to play through multiple injuries.
The Browns did not want to draft Bradley Chubb and diminish the potential value of Ogbah moving forward. Of course if the Browns had to choose between Chubb and Ogbah straight up, they would probably go with Bradley Chubb. However, with so many holes on the roster, it is easy to see why the front office would not want to give up on a talent like Ogbah. With the secondary in shambles, Dorsey simply believed more in Ogbah than he did their defensive backs. If he is finally healthy this season while playing on the opposite side of Myles Garrett, Ogbah could have a big time breakout year.
3. Future Contract Problems
Eventually, the Cleveland Browns will have some major contract issues. They will have to pay players like Myles Garrett big money, and several of the contracts that they have given out over the past couple of years will be expensive as well. If the Browns had drafted Bradley Chubb, they would have had to pay two premier defensive players huge contracts in back to back years once their rookie deals were done. Not only that, but both Myles Garrett and Bradley Chubb are defensive ends. That sounds like a small problem, but if the Browns had to give out over 100 million dollars in guaranteed money to their defensive end position, that would be terrible for their salary cap.
Of course, if Denzel Ward works out well, they will have to pay him too. The point is that top of the line defensive end free agents tend to make more than defensive backs on the open market. Given the fact that the Browns had both Ward and Chubb ranked similarly and that their secondary was in need of a true shutdown corner, it makes sense for the Browns to have picked Ward while saving some money in the future as well.
4. Next Year’s Draft Class
This is probably the most logical reason for drafting Ward over Chubb. Next year’s draft class is absolutely loaded with defensive line talent. According to Matt Miller’s first 2019 mock draft, three defensive linemen (Nick Bosa, Ed Oliver, and Rashan Gary) are slated as potential top ten picks. Overall, Miller currently has 12 defensive linemen going in the first round in 2019. There is certainly some depth in the defensive trenches next year.
Now, most people are probably wondering why the Browns would already be thinking about the 2019 draft, considering they may finally be ready to compete during the 2018 season. The fact is that front offices evaluate draft classes a year or two in advance. Let’s say that the Browns drafted Chubb this season and they finished with the 8th worst record in the league. What if there are several defensive linemen slated to go in the top 10? You can’t spend another top ten pick on defensive linemen if you picked one in the top ten in the previous two drafts. The cap situation would be in shambles. Not many teams trade up to get defensive linemen (the Saints did this year, but they didn’t get into the top ten to do it). You HAVE to take into consideration that the defensive line class next year has a lot of talent. That’s what running an NFL team entails. I am not saying this was a major reason why the Browns ultimately went with Denzel Ward over Bradley Chubb, but it certainly should have been one of the reasons the Browns went with Ward instead.