The Cleveland Browns are a mess. And that’s being nice about it. Their roster is in shambles, they are breaking in their sixth head coach since 2005, and they will likely open the 2016 season with their 21st different starting quarterback since 1999. To be fair, the Browns did score one major victory this offseason when they hired Hue Jackson — the best head coaching candidate on the market this year, in our opinion — to take over for Mike Pettine as the team’s head coach.
After that, things start to get dicey. They were more or less forced into releasing 23-year-old quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, they parted ways with franchise stalwarts such as center Alex Mack, safety Tashuan Gipson, safety Donte Whitner, and linebacker Karlos Dansby. If nothing else, the moves made it painfully obvious that a full-blown rebuilding project is brewing in Cleveland.
Their rebuilding mission will be aided by the fact that the Browns currently own the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. With the Tennessee Titans reportedly down to two players — Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey — that they are considering at No. 1, we have a pretty good idea who the Browns will pick from when they are on the clock. And right now, all signs point toward the team using the pick on North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz.
Now with that being said, this is a franchise that cannot afford to screw up another high first-round pick, especially at the quarterback position. Since 2007, the Browns have used first-round picks on three quarterbacks, Brady Quinn in 2007, Brandon Weeden in 2012, and Manziel in 2014. And all three players have proven to be monumental busts.
When it comes to Wentz, opinions around the league vary on the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder. But this much is certain: There is nobody who will tell you Wentz is guaranteed to be a Pro Bowl-caliber franchise quarterback. Some will tell you that he has an Andrew Luck-type of ceiling — we think his ceiling is more along the lines of Joe Flacco for what it’s worth — and others will tell you that he’ll never overcome the fact that he played his college ball at the Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) level.
While Wentz has separated himself from the rest of the 2016 draft class of quarterbacks, we firmly believe that the Browns would be better served to go in a different direction when draft day rolls around. As we learned over the last five-plus years, defense wins championships in the National Football League. And if the Browns have the opportunity to draft Ramsey, they would be foolish to pass on the 21-year-old defensive back.
In our eyes, Ramsey, who has the size (6-foot-1 and 209 pounds) and physical ability to be an All-Pro at two different positions (safety and cornerback), has the potential to be a once-in-a-generation type of defensive player. Why roll the dice on a high-risk, high-reward quarterback when you can add a player who is a near lock to be a Pro Bowl-caliber standout in your secondary for several years to come? And that brings us to our next point.
The harsh reality of the situation is that the Browns are nowhere near being close to competing for a spot in the AFC Playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl title. In fact, if we made our predictions today, we’d predict that the Browns will land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. And given the strength of their division, we wouldn’t be surprised if they have a top-five pick again in 2018. Long story short, the Browns will again have viable options — guys like Chad Kelly out of Ole Miss, Josh Dobbs out of Tennessee, and Deshaun Watson out of Clemson — in the next two draft classes (2017 and 2018).
If Ramsey is out of the picture for the Browns, we strongly believe that their next move should be to trade the No. 2 pick away to one of the other quarterback-hungry teams around the league and begin to stockpile draft picks.
Based on similar trades (remember when the Washington Redskins moved up to select Robert Griffin III at No. 2 overall in 2012?), the Browns would, at the least, land two first-round picks and another second- or third-round pick in exchange for this year’s No. 2 overall pick. A deal like that should be a no-brainer for a team that has holes to fill up and down their roster like Cleveland does.
Lastly, speaking of Griffin, it would be unwise of the Browns to not see if they can help him recapture the level of play he showed when he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012. If they take Wentz at No. 2 overall, there will be immense pressure on the team’s coaching staff right from the get-go to name him their Week 1 starter, and they will likely never get a legitimate chance to see if Griffin can resurrect his career in Cleveland under the guidance of a quarterback guru such as Jackson.
Only time will tell what direction the Browns choose to go in the 2016 NFL Draft. That said, our advice to them would be to pass on Wentz and move toward building a dominant defense.