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Teams don’t win games during the NFL offseason, we all know that. However, if there’s been a team who is trying to position themselves for more wins during the 2018 season, it’s the Cleveland Browns. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? And, with Saquon Barkley there for the taking with one of their top-4 picks, they could get even better!
Did you just spit out your coffee? I know, but you heard right. The 0-16 Cleveland Browns are dominating the NFL offseason and we’re not even in the signing period yet. For the past few years, the Browns have been trying to bring some MLB strategy into the NFL. Acquiring assets, holding onto cap space, grabbing marginal players and justifying it all with advanced analytics. When new GM John Dorsey came to town, he booted Sashi Brown and his whole philosophy out the door. With Dorsey at the helm, the Browns are going to try to win; now!
Over the past week, Cleveland has made three blockbuster trades, sending picks to the Miami Dolphins for Jarvis Landry, a pick to the Buffalo Bills to grab Tyrod Taylor and flipping DeShone Kizer to the Green Bay Packers for Damarious Randall. With an offense retooling at two of the key positions, the Browns have lined themselves up to grab the aforementioned Saquon Barkley with the first overall pick.
Dubbed by most evaluators as the most talented player on the board, Saquon Barkley is a generational type of talent. Everyone familiar with his game raves about him as a player. He’s labeled a “4-P” prospect, and everything about him screams top pick.
- Production — 5,000-plus scrimmage yards and 51 total touchdowns in three seasons at Penn State
- Performance — A dynamic runner-receiver-returner with explosive playmaking ability
- Prototypical Traits — 6-feet, 233 pounds with 4.40 40 yad dash speed and a 41-inch vertical, aka a combine freak
- Personal Character — Basically, he’s not going to pull an OBJ and get caught doing some really dumb stuff
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton dubbed him “the best running back prospect I’ve seen in 25 years.” This all just feels like a no-brainer, right? Except the fact that there’s a reason why running backs don’t get drafted first overall. The last time a running back was selected in the top spot in the NFL Draft was another Nittany Lion, Ki-Jana Carter, in 1995. He was a bust. He started only 14 games and totaled a grand 1,400 yards from scrimmage over his entire 7-year career. Not his fault, as it was due to injuries, but the numbers don’t lie.
The average life span of an NFL running back is around 3.3 years, according to the NFL. There’s also a significant drop off in production around years five-to-seven. Saquon Barkley enters the league with over 670 carries during his college career. With the physical toll the running back position takes on players, entering the league with that type of wear-and-tear is an indicator that Barkley could be a risk for a significant injury down the road. All players in the league are susceptible to injuries, but the shelf life of running backs in the league are much shorter-lived than most positions.
Even looking at the best running backs from last year, one starts to notice a trend. Kareem Hunt led all rushers with over 1,300 yards and was drafted in the 2017 draft in the 3rd round. Other running backs in the top-10 of production last year were Le'Veon Bell (drafted 2nd round), LeSean McCoy (drafted 2nd round), Jordan Howard (drafted 5th round) and C.J. Anderson (undrafted). The bottom line, when it comes to tailbacks, there’s value to be had in the middle-to-late rounds of the NFL Draft.
The Cleveland Browns happen to be in a position where they can have their cake and eat it too. With the first and fourth picks in the draft, in a quarterback stacked class, the Browns are pretty much ensured that, if they draft Saquon Barkley first overall, at least two of the top four signal-callers will be waiting for them a few picks later. The trade for Tyrod Taylor also gives them the bridge quarterback they need as they develop whomever they pick in the draft, while still focusing on winning games this year.
But as Jimmy Haslam, the team’s owner, said when hiring GM John Dorsey, the organization’s top priority is to find a quarterback. Unless you’ve solidified that position, there’s no chance of long-term success — it’s just the reality of the league. This year can set up the organization for years of success or years of being at the bottom of the NFL.
So, should the Browns grab the best running back prospect in 25 years with the first overall pick and roll the dice on a signal caller or should they solidify the most important position on the field once-and-for-all? If ever a catch-22 faced an organization with two picks in the top-five, this is one for the ages — and leave it up to the Brownies to (somehow) botch this up.
Lead image via Getty.