Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Draft intrigue

What an intriguing spectacle the top of the 2018 National Football League college draft has become.

The possibilities within the first five picks are absolutely mind-boggling with a myriad of moves that may or may not eventuate. That is what makes it intriguing.

It also is the source of arguments, stances and guesses made by Browns fans, mainly because the club is squarely in the middle with ownership of two of the first four selections in next month’s annual lottery.

So many permutations to consider between now and the night of April 26 in Arlington, Texas, but the Browns are in position to dictate the direction the draft takes once they make their first selection.

The arguments and stances (and guesses) by fans start with that pick. It all revolves around a solid quarterback class, one that is difficult to rank because they are so close in their respective talents, and numerous teams seeking to improve at that position.

The Browns, of course, are one of those teams. Owning the fourth overall pick gives them some insurance they will have a shot at one of those quarterbacks no matter what. Therein lies the problem, though.

A lot depends on how much, if at all, General Manager John Dorsey and his guys fall in love with one quarterback in particular. The pros and cons for each of the top four quarterbacks are so close, a love connection with one might not be achieved.

It is entirely possible in evaluating the quartet of Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield that a consensus might not be reached, resulting in a conundrum. That’s because they might like them all but for different reasons.

Do they figure that these guys are so close, they’ll still get a good one no matter who is there at No. 4? If that were the case, it would free them to take the best player on their board regardless of position.

Never mind that the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos (even though they reportedly signed Case Keenum) and New York Jets (even though they reportedly signed Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown), three teams with early picks, would take dead aim at one of the aforementioned and try to move up in the draft.

The Bills currently check in at No. 12, while the Broncos and Jets are back-to-back at five and six. And if they trade up, , that would possibly affect two of the quarterbacks the Browns could lose should they opt for someone else (Saquon Barkley?) at No. 1.

The New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, who follow the Browns at the top, most likely will be trade targets for any of the aforementioned should they choose to go in that direction. But they also have good reason to stay put and resist moving down.

Two of the top-rated players in this draft, maybe the top two according to many draft experts, are Barkley and defensive end Bradley Chubb, each of whom plays a position of need for the Giants and Colts.

The Giants still believe they can get at least a couple of more good seasons out of Eli Manning and could seek much needed help at running back (Barkley?). The Colts, banking on Andrew Luck returning to form after missing last season, need lots of help on defense, particularly the pass rush (Chubb?), and at running back.

If Dorsey and his men cannot come up with a consensus pick at quarterback. Barkley is the likely first name on his board the night of the draft. That’s the conundrum he faces because even though he made drafting the team’s future franchise quarterback his top priority. What does he do?

The only way the Browns take a quarterback first is if they fall head over heels totally for one in particular, too many possibilities exist that they might lose him and kick themselves for gambling incorrectly.

Dorsey will not know definitively on his ultimate course of action until he sees and speaks with these quarterbacks in person in the next several weeks. There is still plenty of time to make what fans hope is the right decision.

The unannounced deals (until Wednesday) by the Broncos (Keenum) and Jets (Bridgewater and McCown) certainly helps and could have a positive impact on how the Browns begin the draft.

On a day when all three Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks last season changed uniforms (Sam Bradford to Arizona), the need for the teams involved to move up in this draft, ostensibly ahead of the Browns, diminished somewhat.

Only the Bills, who shipped Tyrod Taylor to the Browns and created a huge hole at quarterback, Broncos and Jets could be considered legitimate candidates to move up. But the quarterbacks class is so deep, the Browns could sit tight and still get a good one at four. 

That should be considered wishful thinking by your blogger, who remains hopeful for Barkley, then the quarterback.
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The Browns agreed to contract terms with two offensive linemen and a defensive lineman Tuesday as Dorsey continues massaging his roster.

He signed offensive tackles Chris Hubbard (five-year deal) and Donald Stephenson (one-year contract) as insurance in the event Joe Thomas decides to retire. Both men are right tackles. He also signed defensive end Chris Smith to a three-year deal.

Hubbard, 26, filled in capably for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season after Marcus Gilbert suffered a hamstring injury, starting 10 games. The undrafted free agent has a good shot at unseating incumbent Shon Coleman at right tackle.

The 29-year-old Stephenson was drafted by Kansas City and played last season in Denver. The six-year pro, who is expected to provide veteran depth along the offensive line, has 37 NFL starts on his résumé.

Smith, also 26, played for the Cincinnati Bengals last season. He most likely will be a situational player along the defensive line, replacing Danny Shelton, who was traded to New England over the weekend. He is a little on the small side at 6-1, 266 pounds.

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