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NFL draft grades 2018: Cleveland Browns’ first round earns a ‘B’

The media is either way high or low on the Browns’ first-round picks, with very little in between.

NFL: NFL Draft Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It’s remarkable just how spoiled Cleveland Browns fans have been with multiple first-round picks year-after-year. That trend may finally end in 2019, as Cleveland decided to stay put at No. 1 and No. 4 overall this year as opposed to trading down for future assets. Did the decisions to select QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward pay off with respect to draft grades?

In the table below, you will find grades for Cleveland’s first round from around the web. Each website is linked to if you’d like to read more details about why the picks were graded the way they were, or if you want to see how other NFL teams compared with their grades. Most sites graded the picks individually, which I then averaged into a composite grade.

Site Grade Notes from Website on Grade
SB Nation
(Dan Kadar)
B+ Mayfield: Some Browns fans may be wary, but this isn’t Johnny Manziel 2.0. Is Mayfield against the norm as a quarterback just over 6’0 coming out of the Big 12? Sure. But Mayfield is confident and aggressive on the field and his teammates absolutely loved him at Oklahoma. Maybe we should have seen this pick coming. When the Browns hired John Dorsey as general manager, the first thought was that he was a Mayfield fan. When Dorsey added Scot McCloughan as a consultant, the same was said. Now it’s a reality in Cleveland.

The key to this pick for the Browns is catering the offense to Mayfield’s strengths. Head coach Hue Jackson showed last season that he’s not willing to do so for a rookie quarterback. There is risk with this selection, but that can be said with any of the top quarterbacks. The difference for the Browns is that they picked first. (Grade: B+)

Ward is without question the best cornerback in this draft. But is he good enough to be the fourth overall pick? And with Bradley Chubb still available? That’s a little hard to get over. From a storyline standpoint, though, it’s great. Ward played at Nordonia High School, which is about a half hour away from the Browns’ practice facility. Suffice to say, he’ll have fans in Cleveland. Cornerback is also a position the Browns needed to target, even after signing T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines in free agency. (Grade: B)
Sports Illustrated
(Andy Benoit)
B Mayfield: Those pesky Johnny Manziel comparisons aren’t going away—not until Mayfield wins a few games, at least. The Browns gambled here, passing on multiple quarterbacks with traditional NFL measurables for the one who stands at just six feet. Mayfield doesn’t have the Russell Wilson-type athleticism to prosper in sandlot mode the way he did in college. But what the Browns surely noticed is, while those sandlot plays dazzled fans, Mayfield’s best work actually came when he played on time and within structure. He has a good enough arm and a sharp enough football IQ to run a high-level pro offense. His best chance at success is the Drew Brees route, with his game predicated on precision passing, intellect and, to offset the height issue, pocket movement. (Grade: B)

Here’s why Ward to the Browns isn’t as shocking as it seems: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams believes in disguising coverages and blitzing. That’s much, MUCH easier to do when you have a shutdown corner. The Browns were 0-16 last season, but their roster is of 5-11 quality and their defense didn’t have a glaring weakness. The team could afford to take the best player available here. Assuming they liked N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb (why wouldn’t they?), they’ve tacitly declared two things by drafting Ward: 1. Myles Garrett can really carry a pass rush, and 2. You can manufacture a pass rush via blitzing, as long as you have guys who can cover one-on-one behind the blitz. (Grade: B)
Bleacher Report
(Mike Tanier)
B+ Mayfield: Browns fans can be forgiven for having some Manziel-related anxiety. But Mayfield is not that guy. He has an arrest for public intoxication on his record along with a history of on-field obnoxiousness, but a few isolated incidents only form a narrative, not evidence of a real problem. On the field, Mayfield possesses one of the best NCAA stat lines ever, a Heisman Trophy and gorgeous game film that shows him smoothly operating an offense, as opposed to generating playground highlights like Manziel.

Instead of worrying about Mayfield being Manziel, Browns fans should consider Mayfield the quarterback they thought they were getting in Manziel. (Grade: B)

Denzel Ward is very similar to Broncos cornerback Chris Harris. He is a little undersized but makes up for it with a physical style. Ward is best in man coverage but has good eyes in zone and reacts quickly to pattern combinations. Ward played outside in college but projects as a starter who will slide to the slot or move around to avoid 6’4" receivers in the NFL. He’s not suited to cover Julio Jones, but no cornerback in this class has a better chance of covering Antonio Brown. (Grade: A-)
(Chad Reuter)
C Cumulative: Browns GM John Dorsey benefited from his predecessors' bounty. They picked up a first-round pick in this draft by trading down and passing on Deshaun Watson last April. Now, they have Mayfield, a fiery leader with passing skills that they believe can take the team's mojo to the next level. They had to pick a QB at No. 1, and they did. The only red flag here is that Mayfield needs to make plays from the pocket to succeed. If Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen excel and Mayfield doesn't, then their process was flawed. Picking Ward with the No. 4 overall pick was too rich for my blood. He's a good player who meets a need, but he's probably a reach at No. 4.
Yahoo Sports B- Mayfield: There were early signs that the Browns were intrigued with Mayfield. "A lot of what he is as a player fits with the mentality of [Browns general manager] John Dorsey," a source told Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson at the Senior Bowl in January. Is the power of personality big enough to lift the Browns when he’s ready to assume the No. 1 job from Tyrod Taylor? More important, how does his game translate to the next level? Greg Cosell offered this in a film breakdown: "Mayfield will be at his best if he’s in a structured passing game." Structure and the Browns have been lacking, but a move this bold was done in confidence. (Grade: B)

This was the first surprise of the draft. The Browns passed on Bradley Chubb – which surprisingly sits well with Myles Garrett – to go after this alpha corner from the Buckeyes. A bit of a reach? (Grade: C+)
USA Today
(Steven Ruiz)
A- Mayfield: Mayfield could very well turn into a good NFL quarterback, but a lot will have to break right for the Oklahoma standout to end up as the best QB from this class. He’s not comfortable in tight pockets and has to do a better job of getting through his progressions while keeping his footwork intact. If he doesn’t clean up those issues, the Browns could be back in the QB market in a couple of years. (Grade: C)

Maybe the Browns know something we don’t, but it seems like they could have traded out of this spot and still landed Ward later in the top 10. This isn’t necessarily a value pick, but Ward is a good talent and fills a need. (Grade: B-)
CBS Sports
(Pete Prisco)
B- Mayfield: I just think there were better options and it's risky taking a 6-foot quarterback first overall. (Grade: C)

I love the player and the way he covers, but why not Bradley Chubb? (Grade: B)
The Ringer
(Danny Kelly)
A Mayfield: This isn’t the first pick that most of us expected during the past few months — but it’s tough to knock the Browns for going with Mayfield here over the long-time favorite, USC’s Sam Darnold. The former Heisman winner was probably the most efficient college quarterback of all time; he performed well under pressure and in the red zone throughout his college career, and while his lack of height (he’s just over 6 feet) remains a concern — from a statistical point of view, he stood head and shoulders above all his peers in this year’s QB class, finishing with 119 touchdowns and just 21 picks in his three years at Oklahoma while posting top-tier numbers in just about every metric. In fact, apart from his size, Mayfield checks every other box at the position: He’s got accuracy, poise, the ability to make plays out of structure, and excellent leadership traits. (Grade: A+)

The Browns gave up a league-worst 102.3 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in 2017, so a talent — and production — upgrade at cornerback was a clear need. Ward’s the best corner in this draft; a ball hawk (two interceptions and 15 passes defensed last year) who’s sticky in coverage, physical, competitive, and versatile enough to play both on the outside or in the slot. He’s a little undersized at 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, but he makes up for it with elite athleticism, long arms, and an advanced understanding of route concepts that allows him blanket routes at all three levels.

The only question with this pick is whether or not Cleveland is making a mistake in passing on the best pass rusher in this class, Bradley Chubb. But Ward is good enough to take that risk, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him have the same type of year-one impact for Cleveland that former Buckeye Marshon Lattimore had with the Saints last year. (Grade: A+)
Average B Using a GPA scale, grade converted to a 2.93. Rounded up to B.

Chris Pokorny’s Grade

As I stated in my recap post last night, I went into this year’s draft with the expectation that we would end up with any two of a pool of seven players -- one of QB Sam Darnold, QB Baker Mayfield, or QB Josh Allen, and then one of RB Saquon Barkley, DE Bradley Chubb, CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, or CB Denzel Ward. Of those seven players, the only one I was kind of against taking was Allen. Barkley was already off the board at No. 4. Unlike Jim Brown, I’m not pissed that we passed on him at No. 1.

Going off of my big board, I technically would have preferred the combination of QB Sam Darnold and DE Bradley Chubb, both of whom were available when Cleveland was on the clock. However, both Mayfield and Ward were pretty much neck-and-neck with them — a very close second. I feel like the club accomplished their mission: they took their future franchise quarterback as they should have, and also one of the top defensive prospects in the draft. I will go ahead and give them an A-.

DBN Browns Fan Grades

Here is how Browns fans on DBN instantly graded each pick after it was made. Mayfield got an C+, and Ward got a C+. Combined, that is a C+ grade. But our grades are a little harsher on the scale because we included the option of an “F,” which some extremists voted for. If we compared it to the media grades above, I think the average would be more like a B or B-.


How do you grade the Cleveland Browns’ selection of QB Baker Mayfield at No. 1 overall?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    (787 votes)
  • 23%
    (528 votes)
  • 15%
    (352 votes)
  • 8%
    (205 votes)
  • 18%
    (421 votes)
2293 votes total Vote Now


How do you grade the Cleveland Browns’ selection of CB Denzel Ward at No. 4 overall?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    (403 votes)
  • 33%
    (603 votes)
  • 19%
    (355 votes)
  • 10%
    (194 votes)
  • 12%
    (227 votes)
1782 votes total Vote Now