Time for the big one.
We all know the score, the Browns have got to solve their quarterback nightmare. The team has spent far too long chasing patchwork options while avoiding investments in top end quality prospects. That will all change in 2018.
With the #1 and #4 pick in the draft, the Browns can take one of the “Four Pack” at either spot and address this glaring hole, and it’s all but a guarantee that’s exactly what they’ll do. Cleveland is still likely to invest in a veteran QB with upside, but the lack of proven veterans available to them (Kirk Cousins seems destined for some other city) means that the focus will be on drafting the arm of the future. There’s a lot of sense to be had in investing in an AJ McCarron or Teddy Bridgewater, and the drafting the franchise at #1 or #4.
The reality is that Cleveland cannot gamble this year. They can’t try to be too clever, they have to go hard into the paint on one of the top arms in this draft so that means a QB like Lamar Jackson is off the table. There’s simply too much risk involved in a pick like that and while the top end talents could flop, the perception of investing in the position is almost as important as succeeding. So for the purposes of this NFL Combine review, I won’t be going beyond Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Bakey Mayfield (or as I call them the Four Pack).
Josh Allen, Wyoming – Perhaps no QB has done more than Allen to help his draft stock this off-season after rolling in the Senior Bowl and dominating the combine. Clocking a 4.75 forty on his 6’5″, 240 lb body was impressive enough before he doubled down by dropping 60-yard bombs in the throwing portion. Allen checks every box for a franchise QB prospect with the only question mark being his accuracy, which he struggled with some in his final campaign at Wyoming. Allen could easily have blamed that on a lack of talent around him, but in his combine interviews he actually pointed out that accuracy was a concern and it was his primary focus this off-season, particularly working on his footwork, where he felt the problems were occurring.
Sam Darnold, USC – Darnold is a very young talent who doesn’t turn 21 until June, but he has showcased remarkable poise for his age. His accuracy and prototypical pr-QB size are his greatest assets and he used the combine to showcase his athleticism. His 4.85 forty and 6.94 three-cone drills were very respectable for his size and his film backs up that mobility. Darnold is also fearless, with a little bit of a gunslinger mentality that he can back up with solid accuracy and above average arm strength. The scary part here is that he’s still young and maturing. He’s an ideal candidate to sit for a few games behind a veteran and absorb the game, but he could be the type of Carson Wentz QB who really takes off in his second year.
Josh Rosen, UCLA – Rosen certainly boasts the size (6’4″, 225 lbs) and accuracy you look for in a signal-caller. He may have the best timing out of the Four Pack and he has fantastic footwork in the pocket with a strong feel for pressure. What Rosen is frequently knocked for are his arm strength and overall mobility, and the combine did not dispel those concerns. He posted the slowest forty of the Four Pack with a 4.91, and his 7.09 three cone wasn’t anything to get excited about. Rosen has all the upside to be a solid starter, but unlike both Darnold and Allen, he may be more of a system QB who needs good route runners and pieces around him to be a difference maker. Rosen also has questions surrounding his ability to be a team player and a respected leader on his team and he didn’t do a lot in his interviews to silence those concerns.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma – In all honesty, if it were up to me I wouldn’t have included Mayfield. He’s far too risky for the Browns at this stage. Mayfield lacks size (6’1″ 215 lbs) and spent his entire career in a spread offense, neither of which scream NFL success. Mayfield has often drawn praise for his quickness and mobility, but his combine didn’t exactly light the world on fire in that area with a 4.85 forty and a 7.0 three-cone drill. I would have liked to have seen better from him for his size and experience issues. What he does have is strong leadership qualities which are essential to an NFL QB, but that confidence has also yielded some maturity issues. Mayfield’s solid arm strength and determination could help him follow the Drew Brees path to success as an undersized playmaker at QB, but he’s a bigger risk than the other three guys in this group and he didn’t blow away the combine to help move him up the list.