When the NFL offers its extension listing of college players entering the NFL Draft, they do so with comprehensive strengths and weaknesses and a player comparison. This player comparison is usually of an NFL player that is active, or has retired within the last few seasons. These comparisons also often tend to low ball the draftee, as it seems the NFL is taking protective measures to not overstep their own bounds.
But what happens when one player is so generally agreed upon as the top athlete in the upcoming Draft that these player comparisons need to be elevated? You end up with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who the NFL couldn’t draw a comparison to an active running back, so it dipped into the well of Hall of Famer and pulled out Barry Sanders. Sanders is revered as one of the shiftiest and most elusive backs in the game’s history, and NFL scouts are saying that Barkley could be the next Sanders. That’s how good Barkley could be.
But it isn’t just a simple, yet flattering comparison that makes me believe that the Cleveland Browns would be foolish to take anyone other than Barkley with the first pick in this April’s Draft.
The Cleveland Browns need a quarterback. This is very common knowledge. DeShone Kizer flashed moments of potential, but when you lead your team to just the second 0-16 season in NFL history, it may be time to examine your signal callers. So the Browns need a quarterback. Where do you find your next franchise hopeful? With the number one overall pick. Usually. The Browns find themselves in a very peculiar predicament, however, as they hold both the first and fourth picks in this year’s Draft thanks to a 2017 Draft day trade with the Houston Texans. The Texas moved up from 25 to 12 in order to select Deshaun Watson. At the time, the move out, when Watson was still on the board, made little sense to many, and the Browns passed on a potential franchise quarterback for the second year in a row.
Now, however, the move may ultimately work in the Browns favor.
This year’s Draft class features as many as five quarterbacks who could be selected on day one, leaving the Browns with a plethora of choices at the quarterback position. The quarterbacks, for what it’s worth, aren’t marginally different from one another.They are all talented, but no one is a bonafide superstar right now.
This year’s Draft class features fewer superstar running backs that will go in the first round. My estimation is that three backs will be taken in the first 32 picks. While the running back class is extremely talented and very deep in 2018, there is only one Saquon Barkley.
With the odd circumstances the Browns find themselves in, wouldn’t it make sense to take the generational running back with the first overall pick knowing there will still be a fine quarterback to select at four? Think about the two teams in between the Browns two picks: the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts. Both teams would likely snatch up Barkley with picks two or three if the Browns left him on the board after taking a quarterback with pick one. The Colts announced that the team will not be resigning Frank Gore, leaving Marlon Mack as the team’s lone ball carrier. The Giants used a handful of backs in 2017, including Orleans Darkwa Wayne Gallman and Shane Vereen. While the Giants offensive line is in shambles and the quarterback position is in flux with an aging Eli Manning, it would be an easy decision to take Barkley if he was left for them at two.
With Manning getting older, the Giants likely need to find a suitable replacement for the two-time Super Bowl winner in the coming years. Should the Browns take Barkley with the first overall pick, it leaves the lot of quarterbacks available for the Giants to select. Whether they select Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield, the end result will be selected a talented young quarterback. Should the Brown select Barkley at one, the Giants will likely take one of these guys at two.
That leaves the Colts with the number three pick. Barring an unforeseen deal where the Colts move out of the three pick or a total shock pick, Indianapolis’ front office and new head coach, Frank Reich, will likely not select a quarterback, as Andrew Luck continues to inch closer to returning. Again, if the Browns leave Barkley, and the Giants were to pass on him as well, he’d likely be heading to Indianapolis. Should Barkley go one, and a quarterback go two to the Giants, that leaves the Colts with the ability to take best available player. Whether that player be defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, edge rusher Bradley Chubb or offensive lineman Quenton Nelson, the Colts would be getting an NFL-ready player with the third pick.
And now we get back to the Cleveland Browns with the fourth overall pick. Should the outcome of the two picks in between one and four go to plan, the Browns will have the ability to take Barkley and still get their choice of quarterback, minus one. Whomever the Giants select at two will be the only quarterback gone at four. That would leave three other top-ten graded quarterbacks left on the board for the Browns. While they may not have a total selection of the lot, it’ll be pretty close to it.
Cleveland would be able to select a superstar running back and still get themselves their next attempt at a franchise quarterback with this Draft process. This only works, however, if the Browns take the Penn State product with the number one overall pick. It’s a bit convoluted, but it allows the Browns to maximize their Draft board and give Penn State its first number one overall pick since the Browns selected Courtney Brown with the first pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Barkley would also become the first running back since another Penn Stater, Ki-Jana Carter, was the first player taken 23 years ago.
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports