April 27 was the night of the 2017 Super Bowl for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns had two picks in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, including the No. 1 overall pick. There was one clear cut, consensus No. 1 prospect that almost every draft analyst had as their best overall player in their 2017 draft rankings, edge rusher Myles Garrett of Texas A&M. But, rumors had started circulating that the Browns could pass on consensus for a quarterback, who grew up right down the road from Cleveland in Mentor, Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina.
Garrett was a known product for almost his entire career at Texas A&M. In his career, he posted 145 tackles, 48.5 tackles for a loss, seven forced fumbles and 32.5 sacks. At 6-foot-4, 272 pounds, he had almost everything a team wanted in a NFL edge rusher. He shined at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, running 4.64-seconds in the 40-yard dash, lifting 33 reps on the bench press, jumping 41 inches in the vertical and jumping 128 inches in the broad jump. He is a complete player with the ability to affect the opposing team’s run game and pass game. By most accounts, he was an elite prospect and the only elite prospect in the draft.
But, in conflict with what seemed to be an easy choice was the seemingly unending search of a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns organization since 1999. As all Browns fans know, the quarterback position has been the ever elusive, sometimes out of reach aspect holding the franchise from taking the next step. So with the No. 1 pick in the draft, Cleveland had the pick of the litter to choose any quarterback. And as many reported leading up to the draft, the Browns were zeroing in on the homegrown talent, Mitch Trubisky.
Trubisky was the quarterback that shot up draft boards during 2016 season. In his only season as a full time starter, he completed 68% of his passes for 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for 308 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games. He had the size, arm talent and athleticism that made him a very attractive option. But, he was far from a certain and had only one season of starting experience, which makes the evaluation harder. And draft analysts had mixed opinions on the quarterback class with no clear-cut favorite from the majority.
But, would the Browns forgo the clear-cut, elite talent in Garrett for the need to fill the most important position on the team? Well over the course of the days leading up to the draft, the choice did not get much clear as the moment of the pick approached. The Browns were very good at hiding their intentions and the rumors and reports about a debate still being discussed in the organization were still sprouting up as the day of the draft was upon Cleveland.
In the end, with the rumors putting the uneasy feeling in many Browns fans, including me, the news that most thought should have been decided a week or month before was announced. With just hours to go before the commissioner would take the podium to start the 2017 NFL Draft, multiple reports from the Cleveland and national media stated the Browns would take the elite talent of Myles Garrett and forgo their chance at getting the top quarterback in the draft. A few hours later, Roger Goodell took to the podium and announced that Myles Garrett was a Cleveland Brown. But, that only began the night for the Browns. And it kept the biggest question still alive, what will the Browns do at the quarterback position?
As the picks rolled through following the Garrett selection, Browns fans were waiting with anticipation for pick No. 12, the Browns second first round pick. The Browns had received this pick in the much-talked about and criticized Carson Wentz trade with the Philadelphia Eagles of the 2016 NFL Draft. As the pick approached, Twitter was abuzz with rumors and sources saying this and that about what the Browns could do at No. 12. After 11 picks, the Browns were back on the clock with some really talented players left on the board including Ohio State safety Malik Hooker and quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns had many different routes to choose from with the immense talent left on the board.
But, boom went the dynamite. The Browns traded the pick to the Houston Texans to move down to pick No. 25, giving up the chance to draft Hooker or Watson. The Browns received the Texans 2018 first round pick in the trade, which presently looks to be a likely top 10 and possibly top 5 pick. But, the Browns punted another chance at getting a quarterback to look to the future. And as the Browns traded back, Browns fans were back on the waiting game.
As Browns fans waited for No. 25 to come, they saw a slew of players, who had fallen in the draft, come off the board. After 12 more picks, pick No. 25 was finally up. The top three quarterbacks were off the board and so the direction the Browns would go towards was not clear.
In the end, the Browns picked one of the most talked about and interesting prospects in the draft, safety Jabrill Peppers of Michigan. Peppers was an athletic player, who had played all over the Wolverine defense, offense and special teams. He was likely to play as a strong safety in the NFL, but his position was a bit of question mark coming into the league. What many thought he would bring is a versatile defender, special teams playmaker, and a possible offensive weapon. So, the Browns had taken Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers in the first round, with a couple of picks in the second round coming on Day 2.
But, the Browns had other ideas. To make the day an even more news—happy producer, Cleveland traded their No. 33 and No. 108 picks to the Green Bay Packers to move back into the first round at No. 29. Who were the Browns targeting with that pick? Was the pick going to be quarterback?
With the No. 29 selection, the Browns drafted tight end David Njoku of Miami (FL). The Browns took a chance on a super athletic player with immense upside to be a real mismatch in the NFL. Njoku was one of the best tight ends in the class and had all the talent in the world to be a difference maker for an offense. Development and time was key for him, but the Browns could not resist moving up and snagging this promising prospect.
At the end of the Day 1, the Browns had moved twice and ended up with three total selections. Day 1 was an up and down adventure with the twist and turns only the Browns could make. Browns fans felt the waves of the draft with expectations of getting certain players, but the Browns changing course to go in a different direction. Cleveland did not select a quarterback on the first day of the draft, raising questions on what the Browns mindset was for the position. Nevertheless, many draft analysts were impressed with the haul the Browns got on Day 1, netting three players and future first round pick. Most would have thought that the fireworks were over for the Browns. How could the Browns make bigger fireworks than two trades and three player selections? Well, Sashi Brown and company said, “Hold my beer.”
Cleveland entered Day 2 with two picks, No. 52 in the second round and No. 65 in the third round. The real fireworks came in the second round at pick No. 52. The Browns had quite a few options to choose from, but at this pick, Cleveland finally pulled the trigger on a quarterback, selecting quarterback DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame.
The Browns patiently waited to nab a quarterback through 51 picks, deciding to stick to their board rather than go off it to get a signal caller. But as No. 52 came up, the Browns could not resist grabbing Kizer. The team felt like he was too good to pass up and that their patience paid off when Kizer fell into their laps.
The Notre Dame quarterback had all the physical traits a team wants in a quarterback. He had the size, arm strength, and athleticism that put him on a high pedestal. But, his accuracy, decision-making and lack of success were big negatives that caused the quarterback to fall this far in the draft. He was a project, who needed a lot of development to reach his potential. But, the Browns took the chance because they thought the talent out weighed the risk at that point in the draft. So, the Browns finally got their quarterback and looked to very pleased in their first two rounds of the draft.
Cleveland would go on and select six more players to finish off their 2017 NFL Draft. But, the draft for the Browns was all about rounds one and two. Day 1 started off with the expected and ended with the unexpected as the team moved all around to nab three players. In the second round, the Browns might have upstaged their Day 1 by selecting Kizer. The quarterback will always be the headliner for the Browns organization and will always lead the news headlines.
All that was left was for the rookie class to hit the field. The excitement was at an all time high with hope springs eternal. The 2017 NFL Draft was expected and treated like the spring board to an improved team and franchise. Little did anyone know that the 2017 NFL season would transpire the way it has, especially for the top four selections of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The decisions at the beginning of the draft quite set up the fate for Sashi Brown. His decision to stay to his board and not go after the quarterback was the right decision in my eyes, but my eyes do not matter, only Jimmy Haslam’s eyes do. Haslam fired Brown in large part because of his lack of patience for Brown’s process and his inability to nab a quarterback who could be the franchise quarterback.
The 2017 NFL Draft was expected and treated like the springboard to an improved team and franchise. But, it ended up being a death sentence to Sashi Brown’s job and the slow plan he had installed to turn around the franchise. Was passing on Deshaun Watson or not moving up to get Patrick Mahomes the wrong decision? According to Haslam, it probably was.
As in most drafts, we will not see how it pans out for a few years. The draft has already sealed the fate of Sashi Brown, but the draft could turn out to be the backbone of the team for the future. Myles Garrett looks like a centerpiece of the defense. Jabrill Peppers has been criminally used and so questions remain about his promise for the future. David Njoku has showed glimpses of his immense talent, but a lack of a consistent quarterback has not helped him show even more. DeShone Kizer has been a disaster for the team. Much of it does not even have to do with the young quarterback. The coaching he has received, the system he is in and the environment he has faced has contributed to his disaster of a rookie season. The Browns will draft a quarterback in 2018, so Kizer’s future with the team is very much in doubt. Time is something he needs, and the Browns look like they will probably not give him enough.
The 2017 NFL Draft has already decided some fates, prematurely in many respects, but what will this draft do to the fate of the future of the Cleveland Browns? Only time will tell.