Browns, NFL Draft

Mel Kiper’s first mock draft lands the Browns with Josh Allen, Saquon Barkley

Chris Knight / Associated Press

The splash page headline reads “Browns take a QB, but not the one you’d guess.” And they’re off!

With a need to start filling air time for fans of teams not among those playing in the conference championship games, ESPN’s Mel Kiper is here to save the day with his first of many mock drafts for this spring’s festivities. In doing so, however, Kiper has the Browns taking a quarterback—just not one of those who were debated among WFNY. Kiper, citing that his evaluations of each of the top-tier quarterbacks are really close, goes with one who was on our “need not apply” list earlier this month.

1. Cleveland Browns

*Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Cleveland has to take a quarterback. Has to. And a winless season means the Browns can pick whichever one they want. My evaluations on this quarterback class are really close. I’ve gone back and forth a few times on Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Allen, but I just moved Allen up to my No. 1 quarterback. His numbers aren’t impressive, I know. But the NFL is all about projection, and he has a high ceiling. Coaches want to work with the 6-foot-5 Allen because he has all of the tools. I said last month that he is one of my favorite prospects in this class. The other top quarterbacks have warts, and there is no slam-dunk No. 1 prospect, which makes it a fun class. Scouts are looking forward to seeing Allen at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, next week, where he will work out with much better talent.

So, yeah—let that marinate a bit.

Kiper hands Rosen to the QB-needy New York Giants with NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb going at No. 3 to Indianapolis. Which, at No. 4, leaves…

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans)

*Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

This is the pick acquired in the Texans’ trade up for Deshaun Watson last year. Cleveland has a new front office, and Barkley could be the best overall player in this class — he’s No. 1 on my Big Board. But how much do teams value running backs? We’ve seen in recent years that they can hit on backs in the top 10 (Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley), but the Browns also have recent history missing on one (Trent Richardson, though they later got a first-round pick in return for him). And there is always value in the middle rounds — just look at Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara in 2017. Barkley is a big-time running back, and I think he’ll be a top-10 pick. He is built for today’s NFL as a do-it-all runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Darnold goes to Denver at No. 5. Defensive backfield stud Minkah Fitzpatrick falls to the New York Jets at No. 6. The Buckeyes have another defensive back go in the top 10 with Denzel Ward at No. 9 to San Francisco. The Washington Redskins land Baker Mayfield at No. 13. Lamar Jackson, as of now, is not going in the first round.

I get a weird sense that had Barkley been taken No. 1 and Allen at No. 4, fans would be a little more accepting, but I’m firmly on Team Get The Quarterback at No. 1. At no point in this process will I engage in debate on who that quarterback is. I’m not a talent evaluator; I’m certainly not a general manager. I do know, however, that this team needs a quarterback and that we will have the Browns be linked to each and every one of them over the next several months.

Buckle up, folks.