INDIANAPOLIS – The Cleveland Browns are on the clock for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft. The Browns are always on the clock. They’re on the clock for not making the playoffs since the 2002 season or winning a playoff game since the 1994 season. (Some guy named Bill Belichick was coaching). And they’re on the clock for never winning a Super Bowl in franchise history.
The Browns don’t do well on the clock, as franchise history persistently dictates. And with the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in the upcoming NFL draft, it’s going to be fascinating to see if they can escape the specter of their tortured recent draft history.
The best all-around player in this NFL draft is Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. One NFL scout told Yahoo Sports that Barkley is the best player – any position – to come out of college football in the past 10 years. Not just running back, which would make him a better prospect than Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott. Player. Period.
“Rare player,” the scout said. “Best I’ve seen [in the] past decade.”
The Browns being the Browns, they had chances to take rare players in the past two drafts. They traded out of the No. 2 slot in 2016, giving up a shot at Carson Wentz. Last year, they ignored two years of Deshaun Watson’s dazzling film and traded the No. 12 pick to let Houston take him. Both Wentz and Watson, despite serious injuries, project as the next banner stars at the quarterback position in the NFL. It’s not too early to chalk those up as glaring mistakes.
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General manager John Dorsey faces a vexing choice in his inaugural draft in Cleveland. There’s no player in this draft that’s scarier to pass on than Barkley. Trade the top pick or wait around until No. 4, and the latest hangover of regret will inevitably come soon.
The Browns need a quarterback, but there’s no perfect prospect at that position. No NFL front office has ever suffered collective remorse from not taking a guard. (Sorry, Quenton Nelson). With Myles Garrett already at one defensive end, there’s not a glaring need for the Browns to use either of their top picks on defensive end Bradley Chubb. (The Colts, lurking at No. 3, have already had their owner lobbying for the franchise to take a tailback – “an Edgerrin James type of player” – to complement Andrew Luck).
Could that be Barkley? He earned comparisons to Bo Jackson for his physical freakishness in college. Barkley measured in at the NFL scouting combine at 6-foot and 233 pounds, layered in enough muscle that his 29 reps of 225 on the bench press makes him the sixth best among offensive linemen, according to a tweet by NFL research.
In three years at Penn State, he ran for more than 1,000 yards each season, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and scoring 53 touchdowns. He thrived in the backfield, catching passes (54 as a senior) and returning kicks (just ask Ohio State). He even made the key block in pass protection on the game-winning pass at Iowa last year.
Joe Moorhead, Barkley’s coordinator at Penn State who is now the head coach at Mississippi State, said in a phone interview on Thursday that he wouldn’t dare suggest who an NFL team should draft. But he threw out an apt term: “Generational talent.”
Moorhead added: “I’ve said it a million times, his talent is only superseded by his character.”
Barkley displayed his preternatural poise, halogen smile and engaging demeanor during a combine interview Thursday. The crowd of reporters circled his podium about six people deep, and Barkley charmed them all with a balance of confidence and humility. “I can do it all,” Barkley said. “I can go over the top of you, I can hit you with speed, I can hit you with some wiggle, I can run through you. It’s something I try to improve on every single day.”
The Browns have a lot of decisions to make before they decide on Barkley. They could bring in a free-agent quarterback, which could make it easier. Dorsey said he’s open to trading the pick.
Barkley is a tricky choice because this tailback class appears historically deep, which could leave a great value for someone like Georgia’s Sony Michel, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny or USC’s Ronald Jones later in the draft.
The Browns could also look at recent convention, which would dictate that it’s crazy to draft a tailback at No. 1. No one has done that since Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. (Yes, he went to Penn State, too, and busted in the NFL). Since no tailbacks were taken in the first round of the 2013 and 2014 drafts, there has been a tailback revolution. Gurley went No. 10 in 2015 and both Elliott and Fournette went No. 4 the past two years. None of those teams have shown a morsel of regret about those picks.
“Jacksonville’s offense is so much different with [Fournette] in the backfield,” the scout told Yahoo Sports. “So is Zeke with Dallas, Gurley with the Rams. They make defensive coordinators hold their [breath] on every play.”
Browns fans are holding their breath for their team, stocked with picks and young talent, to make the right decision to break out of a rut of misery. They are 4-44 the past three seasons and traded away the picks of two potentially elite players. Can they avoid the same fate by defying convention and taking Barkley No. 1? The clock is ticking on the draft’s biggest drama.
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