2018 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns

02/21/2018
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We’re 65 days away from the 2018 NFL Draft! It seems like yesterday that we were watching our first college football game of these season. Now we’re just a few short days away from the Scouting Combine, then free-agency shortly thereafter. Clearly, a lot can happen between now and the draft. We all know that. Something will happen off the field. Certain players won’t test to where we expected, therefore, they won’t meet our standards and will drop down our boards.

Speaking of boards, let’s do a mini-board. Not a big board, but a mini-board of “draft options” for teams in the first round. This will be a new series coming to Cover1, and if you don’t like your team’s mini-board, I want you to complain to me on Twitter in 280 characters or fewer @RussNFLDraft.

The first team to kick-off this series will be the Cleveland Browns. It only makes sense; they have the first pick in the draft and have an incredible amount of money to spend in free agency. According to Spotrac.com, the Browns have just over $110 million in cap room. Therefore, they should be considered the heavy favorites to land Kirk Cousins. They’re surprisingly not and, last I checked, they trail the Denver Broncos and New York Jets for his services. With that being said, let’s take a look at some draft options for the Cleveland Browns with the first overall pick.

Josh Rosen, QB from UCLA

The top option for the Cleveland Browns has to be my top-ranked quarterback. Josh Rosen is certainly QB1; he stands as the most pro-ready quarterback in this class. Many compare him to Eli Manning. I’m not one to try and find pro-comparisons for players because I want them to be themselves. However, if Rosen turns out to be Eli, that should mean two Super Bowls for an organization that desperately needs to win more football games. Bringing in Rosen should help that. I wouldn’t consider him a flawless prospect because he has flaws. Which quarterback doesn’t?

By taking Josh Rosen, they get a quarterback who excels better than any quarterback in this class at reading the defense before the snap (pre-snap reads). He makes adjustments, finds plenty of soft spots and holes in the defense, and he’ll exploit them. I don’t believe he has elite arm strength, but it’s really good. Ball placement is a key area where he needs to get better. He’s not as inconsistent as someone like Josh Allen, but he still could improve in this area. There are times that he takes a shot down field and will under throw the receiver by a step or two. These throws are often incomplete but if they’re completed, the receiver is bailing him out of trouble.

As for his lower body and throwing mechanics, they’re strong. He has no issues standing in the pocket and delivering strikes in tight coverage. Above, you’ll see solid pocket development and a completed pass in a tight window for a first down. These are the types of throws that really hurt the Browns’ offense last year. Rosen is clearly a better player than Kizer, and if the Browns are considering a quarterback at first overall, they need to strongly consider Josh Rosen.

Sam Darnold, QB from USC

Despite my top quarterback being Josh Rosen, I do believe the Browns are strongly considering Sam Darnold with the first overall pick. Honestly, I can’t blame them. The make up you want out of a quarterback is something you will get with Sam Darnold. He has the physical skills and is a gifted thrower, despite his mechanics being out of whack.

2018 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns

 

At USC, Darnold ran plenty of run-pass options (RPOs), and that should translate well for him at the next level. This will allow him to maximize his skill-set, which is his athletic ability and his ability to convert with short yardage throws. According to SportsInfo Solutions (SIS), he had he highest completion percentage in the country (75.4%). Also, going into the 2017 season, Sam Darnold was one of the best quarterbacks when facing pressure. He had a passer rating of 110.3 when under pressure.

As you can see above, Darnold avoids pressure with his exquisite pocket mobility and places a pass perfectly along the sideline. Early in the 2017 season, Darnold struggled. He threw at least one interception in each of his first six games for a total of nine. But it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. He finished with only four interceptions during the second half of the season for a total of 13. Regardless, he needs to get better with his ball security. He’s had 22 interceptions and 20 lost fumbles over the last two seasons. If he wants to survive on Sundays, he’ll need to get better in that area and his lower body mechanics, especially, if he’s drafted to the Cleveland Browns.

Saquon Barkley, RB from Penn State

My top overall prospect is Saquon Barkley, and seeing him go first overall wouldn’t be surprising to me, but to the rest of the world it may be. Since 2007, we’ve seen 39 wide receivers taken in round one, compared to only 19 running backs. None of these 58 players has been taken first overall, and the highest any of them was selected was in the 2007 NFL Draft. That’s when Calvin Johnson went 2nd overall to the Detroit Lions. The last time a running back went first overall was in the 1995 NFL Draft, when the Cincinnati Bengals selected Ki-Jana Carter out of Penn State. Since then, 14 quarterbacks have been drafted first overall. The Browns drafted one of those quarterbacks, Tim Couch, in the 1999 NFL Draft.

As for Saquon Barkley, he’s better than Ki-Jana Carter and Tim Couch combined. Barkley is the type of running back that can change the way an offense operates. He’s had over 100 receptions over the last three seasons and will be heavily utilized in the passing game on Sundays. The jump-cutting ability from Barkley is exceptional. He can cut on a dime and has great body control and balance. Often times, Barkley runs low and doesn’t expose himself to defenders.

Unfortunately, Barkley isn’t the perfect prospect that I make him out to be. He has his flaws and they’re obvious. We consistently see his great vision on display in the open field and when approaching the line-of-scrimmage (LOS). It’s clear, though, that there are times he spends too much time avoiding contact and trying to always make the big play happen. I can’t bash him for his competitiveness, but it definitely hurts seeing him not taking the yardage he’s given, even when it’s only two or three.

The only way the Browns consider Barkley with the first overall pick is if they don’t draft a quarterback. That’s an obvious conclusion, I know. Realistically, though, I expect them to go quarterback and at fourth overall, if Barkley is there, he should be their guy regardless of risk or need, whatever you want to call it. Again, he’s the best player available, and at fourth overall, that’s exactly what the Browns should be doing. As for the first overall pick, taking a quarterback is the most logical thing for the Browns to do. Taking Barkley may just be a shot in the dark.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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