The 2016 NFL Draft is just over a week away, and the pressure is mounting for the Cleveland Browns to make the right picks, especially when it comes to the second-overall selection which is currently in their possession. There are many options facing the Browns this year and every single one has been debated, scrutinized, praised and/or condemned within an inch of their lives. Any and every option appears to be both right and wrong at the same time; any decision made is simultaneously a perfect fit and a disaster waiting to happen. When you’re the Browns, with the history of draft missteps littering the past 20 years, this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” perception of the team’s potential use of draft picks is basically inevitable.
Trying to be reasonable this time of year is as difficult as it is to parse through the rumors to see what is team- or agent-led subterfuge and what is actually a kernel of truth. All we can do is make our best guesses based on what we believe about this year’s draft class and the NFL teams tasked with adding to their rosters. We can do our player- and team-specific research, we can watch tape, read others’ analysis of it, participate in or create our own mock drafts, keep detailed spreadsheets or scribble intriguing-sounding names onto scraps of paper to try to divine what the Browns may get up to next week. We’re rendered thrilled, cautiously optimistic or hopelessly disappointed after the three-day event wraps. The future isn’t won or lost entirely by the choices the Browns make next week, but it certainly feels that way—and it does play a not-insignificant role in how successful this team’s latest rebuild ends up being.
So, how to bring a little rational thought to a pre-draft process that is necessarily, inherently anything but? By creating some order in the chaos—by way of the good, old-fashioned Pros and Cons list. Even (fictitious) Cleveland native Ted Mosby knows the value of this exercise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2P2aFMfTXII And it’s one we are going to undertake today, limited only to the Browns’ first-round options. The list won’t include all of them, of course—there are nearly limitless scenarios that are capable of playing out next week, given the variables at play. But, the more higher-profile, more likely-to-occur Round 1 draft outcomes can be Pro’d and Con’d effectively, as a way to have a bit greater level of perspective of what the Browns are up against next Thursday. Without further ado, here are the Pros and Cons for a few of the Browns’ more realistic Round 1 options.
Drafting QB Carson Wentz at No. 2
Pros: For months, since it was made clear that the Browns would indeed have the honor of picking second-overall in Round 1 of the 2016 draft, the team has been linked to using the selection on a quarterback. Now that the Los Angeles Rams have traded up to No. 1, where the Tennessee Titans once stood, ostensibly to draft a quarterback of their own (with leanings toward Jared Goff, allegedly/apparently), it’s not so clear that North Dakota State passer Carson Wentz will be the sure-thing pick of the Browns at No. 2. The Pros are obvious: If the Browns’ brass truly believes in Wentz’s promise as a professional quarterback, to the point where he can lead a franchise to winning seasons, then of course he should be the pick. After all, it’s been nearly 20 years that the Browns have lacked stability and production at this most crucial of positions, and if they can find it via Wentz, there should be no hesitation to take him. If Wentz truly is the top player on their board—accounting for both talent and need—and they can get him, then by all means, pull the trigger.
Cons: There’s no guarantee, however, that Wentz is rated higher than Goff on the Browns’ draft board. And if he’s not, and Goff indeed is taken by the Rams at No. 1, should the Browns therefore effectively settle for the second-best quarterback in the draft with the No. 2 overall pick? Cleveland’s desire for a new, young quarterback should not trump what they think any given quarterback could be capable of accomplishing on the field. Now, it’s possible that the Browns can be wrong about Wentz, or that the pundits praising him are wrong, or that the truth is muddled between the two. But the only real reason that the Browns should be taking Wentz at No. 2 is if they truly, absolutely believe he’s the game-changing quarterback they are lacking. Having complete certainty about any draft pick the day he’s drafted is often a fool’s errand, but the Browns must be certainly confident in Wentz’s potential to snag him at No. 2.
Drafting OT Laremy Tunsil at No. 2
Pros: Drafting an offensive tackle with the second-overall pick may not be the flashiest use of the selection, but the Browns certainly have a need at right tackle with Mitchell Schwartz leaving in free agency. Yes, Austin Pasztor or John Greco may be able to step in and do that job, but Laremy Tunsil is the consensus top tackle in the draft. And while a decade ago, the thought of prizing a right tackle so highly would be laughed at, the distinction between right and left tackle is no longer one of on-field importance but the paydays they eventually, respectively command. Selecting Tunsil is a safe, not-so-stupid pick that has a lower bust potential than, say, taking a quarterback here.
Cons: Tunsil is a highly talented tackle who fits a need for the Browns, but if the Browns are prizing his need-fitting over his football skills, then adhering solely to need at No. 2 would be a mistake. A best-player-available approach (with an eye remaining trained on needs) would be the better one, and if Tunsil doesn’t fit that approach, then something else is the answer with the No. 2 overall pick. Besides, this is a deep draft class on the offensive line, which opens the Browns up to adding tackle talent later on.
Drafting LB Myles Jack at No. 2
Pros: Myles Jack can provide the Browns with two things their defense needs this year: Extra pass-rushing help from the edges as well as a linebacker who can work in coverage against tight ends and slot receivers. Jack, with his athleticism, his accurate tackling and his considerable burst off the line of scrimmage, has until recently been a lock to be a top-five draft pick. But concerns about his knee, which was re-checked in Indianapolis last week, has some teams (or scouts, or agents, or someone) crowing about how Jack’s knee is a “time bomb,” that his career will be shortened by his old injury, that he’s not as good as he’s been billed.
For what it’s worth, NFL executives spoke with CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora and are appalled by the negative outpouring about Jack, with one saying, “This Myles Jack stuff is getting blown way out of proportion, I checked with our medical guys, again, and this stuff just is not true. It's not something we would be worried about. Some agent or some team must be behind it,” and another adding, “If you get a feel for who has killed Jack for his medical, let me know. That kid is a player. We hope he falls to us.” If the latest negative reports about Jack’s knee are indeed the result of agents or scouts poisoning the waters and not rooted in concrete fact, then there is no appreciable reason for the Browns to not have significant interest in bringing Jack aboard with the No. 2 pick.
Cons: One does have to keep in the back of the mind Jack’s knee injury and the very real possibility that these anonymous sources who are of a negative mind about his health are proved correct. One also has to keep in mind that Jack’s injury may have dropped him off of certain teams’ draft boards entirely, and that the Browns may be among them. Also, worth considering is the Browns’ track record of drafting defensive players—especially those to play up front—and how they never really came into themselves, for reasons varying from poor draft decision making to multiple coaching turnovers never allowing these players to master any given scheme. There’s also the matter of his talent to consider. While he possesses a great deal of it, will it translate to talent worthy of the No. 2 overall pick? The Browns may be willing to pass on Jack, seeing him more as a No. 5 through 10 pick instead.
Drafting DB Jalen Ramsey at No. 2
Pros: Cleveland’s defensive backfield backslid in 2015, thanks to numerous injuries suffered by cornerback Joe Haden and an all-around lowering of the defensive bar. And now the Browns have to figure out how to replace both starting safeties from last season, Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson. Taking Jalen Ramsey, the draft’s top defensive back, at No. 2 would solve problems of both the short- and long-term variety. Ramsey can serve as a safety this year and then move to cornerback in 2017 if need be, given that Tramon Williams, Haden and Justin Gilbert could all be off the roster in a year’s time. A Ramsey selection at No. 2 would meet a need, to be sure, but it also reflects Ramsey’s status as the top player at his position.
Cons: While Ramsey is capable of playing safety in the NFL, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Browns view him that way. And if the Browns see Ramsey as a cornerback, they may choose to pass on him with the No. 2 overall pick. The Browns already have many assets locked up in the cornerback position; in addition to the three mentioned above, there is also K'Waun Williams, Charles Gaines Jr. and Pierre Desir who will be vying for playing time this year and ostensibly into the future. While Ramsey could still intrigue in a best-player-available sort of way, the sheer volume of cornerbacks currently on the Browns’ roster could make Ramsey more of a luxury selection if he’s not viewed as a starting-caliber safety in his first season.
Trading Down In Round 1
Pros: There has been an ever-increasing din surrounding the possibility that the Browns trade down from the No. 2 position to somewhere else in Round 1. From NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington saying the Browns are “actively shopping,” the No. 2 spot, to ESPN’s Adam Schefter’s less committed “there is interest in the pick,” it’s looking like a very real possibility the Browns don’t select anyone at No. 2 after all this year. Whether it’s the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 8, the New York Jets at No. 20 or some other team as yet unknown, moving down in Round 1 would give the Browns additional draft ammo in both 2016 and 2017—important assets for this rebuilding squad. If their top draft target is someone they can select later in the first round, moving out of No. 2 makes sense.
Cons: For the Browns to move down in Round 1, they need to have a player in mind and a surplus of confidence that player will still be on the board when they make their eventual selection. And even then, there’s no guarantee that the Browns will get the pick right, a la the 2011 draft in which they gave up the possibility of taking receiver Julio Jones (or J.J. Watt, or Nick Fairley or Mike Pouncey or…) and ultimately selected defensive lineman Phil Taylor at No. 21; Taylor is no longer in Cleveland and the trade down with the Atlanta Falcons is often pointed to as one of the Browns’ biggest recent draft mistakes.
Granted, there’s no guarantee the Browns—or any team—will get any of their picks right, regardless of when they make the selection, regardless of the round. Fear of making a mistake is not a way to operate in the draft room; if it were, it’s time to find a new job. But trading down is staking a claim in the belief that the player or players the Browns are comfortable drafting in Round 1 will still be available once they make that eventual pick. Like every decision a team makes in the NFL draft—and particularly in the first round—it’s about balancing acceptable risks with anticipated rewards. It’s strikingly similar to, yes, forming Pros and Cons lists. Either way, there will be cries of both satisfaction and dissatisfaction resulting from whatever the Browns choose to do next Thursday night; it wouldn’t be the draft without them.