At this point in the year, most football minds have their attention focused on free agency and the draft. As crazy and incredible as free agency can be, my real interest lies on the college players who will find themselves getting paid millions of dollars this April. More specifically, which of those college athletes will be on the Browns.
With the first and fourth picks in the NFL draft, there is no shortage of possibilities for the Browns. Assuming the Browns get one of the many quarterbacks who will be available come free agency, it's my opinion that they should still use their first pick on a quarterback. A quarterback at number one is almost a foregone conclusion by now. The fourth pick, on the other hand, is still very much a mystery.
Even though you'll have the odd analyst every once in a while who will mock a QB at 4 or even Bradley Chubb, for the most part, it's believed that the Browns will select either Saquon Barkley or Minkah Fitzpatrick. With Jabrill Peppers playing out of position for much of last season and the perception that Isaiah Crowell will not return to the Browns, free safety and running back with certainly be positions of need for the Browns.
Despite that, each player and position come with their own drawbacks. For starters, neither position is typically considered valuable enough to be taken so early in the draft. The average NFL running back has a rather brief shelf life, and their usage can vary considerably depending on the offense and skillset of the back. With free safety, even the best at the position ultimately won't make a huge impact in each game, thus decreasing the overall value at the position. So that leaves the question of who should the Browns select.
Fitzpatrick is an Alabama FS/CB prospect with pro comparisons to Seattle's Earl Thomas. Minkah has done it all for Bama. Originally playing corner, he made the move to free safety after Eddie Jackson broke his leg two seasons ago.
After investing a first-round pick in a strong safety last season and then proceeding to play him almost exclusively at free safety, drafting Minkah would be like completing the puzzle for the Browns defense. With Myles Garret and Ogbah healthy plus a healthy linebacking core with Peppers in the box and Minkah playing centerfield, that's a scary image for opposing quarterbacks, especially with potential changes coming to defensive pass interference rules.
Another possibility that comes with Minkah is his ability to play corner. Minkah could move back to corner for the Browns, which makes the cornerback room rather crowded. My suggestion would be for Jason McCourty to then transition to free safety, a move that is not unheard of. With McCourty aging, his experience and skill set might be more help at the safety spot. Minkah allows for plenty of versatility.
Saquon Barkley is hardly an unknown name. He has been a fun player to watch since his freshman season at Penn State and is often thought of as the most talented player in the entire draft. The issue some have with that claim is that a running back in today's NFL can be so easily found relative to other positions. It seems that nearly every good value running back is available in the later rounds because they are so moldable to a gameplan.
Another issue with Barkley at four is how deep this class of running backs is perceived to be. With the plethora of picks the Browns hold, would it make sense to use a high pick on a position that has similar value at a lesser cost? The answer to that question would ultimately lie on a scouts grade on Barkley and how the drafter values the position.
Historically, John Dorsey hasn't selected a running back so highly. Kareem Hunt was drafted in the third round just last season by Dorsey. Dorsey is no stranger to finding a playmaker in late rounds, and I doubt he would change his philosophy on the Browns when it has been so successful in the past for him. Barkley would have to have shown hall of fame potential for Dorsey to use that pick on him.
So who is the pick? Minkah choice makes plenty of sense to me. After investing so much into our defense, it almost seems silly to leave the final piece of the puzzle on the board. With Minkah, our defense can grow together under a few more seasons with Williams calling the shots. Along with a couple of scheme changes, we might even have a Jacksonville caliber defense in a season or two. That being said, the Browns offense was embarrassing last season.
Going under the assumption the Browns will have a shiny new quarterback next season, Saquon is the perfect complement to a young quarterback while also being able to take some pressure off Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum, should he wear the orange and brown in 2018. After seeing the effect a quality running back like Elliott, Gurley, and Fournette can have for an offense and a young quarterback, Barkley seems like the perfect answer.
Rosen/Darnold/Cousins/Mayfield throwing to Coleman, Gordon, Njoku, Johnson, and possibly another WR in the draft with Barkley churning out yards on the ground sounds like the offense Cleveland has been yearning for since their return to Cleveland. Free safety is likely a position that can be more easily handled in the coming years, should the need remain, while a true game altering running back is rather difficult to come by. If it were up to me, Saquon is the pick.
I hope that this article was interesting to those of you who made it this far. With the draft and combine coming up, this part of the year is my favorite aside from the actual season. It is my hope for these coming weeks to continue to give my insight on the future NFL players, along with those who will soon be available in free agency. With roughly a dozen picks and over 110 million dollars in cap room, the Browns with their revamped front office should make some team-altering decisions in the coming months that I am supremely excited to see. Forever the optimist, I know. Such is life as a Cleveland Browns fan.