NFL: Cleveland Browns need to pick Saquon Barkley at #1 overall
The Cleveland Browns are in a position to make a jump in the 2018 NFL season. It starts with selecting Saquon Barkley to start the draft.
For the second consecutive season, the Cleveland Browns own the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. Following a 2017 season during which they completed the first 0-16 season since the 2008 Detroit Lions despite picking first overall in the season's draft, there is hope for them in 2018.
But that hope relies on what they do with this year's #1 pick, as that will set everything else in motion. Despite their regular and astounding need at the quarterback position, they need to pick the best player available in the draft, and that player is Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
Barkley ran for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns on 217 carries in his final season at Penn State last year, and he hauled in 54 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran back 15 kickoffs, taking two for touchdowns and totaling 426 yards in the process.
In each of the last two NFL seasons, rookies have led the league in rushing yards, and that could very well become the last three seasons in a row with Barkley set to enter the league.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott did it in 2016 with 1,631 yards, and Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt did it in 2017 with 1,327 yards. In fact, in 2016, rookie Jordan Howard of the Chicago Bears finished second to Elliott in that category with 1,313 yards.
The only non-rookie to finish in the top 2 in rushing yards in either of the last two seasons was Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, who finished in second to Hunt in the 2017 season with 1,305 yards on the ground.
Yes, the Browns could easily select a quarterback with the first overall pick given the fact that they will look to replace DeShone Kizer, who had a horrendous rookie season in which he threw 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. A quarterback is clearly the team's top need.
That said, the Browns also have the fourth overall pick in this year's draft as well thanks to a trade with the Houston Texans last year that resulted in the Texans selecting quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Given Watson's success in the six games in which he actually started in the 2017 season before suffering a torn ACL, this trade did not look like a smart one on the part of the Browns. But it may work out perfectly.
There are five quarterbacks that could very easily end up being picked in the top 10 or so in this year's draft. Those quarterbacks are Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield.
Why pick a quarterback at #1 overall when at least three of these five quarterbacks will be available at #4 overall? Why throw away any chance of selecting Barkley, who has literally no chance to drop past the top 3, to select a quarterback who will most likely be available at #4 anyway?
By opening up the 2018 NFL Draft with the selection of Saquon Barkley, the Browns walk away with the best rookie running back and best overall player in the draft in addition to a top-tier rookie quarterback that they would select three picks later.
All of a sudden, the Browns look like they might win a few games. All of a sudden, they look like they can use the $118 million they have in cap space to fill some other holes to set themselves up to potentially win more than just a few games.
As crazy as it sounds, we might be looking at a team that has gone 1-31 over the last two seasons trying to enter win-now mode as early as this season. One season after the Buffalo Bills ended the longest active playoff drought in the NFL, the Browns, who now own the longest drought of this type, could do the same.
They have what they need in position to be able to do it, but it starts with picking Saquon Barkley at #1 overall in this year's NFL Draft.