It's not been easy being a Browns fan and watching their recent drafts, or draft hauls. I'm not even going to waste time listing out the constant misses, trade down, and "too-smart-for-their-own-good" moves that everyone else on the internet has made 9,000 times at this stage of the game.
Heading into this 2018 Draft, however, it has, up until recently, seemingly shifted to a much more positive tone for Cleveland; they have (on paper) a legitimately dynamic group of talent identifiers, led by John Dorsey, they (for reasons that escape me) stuck with a head coach and added (what sounds like) a solid offensive coordinator to the group, and have 6 picks in the top 65, amidst (what we've been told is) a fantastic class of quarterback prospects.
Take out any qualifiers and you find yourself asking how the Browns could screw this up.
I'm afraid either way.
The first, clear issue the Browns face is the fact that the first overall pick in this draft is a blessing and a curse for them here. See, the Browns quite clearly need a quarterback, a pure franchise-facing signal caller that can anchor the franchise as it attempts to dig out of the dirt. And yet, much like in 2016 and 2017, there's genuine arguments that can be made that, in spite of a talented class of QB's, that at least 5 players (Saquon Barkley, Quentin Nelson, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, and Bradley Chubb), if not more, are rated higher than even the highest players in this class.
I can't even lie and say that isn't the case for my own personal big board; I currently include one additional player (Tremaine Edmunds) before my highest ranked QB. Perhaps the rest of the class could be argued to be a bit shallow, but the top end of the class is quite good, yet again.
It's hard enough if you're the Browns, trying to desperately determine which of these wildly different QB's is worthy of a pick; is it the prototypical Sam Darnold, the pro-ready Josh Rosen, the dynamic leader Baker Mayfield, the super athlete Lamar Jackson, or the big-bodied Josh Allen? Which meshes well with Hue Jackson, a coach who may not even be long for the league if he can't stick to the Browns' newest machinations? Will Jimmy Haslam, he who loves big personalities and desperately needs to not only field a winner but find a player that can be a positive figure in Cleveland, have any influence? What of the opinions or Bill Parcells or Scot McCloughan?
Unfortunately a situation has been created where there not only isn't an obvious number 1 (not entirely dissimilar to 2017), but the players who are available vary so maddeningly that it could make a GM's head spin, and probably is for more teams than just the Browns.
You are also dealing with a fanbase that is not so much starving for a franchise QB, but will judge the franchise based on the actions of prior regimes if the correct signal caller is not identified. It's created an insatiable Catch-22 for the Browns:
Do you pass on a franchise QB, the one position you need more than any other, and risk losing out on your choice of the best other player on the board as a result? Or do you take the best player available, but then risk missing on the QB you value the highest?
The scenarios in play here are the things that will be keeping fans up at night until this whole process is over with:
- The Browns take Saquon Barkley at 1, identifying him as the number one overall player in the draft and a franchise changing Running Back. Before the Giants can even hit the podium, the fanbase and the media could easily turn this into another "Typical Browns" moment, slamming Cleveland for passing on their QB of choice. One would assume that their chances of still getting their choice of QB (which, at least in the heads of most fans, is likely around 50% with only two picks separating them from their second 1st rounder) would still be high considering the Giants may stick with Eli Manning, and the Colts are almost certainly not going to move off of Andrew Luck, but what if New York budges? What if either team makes a trade down? What happens if the Browns badly want Sam Darnold, and Darnold is the only plan in place, but he's gone at 4? Do they go off board and add another one of the top players? Do they trade down and wait for their second choice, or just take them there? And what if their second choice is gone? Are they going to "settle" for a quarterback they may have not actually wanted, as seemed to be the case with Deshone Kizer last year?
- The Browns take their QB of choice at 1. Although punditry seems to side with the Browns, and the assumption would be that this would significantly shift the QB market within the draft, it's still no sure thing they can get the BPA at 4 that still meets their needs. Both the Colts and Giants need upgrades at RB, could use secondary help, and could argue to get the best pass rusher available. What if they highly value Bradley Chubb, but he's gone? Do they trade down yet again, moving out of the extremely talented top-line of the class, an issue that has plagued them for so long? Do they go off board and take a player not considered worthy of the 4th overall pick, like Denzel Ward or a lesser RB like Derrius Guice? Could they even justifiably make the move to add someone they objectively do not need, such as Quentin Nelson?
Cleveland is going to have to eat crow almost certainly no matter what happens on draft night, unless they either find a way to get their QB of choice and their top-line player of choice; what order that goes in and how that plays out is anyone's guess and will depend immensely on how he Giants, Colts, and potential trade partners play the game. They're been eating L's for far too long, and they desperately need to "win" this draft; to get everything they want. Even with a number of late round opportunities (multiple 4ths and 5ths, as well as two high second rounders, help their chances to move up for another player from 4 without giving future assets immensely), the Browns are more against the wall than I think people truly realize here.
John Dorsey's first draft in Cleveland might be labeled a failure no matter what direction he goes; his job is going to be finding a way to minimize the damage and bring two high impact players, one of which being their new franchise QB, to Cleveland in the first round...and pray history is going to tell him he makes the right choice.