The Cleveland Browns are in an enviable position in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. Having two picks in the top 4, and 4 in the top 35, Cleveland should be postured to haul in gobs of starting talent. While the national punditry have debated and pontificated on who the Browns should and will pick, especially with their first two selections, we are finally at a point where it seems almost fruitless to hypothesize further and to just wait for the data to reveal itself. That being said, here are a few items that I think are worth watching out for heading into madness of draft weekend.
1. The Quarterback Controversy: The Cleveland Browns fanbase has had two full years of Hue Jackson, but have yet to experience the preferences of John Dorsey or Todd Haley. The first assumption is that the Browns will choose a QB, and if that assumption holds true, then the QB selected will be very informative as to what the coaching staff and front office view as the “best fit” for the Cleveland Offense.
My projection is that the Browns will draft USC QB Sam Darnold at #1 as (arguably) the most balanced option with a charismatic leadership traits, and a demonstrated ability to hit tight windows. Selecting Darnold would bring a mild gun-slinger type mentality to the Browns, which could form an offensive identity but may also create (or exacerbate) a turnover prone unit. If Cleveland selects Rosen, they believe his talent is sufficiently special to overshadow his risk of injury and reportedly difficult personality. The selection of Wyoming QB Josh Allen would favor measurable talent, both in terms of arm strength and wonderlic, over demonstrated inaccuracy throughout college. This would imply a higher level of confidence in Tyrod Taylor as Allen would require significant development before ready to start in the NFL. The selection of OK QB Baker Mayfield would indicate that Cleveland wants a QB capable of extending plays with demonstrated accuracy throughout college, and are willing to take the personality risks of a QB who has acted inappropriately in game as well as already has a drunk “running” incident under his belt. These QBs are fairly differentiated, and any selection by the Browns will illuminate for us the personality they are seeking for the future of the franchise.
There is a final, though unlikely, possibility; the Browns could choose not to take a QB with one of their top 5 picks. However faint this possibility, it’s worth noting that this possibility was entertained on the ThomaHawk podcast, hosted by former Browns players Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins, by Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. There is a logic to this course of action that deserves engagement. The Browns are clearly a team with needs and the ability to devote those higher pick specifically to play making talent would do more to win right now. This action would clearly signal that Cleveland management has faith in Tyrod Taylor as a QB who they can develop a franchise around, and that winning now is the #1 priority.
2. The Joe Thomas Replacement Unit: Cleveland clearly has a significant void at LT with the permanent departure of Joe Thomas. In a very interesting article discussing how the new CBA has gradually lowered the value of the draft, an internal Rams study is cited where it was determined that:
...it now takes players about three years to have the same amount of practice time they would have gotten in one year under the old CBA.
Offensive linemen perhaps suffer the most from this lack of practice time, as most are not prepared for NFL play coming out of the spread offense in college. The lack of development time lowers the prospective lineman’s value coming out of college, as it will take more time in years to translate their athletic talent to serviceable play on the field. It also adds credibility to the notion that the Browns will give right of first failure to those lineman already on the team - while they may not be first round athletic prospects, they have an additional two years (plus) of development on any rookie that may be drafted. If the Browns draft a tackle in the first round, or early second, they should be convinced that he will contribute immediately. But as fans, we should expect that some years will be required before we really understand that player’s actual potential. I would expect a selection, no earlier than late second round, who has the right athletic traits for development to potentially take over in 1 - 2 years.
3. Draft Day Movement: The Browns having the 33rd and 35th selections, just shy of “first round status,” may elicit one or more moves upwards from these positions. The purpose would not necessarily be to steal that incrementally better player before the second round (though it very well could be), but having that proper first round selection enables the 5th year option at the end of a player’s rookie contract. Another year of non-negotiable play has to be enticing to the Browns who are consistently faced with a performance tax when trying to retain or attract talent.
It will also be interesting to see if Cleveland trades out of their #4 pick to a QB hungry team for a King’s ransom. While I don’t see this as likely, I won’t truly be confident that Cleveland makes a selection here until Goodell makes the live announcement.
Wild Card - Player Baggage: Inevitably, in the 48 hours prior to the NFL draft, some high profile player is compromised with new information about their character. La’el Collins was connected to a murder. A photograph was released showing Laremy Tunsil taking a bong hit through a gas mask. Gareon Conley was accused of sexual assault. Who will be that player this year, and how will it effect the Browns draft strategy?
UPDATE (4/25/2018 - 0330 PST): A previous version of this article referenced Baker Mayfield’s ‘drunk driving’ incident. This has been corrected to say “drunk running”, referencing the 25 Feb 17 incident described below:
The quarterback, dressed in a gray hoodie stained with soy sauce, was told to stay at the scene by the officer, but then began, “yelling profanities and causing a scene.” When Mayfield tried to leave the scene, he was subsequently chased down and arrested by officers. Dash cam video of the arrest released March 10 shows Mayfield getting tackled into a wall by police.
Baker was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest, however the final felony charge was dropped.