The Cleveland Browns are less than a week away from transforming their roster.
The Browns own five picks in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, three in the second round and two of the top four picks. Those two first-round picks will be the cornerstone of this draft and could produce a combination of players that, in theory, should be a key part of the Browns’ future for years to come.
Here’s a look at the possible combinations of players the Browns could procure with those first two picks, in order of likelihood.
The Browns have to decide which quarterback best fits their team and which quarterback has the best future. They have studied and debated UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and USC’s Sam Darnold. While there has been much discussion about Allen, whose strong arm and physical skills impress, the chatter about Darnold has been quietly consistent. They seem to be the top two QBs on the Browns’ list; the team must simply choose who fits best. It’s my guess that player is Darnold. Allen has potential, but it’s tough to fix accuracy. Darnold has a more complete game at this point, he’s very mature for a 20-year-old (his lack of entitlement seems clear) and he throws a very catchable pass. Some have said that Allen could be Ben Roethlisberger; others have opined that Darnold is Andrew Luck. If those statements are true, it’s tough to go wrong with either, but Darnold has the more complete game at this point, and the accuracy issue remains with Allen.
The fourth pick comes down to three players: Barkley, defensive lineman Bradley Chubb and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. The best fit would be Barkley, a player many call the best pure football player in the draft. The running back position has become devalued over the years, but a player such as Todd Gurley shows the value of a top back. Barkley is that kind of back. He runs, he catches passes, he blocks, and most important, he scores touchdowns. He, Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde could all be used effectively to help jump-start an offense that with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon at receiver, and David Njoku at tight end would suddenly have a more complete complement of weapons. This combination would give the Browns the quarterback they like best, and the best player at every other position on the field.
Sam Darnold/Bradley Chubb
The New York Giants are said to love the idea of adding Barkley to their offense. Which means the Browns would have to go to plan 1A with the fourth pick. That’s not such a bad option, because it would give the Browns another pass-rusher on Gregg Williams’ defense. GM John Dorsey told the media at the NFL meetings in March that Chubb is “an unbelievable prospect for this draft.” The Browns do have two very good and young ends on the roster in Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, both of whom figure to go to Pro Bowls in their careers. But a team also can never have enough ends and pass-rushers. Adding Chubb could allow Williams to move Ogbah inside on passing downs or use all three creatively with other defensive players. Garrett’s first sack on his first play as an NFL player came from inside. The idea: keep the offense guessing who is rushing, and from where. This combination would give the Browns the quarterback they like best and the best pass-rusher on the board.
Sam Darnold/Minkah Fitzpatrick
There was a lot of buzz about Fitzpatrick early in the draft process, but as time has passed, he has fallen out of the discussion with the fourth pick. Some mock drafts have him going as low as 10th. If he does, someone will get a steal. Fitzpatrick can play corner or safety, and he would fit in immediately with the Browns at either position. He can’t be eliminated. His selection just does not seem as likely as the choice of Barkley or Chubb.
Sam Darnold/Trade down out of the fourth spot to another player
It’s tough to see this happening given the Browns’ recent history of trade-down errors, but it also can’t be eliminated. If the Browns value Fitzpatrick, they might be able to move down and still get him — and also recoup the third-round pick they traded to acquire Taylor. They might also like Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward.
Josh Allen/Barkley, Chubb or Fitzpatrick
The alternative to taking Darnold first would be to take Allen. If he’s Roethlisberger Repeat, there’s nothing to not like about the pick. If the Browns believe they can solve the accuracy issue and that Allen’s skills override accuracy, he’ll be their guy. Checkdowns and system could make up for the difference between 56 and 60 percent. If the Browns take Allen, the Giants could take Darnold. The Jets would also take a quarterback, which would more than likely give the Browns the best player at every other position with this choice.