SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, PENN STATE
Hear me out.
The Cleveland Browns have an identity crisis. While most teams that have suffered from this problem do so because they have a lack of identity, for the Browns, it means the wrong identity.
When we think about the Browns, most consider them the running joke of the NFL. No free agent wants to move to Cleveland and voluntarily play for a team known for being the worst in the league. Their cycle of starting QBs is laughable, and they’ve taken an approach seemingly similar to the 76ers to “trust the process” and suck long enough that they can build a team through high draft picks and young talent. The change in their front office this year, however, has also come with a few very refreshing changes.
They’ve realized all of this, and that no FA wants to voluntarily come to Cleveland unless they’re setting records for salary (and even that may not be enough). In response, they’ve used draft capital to trade for more proven players that otherwise wouldn’t have wanted to come to Cleveland. They traded a 3rd round pick for Tyrod Taylor - a QB that has proven he is able to win games in the NFL and a 4th and a 7th round pick for Jarvis Landry – a WR that has set records for slot production in the NFL. They are giving themselves a chance to change their culture of losing, while also building a bridge for a rookie QB to learn what life is like in the NFL before being thrown into the fire and becoming another notch on Cleveland’s proverbial QB bed post.
Stay with me – I still need to convince you why Darnold isn’t the pick at 1.
The 2018 NFL Draft
Look, if the Browns didn’t have the 4th overall pick, this would be a totally different story. In order to fully understand the Barkley pick at 1, we have to look closely at this incoming draft class – specifically at the most important position in football: QB.
I won’t pretend to be any kind of expert at talent evaluation. I love watching the NFL combine, going back and watching film on players, and ultimately creating my own draft board. For me, it makes watching the NFL draft a much more engaging experience as I’ve already done some homework on the players and have a decent idea for what I think is appropriate value and what each team may or may not do. When looking at the incoming QB class, it’s tough for me to compare it to draft classes we’ve seen in the past. There are arguably 5 QBs worthy of a 1st round pick, but none of them (in my opinion) stand far and above the rest as truly “elite.” There are a few draft classes I want us all to remember:
Coming into this draft, the Carolina Panthers had the first overall pick and were lucky enough to have Cam Newton – the player that almost single-handedly carried an Auburn team on his back to a national championship – coming into the NFL. Sure, Cam had questions on his ability to be a NFL pocket passer, but few have been or could be compared to Cam in terms of athleticism at the position. He was unquestionably the top QB prospect and a sure-fire first overall pick.
I mention this draft because if you look behind Cam, we had Jake Locker (8th overall), Blaine Gabbert (10th overall), Christian Ponder (12th overall), Andy Dalton (35th overall), and Colin Kaepernick (36th overall) coming into the NFL behind him. While they were not ALL first round picks, and frankly many of them not even very good, at the time it appeared to be a very deep QB draft with a number of players given the opportunity to be franchise quarterbacks.
The biggest difference between 2011 and 2018 is Cam Newton. I’m not arguing that Darnold, Rosen, Allen, Mayfield, and Jackson are going to be considered “busts” like most of the others in 2011, but none are as sure of prospects as Cam was coming out.
To me, 2014 was the most comparable QB draft class to the one we’re watching this year. In 2014 we saw Blake Bortles taken as the first QB off the board at 3rd overall, Johnny Manziel at 22, Teddy Bridgewater at 32, Derek Carr at 36, and Jimmy Garoppolo in the late 2nd at 62.
Here was another QB class that had tons of potential. Coming out, there was debate amongst scouts and fans as who was truly the top QB in the draft. Ultimately, the dispersion among draft positions was larger than I would have expected (which is the point I am trying to make), given a seemingly deep class and lack of a true elite QB prospect. Four years later, it’s still up for debate but I would argue that the teams that picked the “back half” of those quarterbacks fared better than the ones that took QBs in the front half.
Here is one we all remember, with Goff going 1st overall, SUPERBOWL CHAMPION CARSON WENTZ going 2nd overall, Paxton Lynch at 26 and Christian Hackenberg at 51. I just like bringing this one up because of how awesome Wentz is and it’s just nice to think about. But try and take off your green-tinted glasses and remember that each of these QBs coming out were considered somewhat risky prospects. Goff lost a lot of games in college, Wentz didn’t play against the best competition, Paxton looked like a pedophile, and Hackenberg wasn’t even wanted by his own college coach. We saw 2 QBs go in the first two picks, with one going near the end of the first round and the other going in the middle/late second.
Looking at other drafts in the past 15 years or so, there were either classes that had a sure-fire #1, or classes that seemingly didn’t have much depth/talent.
Fast forward to this year, we (for the most part) all believe the QB position to be at such a premium that it is worth forcing picks in the top 5-10 overall to get the chance at getting your “franchise QB.” I cannot think of a QB class that saw 4 QBs go in the top 10, and it certainly hasn’t happen since the new millennium. Given my bias that I don’t think any of these QBs can come in and be immediate starters as franchise QBs, I am proposing the idea that 4 out of the 5 (Darnold, Allen, Mayfield, Rosen) would all be good picks for the Browns at #4. I propose the Browns select a franchise cornerstone, an identity-defining talent, and an immediate contributor in Saquon Barkley. Picks 2 and 3 likely will be quarterbacks, meaning at pick number 4 there will be still a potential franchise QB for the taking.
Like I said above, I won’t pretend to be an expert talent evaluator. What I do know is – Barkley can play the running back position better than almost any other human being on the planet. In 3 years at Penn State, he ran for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns. He added another 1,195 yards receiving with 8 touchdowns. He returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns, and in true Trey Burton fashion he even had 2 passing attempts for 2 completions, 36 yards, and a touchdown. He is a special talent, and no one can, or has, disagreed with that. His NFL comparison is Barry Sanders (per NFL.com), and pundits have talked about him being a better RB prospect than Zeke Elliot, who, like or not, single-handedly carries the Dallas Cowboys to being contenders in the NFC East. Barkley has the ability to come in as an immediate contributor, give Cleveland a great personality to get behind, and make life MUCH easier for a young QB. This last point cannot be overstated (look no further than Dak). Any QB that Cleveland drafts at 4 will learn for a year and then be able to come in and, in their second year, not have to carry a historically bad team on their back.
The biggest knock to Barkley at 1, outside of Cleveland’s need for a QB, is “draft value.” No RB has been taken first overall since 1995, when Ki-Jana Carter came out of Penn State. Injuries ultimately derailed his career, which is the biggest risk for a RB taken so high, and is a legitimate criticism of this draft approach. Bo Jackson was a similar story, taken first overall as an other-worldly talent only to have is career derailed by a hip injury. It is possible it happens to Barkley. BUT – if he turns into more of a George Rodgers, another RB taken in the 80s first overall, winning a Super Bowl in 1987, it would have all been worth it. My last comment on this is that sports medicine has come a long way since the 80s and 90s, player longevity has increased, and the likelihood of a career-ending injury, while possible, is lower than it has been ever before.
I know many of you may disagree with this pick due to the concerns I mentioned already – RB draft value and QB need. Just remember, the Browns are still in a good position to take a talented QB at 4, while also adding the best offensive weapon this draft has to offer.
I’ll conclude with this, very basic thought. At the first overall pick in the draft, the goal should be to get a sure-fire, can’t-miss, elite, franchise player. None of the QBs in this draft (in my opinion) meet these criteria. Barkley is as sure of a prospect as they come, and will be a young quarterback’s best friend as they continue to dig themselves out of their identity crisis to hopefully be a real threat in the AFC.
Measurables via Mockdraftable:
Do you approve of this pick?
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2018 BGN Mock Draft Order
1) Browns (GMinTraining): Saquon Barkley
2) Giants (ablesser88):
3) Jets (20Safety_Hazards):
4) Browns (MJ1893):
5) Broncos (drc242):
6) Colts (I Need a Username):
7) Buccaneers (dunc123):
8) Bears (NVEagleShark):
9) 49ers (Doug Pederson’s Pair of Balls):
10) Raiders (Milehighbirds):
11) Dolphins (danishdynamite_):
12) Bills (LAOJoe)
13) Washington (Eagle1987):
14) Packers (89Tremaine):
15) Cardinals (TJ “Ben Simmons” Mcconnell):
16) Ravens (PhillyEagles2011):
17) Chargers (LBCeaglesFan!):
18) Seahawks (KEZHOG):
19) Cowboys (Brawnybalboa):
20) Lions (dshelton5):
21) Bengals (Palaniappan K M):
22) Bills (BeamerWentzorBentley):
23) Rams (jy1187):
24) Panthers (dceagles):
25) Titans (ei78):
26) Falcons (SakPrescott):
27) Saints (MidMajorMatt):
28) Steelers (SummersInVA):
29) Jaguars (RecarTabmok):
30) Vikings (AnthroEagle):
31) Patriots (PhilaWolverine):
32) Eagles (JALupowitz):
Now it’s time for you to vote for who YOU think the Browns should pick in the 2018 BGN Consensus Mock Draft.
Who should the Cleveland Browns draft at No. 1 overall?
This poll is closed