The 2016-17 NFL season was filled with unexpected outcomes and shocking finishes (I mean, who really saw the Falcons making it this far?), but at the end of the day, it still confirmed two things that almost every NFL fan knew would happen when the year began:
- New England, despite whatever obstacles the NFL tried to put in their way, would make the Super Bowl
- The Cleveland Browns “football” team would be an absolute dumpster fire and run away with the rights to the first overall pick in the 2017 Draft
I can make unoriginal jokes about the state of the Cleveland Browns all day, but the fact is that the Browns roster is an absolute mess and a good three years away from having any remote chance at contention. The Browns think Hue Jackson is their answer at head coach, but if GM Sashi Brown can’t give Jackson a competent roster, the charismatic leader will just be another name on a long list of failed experiments in Cleveland. Since the Browns will have a tough time trying to lure free agents to their organization, their $100+ Million in cap space won’t be as helpful as it sounds. Instead, Cleveland will have to do what every other great team in the league has done: build a strong roster primarily through the Draft.
The Browns 2016 Draft Class was a mixed bag. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah looks like a fantastic player and Carl Nassib showed promising flashes. First rounder Corey Coleman missed six games, but he had a decent rookie campaign and should develop more in the future while safety Derrick Kindred was solid and unspectacular. However, many of Cleveland’s picks from last year didn’t pan out. Third round tackle Shon Coleman failed to start a game in his inaugural campaign, and the four other receivers drafted after Corey Coleman (yes, Cleveland did take five wide receivers in last years draft) had little to no impact for the entirety of the season. For Cleveland’s roster reconstruction to be successful, they’ll have to start making smarter and more impactful picks, beginning this year.
With the number one overall selection, the Browns have a golden opportunity to add a possible franchise cornerstone to the roster that could put them on the road towards building a competent and, maybe eventually, contending team. Lets take a look at some players Cleveland should consider with the first overall pick.
Garrett is considered by many to be the best player in the class, and for good reason. With insane production as both a pass rusher and run stuffer, the Texas A&M standout echoes the game of a former Aggie and has the potential to be just as dominant, if not more, than Von Miller. Miller was arguably the best player in the 2011 class, but Carolina desperately needed a quarterback and he fell right into the lap of the Broncos at the second selection. The rest, as they say, is history. Many will question whether Garrett is the smartest choice for the quarterback-needy Browns, but Cleveland also holds the #12 overall pick where they hope a quarterback could drop. Pass rushers are arguably the second most important position in the NFL, and Garrett could be among the best right away. Should Cleveland opt to take Garrett, they will not be disappointed. He is a freak athlete at 6’5 265 lbs and possess a nasty combination of both speed and strength. Much like Miller, Garrett has the ability the take over a game and get in the opposing quarterback’s head. He logged 4.5 sacks in a single game this year. He has an extremely quick first step, and if he doesn’t speed past the blocker, he has the ability overpower them. Perhaps the most important facet of Garrett’s game is his motor. It’s rare for players with the immense physical attributes of Myles Garrett to have an equally matched work ethic, but it’s evidenced in the tape that Garrett does not take plays off, which makes him an extremely valuable player in defending both the pass and the run. A defensive player capable of making this big of an impact off the edge hasn’t been seen in the draft since Khalil Mack. The Browns would be wise to start building their franchise around him.
If the Browns decide against picking Myles Garrett, then a handful of names introduce themselves to the mix. North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky could make sense for the Browns if they opt to go a different route. Trubisky looks like a very dangerous pick at first glance- he has very limited experience as a starter in college (just one year) and didn’t play in a pro-style offense at UNC. That being said, Trubisky showed he has the potential talent to develop into a starting quarterback in the league. He has both a strong and accurate arm, and his footwork is very clean and precise: a necessity at the next level. Trubisky’s rise up the boards is reminiscent of Carson Wentz last year, who ended up going second overall to Philadelphia. Trubisky will almost certainly be a project, and Hue Jackson, a man with the reputation of being a “quarterback whisperer” will have to work some magic with the young gunslinger for this transition to work out. He’s a much riskier pick than Myles Garrett, but if Cleveland believes the future of their franchise lies within the arm of Mitch Trubisky, then the Browns will take a chance and hope that the UNC product is the player they’ve been looking for all these years.
While most experts see Trubisky as this years top quarterback, I believe that Deshaun Watson has done everything he could to prove that he’s worthy of the top ranking in this class. During Clemson’s surprising National Title run, Watson demonstrated the toughness, attitude, talent and competitiveness that the greatest of NFL quarterbacks have. Watson reminds me most of Eli Manning. He will never have the gaudy numbers of Matt Ryan, the arm talent of Aaron Rodgers or the athleticism of Cam Newton. However, Watson has proven that he’s a winner and capable of leading a team to greatness. Much like Eli, Watson displayed remarkable toughness that could translate to durability in the NFL. He’s obviously a much more competent runner than Eli, and his athletic ability will be incorporated into game plans, but he looks to do most of his damage through the air. His throwing mechanics are solid and he was the most clutch player in college football consistently coming up big in pressure situations. The biggest question marks associated with Watson was his tendency to throw interceptions and his pro-readiness coming from a spread offense at Clemson. He struggled mightily with his accuracy at times, on both short and deep throws. Watson makes up for this with his big-play ability, running for huge first downs or making the perfect throw at an opportune time. Again, Deshaun Watson would be a much riskier pick for the Browns than Myles Garrett, but if they choose a quarterback, Watson should be their man over Trubisky.
The Browns will almost certainly choose one of these three players with the first overall pick. However if they don’t, here are a few more names to look out for that could shoot up draft boards between now and the first day:
The Alabama defensive lineman is a force to be reckoned with in all phases of the game. He wasn’t as productive as Garrett, nor is he as athletic, but Allen will almost certainly be a top five pick, and could end up with the Browns if they see something special in him.
This would be a HUGE reach, but if Cleveland decides to continue their search for a wide receiver in the draft, then Williams would be their guy. He’s tall (6’3), fast, and catches everything thrown his way. Reminds me of DeAndre Hopkins or AJ Green. He’s a great player, but not necessarily worthy of first overall.
Really good, athletic safety from LSU. Said to be a great leader both on and off the field.
Another LSU product. You’ve already heard about the freak of nature that is Leonard Fornette. Some have compared him to Adrian Peterson, others are a bit more skeptical after Fournette failed to live up to lofty expectations in his junior season.
Cleveland’s path to redemption will run though one of these players, most likely Myles Garrett. If the Browns decide that they want to draft a quarterback to change their franchise immediately, then they will take either the unheralded yet savvy Mitch Trubisky, or the tough and proven Deshaun Watson. Either way, this upcoming April has the opportunity to be a major tuning point in the history of the Cleveland Browns.
Let’s just hope its for the better.