With the regular season ending for the majority of teams, most fans now reflect on missed opportunities from the past season. However, once the doom and gloom is over and the what-ifs end, fans and teams start to look ahead at what next season might behold. The core of Super Bowl winning teams are rarely built in free agency and it is through the Draft that teams must find hidden gems and stock their roster full of talented young athletes who will help their respective franchise chalk up Ws. The Cleveland Browns after finishing 1-15 hold the number 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Browns should by now have a roster loaded with talent based on their draft positions in the past eight drafts, however, a continual coaching carousal alongside changing front office regimes has resulted in the Browns lacking the organisational stability needed to bring in successful draft classes. However, this year could be different for Cleveland. Despite an abysmal 1-15 season, the organisation is sticking with Head Coach Hue Jackson who they believe will lead the franchise to future success. Jackson was able to treat 2016 as the first year in a rebuild where he could see which players he is happy to keep and what areas of team he needs to bring in new blood to improve (problem? there’s a lot!).
The Browns have a horrible track record of first round selections, outside of Joe Thomas in 2007 and Alex Mack in 2009 (Johnny Manziel, Justin Gilbert, Barkevious Mingo, Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Phil Taylor). However, with Jackson in place and the “Harvard Connection” finally having a full year of scouting under their belts, many wonder whether the Browns will get it right in 2017?
Cleveland’s current regime is the product of last years overhaul. Majority owner Jimmy Haslam has embraced an analytical approach to sport as Sashi Brown became GM and Paul DePodesta (instrumental in the “money ball” approach of the Oakland Athletics in MLB) became Chief Strategy Officer. Haslam rounded off the Harvard Trio with Andrew Berry (long time Colts scout) joining as VP of Personnel. Whether the organisation takes an analytical viewpoint or relies on more conventional methods of football scouting; there appears to be only a few legitimate options for the Browns to explore with the number 1 pick. Remember the Browns also pick 12th so they have the chance to take a true stud no.1 and a solid starter at no.12.
Possible Number 1 overall picks:
Myles Garrett – Edge, Texas A&M
This to me seems to be the sensible pick. Garrett is the best player in College Football. At 6 foot 5, 262lbs Garrett has proto-typical size for an elite DE in the NFL. While some may argue Garrett could flourish as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme, I believe his size and skill set is best suited to a 4-3 DE. In 3 years with the Aggies, Myles Garrett has racked up an impressive 141 combined tackles, 48.5 tackles for a loss, 31 sacks, 1 interception and 7 forced fumbles.
Garrett posses the speed, explosion and motor required to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL. He has used leverage and raw speed to blow by Tackles in the SEC the past three years. He has showcased a plethora of moves to beat Tackles which should impress scouts. 25 of Garrett’s 46 combined sacks, hits and hurries in his sophomore season came by beating an opposing blocker to the outside. Twice he got pressure through some form of a bull rush and two further hits came by showcasing a spin move.
Slower Offensive Tackles have no chance against Garrett’s initial upfield burst and his twitchy corner-turning ability which allows him to round the corner before Tackles have even got a hand on him. Garrett can also convert speed to power and has showcased the strength needed to turn inside and battle blockers at the pad level. The only area for improvement is his hand usage and pad level when taking inside lanes in pass rushing. At the College level his raw speed allows him to get away with this (look how fast he hits this gap in the video below) but he will need to improve his technique in this regard to dominate in the NFL.
Garrett is also a force in the run game as his get off forces RBs to funnel inside from where he can use his long arms and strength to redirect Tackles into the running lane, blowing plays up. Garrett is a consensus top 2 pick and the Browns would benefit greatly from having a beast edge rusher who they could let loose on Big Ben, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton in the AFC North.
The only snag is that Cleveland currently plays a 3-4 Defense. Cleveland drafted Emmanuel Ogbah last year and are also hoping to resign Jamie Collins to be their two starting OLBs. While Collins could move inside as a Will, I believe Garrett is a better 4-3 DE than 3-4 OLB, however, he has played standing up at times for A&M. If the Browns believes Garrett is athletic enough then he could be a force standing up as a 3-4 Edge Rusher. Alternatively, if Cleveland thinks he can add weight and bulk, then he could potentially flourish with his hand in the dirt as a 3-4 DE.
Mitch Trubisky – QB, North Carolina
Note: Mitch Trubisky as of the publishing of this article has not announced whether he will return to North Carolina or enter the NFL Draft. Most expect him to enter the Draft.
Mitch Trubisky, like all of this years Quarterbacks, is splitting opinion among analysts and league sources. Tape is limited as he only featured in ten games in 2014 and nine games in 2015 as a backup. In 2016 (Trubisky’s Junior season – he was redshirted), he showed that he is an accurate QB, with excellent decision making and able to win games for his team. In 2016, Trubisky had 304 completions off 446 attempts (68.2%), 3,748 yards, 30 TD – 6 INT with 308 rushing yards off 93 attempts (3.3 average), 5 rushing TDs.
Sitting behind starter Marquise Williams was greatly beneficial as Trubisky learnt the Offense and did not miss a beat in his first season as a starter. Despite an impressive showing in 2016, many scouts and the Browns might question if he is ready to make the step into the NFL with only one full season under his belt.
While some may question Trubisky’s mental readiness to play QB in the NFL; there is little to doubt in his physical readiness. He is an ideal height and weight at 6 foot 2 and a half inches with a slightly thicker build at 220lbs. Trubisky uses his big arm to drive the ball downfield and to the sideline with velocity. He has also displayed great accuracy and touch on the football in 2016. This is a huge positive as many college offenses now utilise balls thrown behind the line of scrimmage or quick hitters. Trubisky has demonstrated that he can make all the throws and deliver balls with the necessary velocity and touch to his receivers.
One knock by some scouts, is that at times he lacks the necesary pocket presence to step up and avoid sacks. However, I believe that he has above average pocket presence as he regularly uses his legs to avoid blitzers when he senses pressure (video below from their important match up with Miami) Unlike Kizer (listed below), Trubisky has won big games and is an impressive 60% when completing passes on third and long or while trailing in games. Money time essentially.
Mitch Trubisky will make an interesting case for the Browns if they believe they have seen enough from him in 2016. If Front Office believes Hue Jackson can get the most out of this up and coming QB, then there is no reason why the Browns would not select him 1st overall (they also have pick no.12 to get another solid starter).
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
DeShone Kizer has the proto-typical size that most teams look for in the Quarterback position (6 foot 4 1/2 inches, 230lbs). He has a better physical skill set than Mitch Trubisky or Deshaun Watson, however, sources around the League suggest that teams are torn over Kizer. Some have him as high as the a no.1 talent while others have him as a late 1st rounder.
DeShone Kizer has an excellent touch on the football and has showcased superb accuracy and ball placement in his two years as a starter for the Fighting Irish. Despite his relative inexperience and foregoing his final two years of eligibility, he has shown enough on film to demonstrate that he can remain calm under pressure. His field vision is extremely impressive as he is able to quickly progress through his reads, even while defenders are bearing down on him.
Kizer is an excellent pocket passer and his arm strength allows him to make all the throws and beat good coverage. He is consistently accurate and has the pocket presence and mobility to be able to extend plays with his legs and find receivers down field for big plays. Kizer has demonstrated that he can squeeze balls into tight windows, protect the football and has elite decision-making ability. He has a big arm and has an outstanding deep ball, something many NFL scouts are heavily biased towards (as can be seen below vs Syracuse).
Critics would argue that he has never lit the college football world on fire and his Fighting Irish only went 4-8 in 2016 (not good enough for a Bowl game). In his two years as a ‘starter’ Kizer has not amassed eye popping stats: 423 completions off 696 attempts (60.7%), 5,809 yards, 47 TDS – 19 INTs with 992 rushing yards off 263 attempts (3.77 average), 18 rushing TDs. He was also always in a murky situation surrounding his starting status which resulted in him having three offseason’s with either practice or back up reps.
Kizer has the pocket presence, arm, decision-making, mobility and size to warrant being seriously looked at as a 1st overall pick. While he is not as polished as previously no.1’s like Jameis Winston out of Florida State, QBs with raw tools have been taken high the past couple of years in spite of whether or not they are perceived as ‘Pro Ready’ (Jared Goff no.1 in 2016, Blake Bortles no.3 in 2013).
Wild-Cards or Trade down and select one of the below?
The Browns could trade out of their number 1 spot. Lets not forget that this team passed up on Carson Wentz last season at the number 2 spot. The Browns could broker a deal and trade down if the team is not sold on one of the Quarterbacks Myles Garrett. Cleveland could get another 1st round pick alongside their no.12 selection AND an additional 1st rounder either this year or in next years Draft, depending on how a trade might pan out.
Cleveland could make the most of this stacked draft class by taking one of the premier Edge Rushers, Safeties, Corners or LBs to help bolster their Defense (alongside Jamie Collins if he re-signs). Alternatively the Browns could look for Joe Thomas’ long-term replacement or a weapon to help improve their Offense. The players below would all be REACHES at number 1, however, stranger things have panned out on Draft night before? Last year’s twitter antics ring any bells?
Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee
A lot of Tennessee and other SEC fans will tell you that the most dominant pass rusher in the SEC was Derek Barnett NOT Myles Garrett. In his three year with the Vols, Barnett has amassed 197 combined tackles, 52 tackles for a loss, 33 sacks, 1 interception and 3 forced fumbles. Barnett’s numbers scream production and many argue that he has been more successful against elite competition than Myles Garrett.
Barnett is smaller than Garrett at 6 foot 3, 265lbs but could still develop to be an elite pass rusher at the NFL level. Barnett broke his school sack record, surpassing the previous total set by NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White. Barnett is also effective against the run as he is able to set a hard edge and shed blockers to blow plays up in the back field. Barnett is a premier pass rusher who could be available between picks 4-8 depending on how the draft board shakes out (namely how many QBs are selected).
Jonathan Allen, D-Line, Alabama
Jonathan Allen is looking to join Russell Maryland (1991), Steve Emtman (1992) and Dan Wilkinson (1994) as the only Defensive Tackles to have been taken with the 1st overall pick. Six other DTs have gone no.2: Ndamukong Suh (2010), Darrell Russell (1997) and Tony Casillas (1986), Steve Niehaus (1976), Mike McCoy (1970), Merlin Olsen (1962).
Jonathan Allen has been extremely disruptive in 2016. He dominates opponents at the point of attack and is a menace against both the pass and run. Allen has put together enough tape to have him on par with other previous elite interior defensive linemen prospects, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Aaron Donald.
He is a tremendous pass-rusher as he explodes off the snap and can quickly fire through gaps. His speed and agility is a mismatch against most Guards while his strength allows him to go blow for blow with some of College Football’s best interior Offensive Linemen. Allen has the potential to develop into a potent run suffer and tremendous pass rusher in the NFL.
Allen’s stat line over the past two seasons are similar to Suh’s final two in Nebraska:
Allen in 28 games had 98 total tackles. 29.5 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks and 1 INT (he returned it 75 yards for a TD).
Suh in 27 games had 164 total tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks and 3 INTs.
Jonathan Allen has also picked up a multitude of awards in 2016: 1st Team All-SEC, Unanimous All-America, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Ted Henricks Award (College Football’s Top DE), Chuck Bednarik Award (Maxwell Football Club’s best Defensive player in College Football), Bronko Angurski Trophy (Football Writers Association’s best Defensive Player). Despite playing on an extremely gifted Defense, Allen has been able to shine as a Defensive Linemen and could flourish as a Defensive End in Cleveland’s 3-4 base Defense.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Cleveland may wish to take a young Tackle who they could plug in at RT (or Guard) for the short-term, while Joe Thomas grooms Robinson to eventually replace him as the franchise’s LT. Robinson played extremely well against Myles Garrett when ‘Bama played the Aggies in 2016. Cam Robinson reportedly lost 10-15 pounds this season. This showed as he displayed greater quickness and greatly improved in pass protection. The verdict is still out on whether Robinson has the necessary athleticism to play LT and cope with speed rushers or whether he could be a very good RT at the NFL level.
In 2016 Robinson was named First-Team All-SEC and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy (SEC’s Best Blocker) and Outland Trophy (College Football’s Best Interior Linemen). There is little first round talent at the Offensive Tackle position, something they may cause Robinson’s value to rise on some draft boards. But despite this poor Tackle class; Cam Robinson is a prospect who should go in the 10-15 region.
Deshaun Watson – QB, Clemson
The differing opinions surrounding Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson remind me of Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 Draft. Watson was the golden boy of College Football in 2015 (as Lamar Jackson is in 2016). Coming out of High School, Watson was the number 1 ranked QB prospect in his class and turned down offers from Alabama, FSU, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Oregon and USC to attend Clemson.
In 2015 he led his Clemson team to 12-0, #1 ranking before losing to Alabama in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship game (Watson threw for 405 yards and 4TDs and ran for 73 yards in that game). He finished 3rd in Heisman voting. Watson was the ultimate dual-threat QB in 2015 and showed off his athleticism and playmaking ability, en route to posting 333 completions off 493 attempts (67.8%), 4,104 yards, 38TDs – 13 INTs and 1,105 rushing yards off 207 attempts (5.3 average) with 12 rushing TDs.
Watson has turned in an equally impressive 2016 campaign as Clemson are currently 13-1 and just shut out Ohio State 31-0 in the CFP Semi-Finals. Watson has struggled with accuracy issues all season, particularly when going downfield. He needs to improve his accuracy and tough on the football, ball placement and field vision. He also plays in a college spread offense, something that does not translate well to the NFL. He will have to learn how to play under center, opearte a huddle, footwork with the various drop backs and to not be a ‘running quarterback.’
Watson is a winner. He has proved that he can lead his team down the field and win crucial games for his football programme. He has displayed the necessary leadership traits and work ethic which are crucial to playing QB in the NFL. While Watson does have some great skills and strengths to work with… it would be too much of a reach to take a player at no.1 who has not showed enough for people to believe that he can dominate at the NFL level. Watson could, however, make an excellent pick as a developmental QB in the 2nd or 3rd round for a team who is willing to redshirt him and allow him to develop.
I believe the Browns should trade down from the number one pick. Controversial I am sure.
This Browns team is not one elite edge rusher away from competing in the AFC North. This roster needs a complete overhaul and could greatly benefit from receiving additional 1st round picks in this year or next years draft. Cleveland picks first in the 2nd round, essentially three 1st round picks. This draft class is stacked with premiere pass rushers, elite DBs and exceptional RBs.
If the Browns traded back a few spots they could still take Derek Barnett as an Edge Rusher. If they traded back into the teens they could potentially get a stud LB (a Reuben Foster), a good cover CB (a Quincy Wilson) or potentially either Mitch Trubisky or Deshone Kizer if one of them drops. This is also a poor class for Offensive Linemen and the Browns may do well by having multiple picks in next years Draft to address their deficient O-Line alongside other needs.
Cleveland currently has the right piece in place with Hue Jackson at Head Coach. 2015 1st round pick NT Danny Shelton looks like an ideal 3-4 Tackle, while 2016 1st rounder Corey Coleman looked like a promising play maker when healthy. 2016, 32nd overall pick Emmanuel Ogbah finished the season with 6.0 sacks.
With a few consecutive successful draft classes, the Browns could start to compete for the AFC North. Ben Roesthlisberger is 35 next season, Joe Flacco will be 32 and the Bengals have an aging Defense. A successful 2016 class that brings in 2-3 solid starters for the next 5-10 years could set the Browns up to compete in the AFC North year-in year-out in the not so distant future.
What will Cleveland do with no.1 pick? We will have to wait till April 27th to find out.