Normally, I like to write something fluffy to start an article, paint a picture, set up something for later. Not this time. If the Cleveland Browns don’t land Kirk Cousins in free agency then they must draft a quarterback with the first pick of the draft. It’s freaking wrong that people are hammering the desk for the Browns to draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the first pick.
If you were drafting an entire starting roster for your team — 22 starting football players, 11 on offense and 11 on defense — you’d pick a running back at around 15. They aren’t as important as other positions on a 2018 NFL team. You know what is important? The quarterback. The quarterback would be drafted first overall, every single time.
And to be clear, I’m talking about a draft strategy for the Browns, not arguing who is the better overall talent, because in this case it doesn’t matter. An average quarterback is more valuable than an elite running back in 2018, and the Browns have passed on drafting that player in the last two drafts. In 2016, they passed on Carson Wentz and settled for Cody Kessler. Last year, they passed on multiple quarterbacks, including Deshaun Watson and settled for Deshone Kizer.
When you have the top pick in the draft, you don’t settle for a player at the most important position in sports. So here is the spirit of my point. The risk of passing on drafting the quarterback the team loves at No. 1 isn’t worth the reward of drafting Barkley.
Teams typically fall in love with one quarterback. If the Browns love Baker Mayfield and think to themselves, “well, he will probably be there at four,” that has no merit anymore. In recent memory, we have routinely seen teams trade up for the quarterback they want to be their franchise centerpiece. The Rams and Eagles did it in 2016 to get Jared Goff and Wentz. The Bears and Chiefs did it in 2017 to get Mitch Trubisky and Pat Mahomes.
So let’s say the Browns draft Barkley at one with the intention of drafting Mayfield at four. The Giants, who seem interested in drafting Barkley as well, now feel comfortable trading out of two. Here come the Broncos and they draft Mayfield. Oops, now the QB you love is gone, and you must settle for another guy at four.
How has settling for a second or third choice at quarterback the last two years worked for them? The Browns need to stop settling.
Of course there’s no guarantee the Browns drafting a quarterback at one will succeed. They could fall into Barkley at one, and the quarterback they love at four. It’s possible, but it’s risky and still doesn’t make a sound draft strategy for a team trying to overcome one win in its last two seasons.
I went into even more detail about the idea of the Browns drafting Barkley with the No. 1 pick, and why they can’t afford to do it, in a Periscope video on Monday afternoon. You can see that right here.