Thursday, April 27, 2017

A solid start

In a National Football League college draft that ranks as one of the most bizarre, surprising and yet entertaining in recent memory, the Browns emerged as a much better football team Thursday night in Philadelphia.

They chose wisely with their first two picks – Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the top pick and Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers with the 25th pick after trading down with Houston from No. 12. They later added Miami tight end David Njoku after trading back into the first round.

It automatically adds strength at two vital positions on a defense that needs all the help it can get. Garrett and Peppers bring the kind of talent and playmaking that undoubtedly will see them in the starting lineup in the season opener against Pittsburgh.

With surprises that ranged from quarterback Mitch (Mitchell) Trubisky being selected by the Chicago Bears with the second overall pick to the Browns making three selections while moving down and then back up the line, this draft made a mockery of the thousands of mock drafts around the nation early and often.

The Trubisky pick, made after the Bears traded up just one spot with San Francisco, was the evening’s stunner in more ways than one. Why? Because most draft experts had him tethered to the Browns in some way shape or form. And because the most stunned person was Trubisky himself, who said the Bears never called him.

When Commissioner Roger Goodell read Trubisky’s name, I gulped in surprise and chuckled in a somewhat sinister fashion. That was not the name I expected to hear because the Bears just signed free agent quarterback Mike Glennon to a large contract.

And when Peppers was announced later in the evening, I doubled my fist and elatedly said, “Yes! What a great pick.” I still can’t figure out how he lasted this long. What in the world was he doing there?

Garrett can’t help but make the Cleveland pass rush better this season only because it can’t be any worse than it was last season. And Peppers gives the team the kind of versatility it has not had for many seasons.

Fans who hated him as a Wolverine for the last few years will love this playmaker as a Brown for at least the next several years. His versatility will enable him to play anything from free safety, to box linebacker to return specialist to running back.

He will be the ultimate slash player who can truly be called a triple threat. It will be interesting to see the tug o’ war with the coaches who will lobby for Peppers to be included in what they do on their respective sides of the ball.

The Browns, to the surprise of many veteran observers and a growing multitude of their fans, did not select a quarterback with Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson all going in the first 12 picks.

The Browns owned pick No. 12 after surprising no one by taking defensive end Garrett with the lottery’s top pick. After the Bears took Trubisky, clearly the evening’s first and biggest shocker, the Kansas City Chiefs leaped 17 places to grab Mahomes at No. 10.

When that happened, and perhaps because they had set their sights on Mahomes and might have been ambushed, the Browns struck a deal with Houston two picks later to move down to No. 25 when the Texans offered up their No. 1 pick next season as a reward. The Browns, of course, couldn’t say no.

On the board at the time were Jonathan Allen, the second-best defensive lineman; linebackers Reuben Foster and Haason Reddick; O. J. Howard, the best tight end; Ohio State safety Malik Hooker; and, yes, Deshaun Watson.

Watson, his warning that he will come back to haunt teams that pass him up notwithstanding, was passed up by the Browns, who happily stepped aside for another No. 1 next year and allowed the Texans to move in and grab the former Clemson quarterback.

With draft capital in mind, they naturally opted to take the Texans deal – they also own Houston’s second-round pick next year – and add to that capital. They now have two firsts and a trio of seconds in 2018.

In order to get Njoku, they merely moved up just four spots at No. 29 when the Green Bay Packers agreed to take a fourth-rounder this year and inherit the Browns’ first pick in Friday’s second round.

Njoku is young – he turns 21 in July – and runs more like a large wide receiver at 6-4, 245 pounds. He does not have classic tight end size, but showed a willingness to block in college.

The bottom line after day one is the Browns firmly – and wisely – held the line against drafting a quarterback when they could have, at least with Watson. They correctly began filling holes on the roster that badly needed filling.

After passing on Hooker at 12, they were extremely fortunate Peppers was there at 25 with the Pittsburgh Steelers looming at 30. Several draft experts projected Peppers for the Steelers, who wound up taking Wisconsin linebacker T. J. Watt.

All in all, it was a solid evening for the Browns, although I was hoping they would take yet another defender with their third pick. They passed on Foster, who was tagged with a medical red flag because of a bad shoulder. But that didn’t stop San Francisco from grabbing him two picks after the Browns selected Njoku.

Kevin King and Sidney Jones, a pair Washington cornerbacks, a position the Browns need help at, were also on the board after the opening round, as was Florida corner Quincy Wilson.

The Browns begin Friday’s two-round session with just two picks, No. 52 in the second round and the top pick of the third round, No 65. But with this front office’s fondness of moving up and down the draft, anything is possible.

Only two picks in two rounds sounds almost like a challenge for the proactive Cleveland braintrust to become unusually active before the dust settles after round three. Their seemingly insatiable appetite to deal and gather picks could lead to more than just two selections.

And this, no doubt, is where they pick up their quarterback, perhaps as early as No. 51, unless, of course, they use future draft capital to swing back into the top part of round two.

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