More and more, what has been on my mind with the 2014 draft is the worst case scenario for the Cleveland Browns.
What is that exactly?
The worst case in the front office’s mind would be if they don’t get a “franchise” quarterback with the fourth pick in the first round. It has been more or less stated by the front office that everything they have done has been in preparation for the team to get a quarterback this year, and to go out and get one early. It is kind of crazy to think that for as terrible as this team has been over the last fifteen years that they have only once before taken a quarterback in the top half of the first round. I am willing to bet right now, if the Browns do not trade up they will not get a one of the top three quarterbacks this year.
The reason is simple; quarterbacks are more valuable than the next five positions combined. If there were no money issues, the Browns could offer all six of their Pro Bowlers for Andrew Luck and be turned down.
The talk is that Clowney is a transcendental talent, and while it might be true, I think there are major examples of how this is rather meaningless, when it comes to his value versus a potential franchise quarterback.
Take a second and think back to the 90’s Bills. Who is the first player you think of? For most NFL fans, it is former Miami Hurricanes/Houston Gamblers star Jim Kelly and not Bruce Smith. Julius Peppers has made one Super Bowl, but for half of his career he has missed the playoffs. Reggie White never made it to the Super Bowl until Brett Favre entered the equation.A great pass rusher is fantastic but it guarantees nothing. It didn’t stop Houston from being the worst team in football this year record wise. I could go on and on, but a franchise quarterback gives you a chance at the playoffs every year, while a franchise defensive end means you will get some sacks.
This leads to point #2: I firmly believe that a team is going to trade up to grab that #2 pick to get a quarterback, because those teams will pay the most to get there. The value of a pick is always greater when there is a quarterback on the board. Look at just last year, when the Dolphins moved up almost ten picks to get the top pass rusher in the draft and all it cost them was a second rounder. You could look at the Browns own draft history and see when they moved to get Quinn, they paid equal value; a first and a second, and that was to move that was late in the first round. It stands to reason that the team who is going to be willing to give up the most to the Rams is a team seeking a quarterback, and the price is going to be a first this year and next, plus a mid-round pick or two.
If I had to bet, the team most likely to pay the high price is the Minnesota Vikings. They had a lot of picks last year, and can afford to have less this year and next. They have a massive hole at quarterback and a general manager who won’t be afraid to trade future picks, because he knows that without a quarterback, he won’t be the one making those picks anyways. A year ago they were in the playoffs and they added three number ones, but they have to add a quarterback who can help right away.
If this plays out like I think, then Houston takes Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is a pocket passer. He might be athletic, but don’t let it fool you, as he is a strictly pocket guy. Bortles, though, is a player who Bill O’Brien saw in person this year and is a fan of personally. The owner has shown an interest in Johnny Manziel, but it’s hard to believe you would hire a coach and then not listen to him or draft a player who doesn’t fit their system.
If the Vikings trade up, then I would expect them to take Manziel, as he is the most ready quarterback of the big three on the board. He also has the chance to be a dynamic talent and when paired with Peterson, should make the Vikings legitimate playoff contenders. The Vikings have been adding athletes for years, so they might grab Manziel even if Bridgewater was on the board.
This would then lead the Jaguars to grab Bortles or Bridgewater, whichever is left. The Jaguars have a need at quarterback and I strongly doubt they will ignore it any longer. Even though Bradley is a defensive coach, he doesn’t make the pick. Any general manager knows his future is almost entirely tied to quarterback play; he isn’t going to gamble on a player in round two. It is better to gamble on a pass rusher later rather than the quarterback.
So where does this leave the Browns? Well, to me it leaves them in a spot to trade down. They have enough pass rushers, and Clowney does bring some trade value. They should see if Tampa or Detroit is willing to give up a second plus more to move up and get the pass rusher. I am not as high on Watkins, as he is not in that A.J. Green upper tier of receivers, and honestly I don’t have him much higher than Marqise Lee. I wonder how many people fell in love with his performance against OSU and forget just how awful that secondary he torched truly was.
The other reason is that there are sixteen receivers I have with a third round grade or higher at receiver. In a draft like this, the value is finding a player later, especially when you already have a franchise receiver. A guy I would consider in the 7-12 range would be Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Most people have him projected as an OLB, but with his skillset, I think he could be a terror as an ILB in the Browns 3-4 defense. He can drop in coverage, rush the passer, and is a superb athlete.
I would expect picks 26 and the second rounder to be a quarterback and a receiver. I would not be shocked to see them grab someone like Brandin Cooks at 26, and come back with A.J. McCarron in round two. McCarron has a lot of the skills that Hoyer and Cousins showed, but with better upside and arm. McCarron fits the bill of a Lombardi type of quarterback, and my quarterback formula loves him. That is for another column though.
If I was doing a quick potential mock for the Browns first few picks with projected trades, it would be this for their top three picks. They would still need to draft a guard and there are a few, but I think the plan is to let Lewis start at running back and would be shocked if this front office drafts one before round four. It just does not seem to be their evaluation approach of that position.
Mack at 7
Cooks at 26
McCarron at 35
Of course, if the Browns have one of the top three quarterbacks available with that first pick, things change, but look for a major trade that could bring this doomsday scenario to Cleveland’s draft plans.