This past season, the Cleveland Browns became just the second team in NFL history to finish a season winless in a 16-game season. It seems only fitting. Many fans, especially Browns fans, are surprised it didn’t happen sooner. Consistent losing, misery, and heartache reached an epic conclusion last season with just the second 0-16 campaign in NFL history.
Despite this futility, the situation in Cleveland may improve sooner rather than later (don’t laugh just yet). One could make the argument the Browns won in free agency. They acquired a star receiver in Jarvis Landry and a competent quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. They also have the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks in this year’s NFL draft. If they use these picks correctly, they could emerge from the basement sooner than you may thank.
A good start will be selecting Sam Darnold with the top pick. While Darnold is not without his faults, he possesses the size, arm strength, and work ethic necessary to be the leader Cleveland has always sought at the position. While Darnold develops, Tyrod Taylor, a functional QB nobody will be tagging as franchise quarterback, will likely take the reins. Taylor is a significant improvement over anyone the Browns have fielded behind center since returning to the League in 1999.
They should use the No. 4 pick to select Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley may very well be the best overall player in this draft, and will likely still be available with the 4th pick. His unique abilities, both as a runner and a receiver, should make an immediate impact on this offense. Imagine a couple of years down the road: Sam Darnold, on the rise as one of the top young QB’s in the NFL, handing the ball off to Saquon Barkley and throwing to Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon. They’re not open? No big deal. Just dump it off to Barkley out of the backfield. He can get you six or seven yards a pop. What an offense that would be!
While considering the Browns potential gains, it’s also worth noting what they lost –that would be future Hall-of-Fame offensive tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas played 11 seasons for the Browns, made 10 Pro Bowls, and was a six time All-Pro selection. He was the best tackle in football for much of his time in Cleveland, and will certainly be difficult to replace. But considering the other moves the Browns have made in the offseason, they still come out of this year’s draft with a big net gain talent-wise, especially if they make the right moves.
Then again, this is Cleveland we’re talking about. It’s very possible, despite making all the right moves with the draft, things don’t work out. The transition from college to the NFL has claimed many star college quarterbacks. Darnold may end up being a bust. Barkley’s career could be riddled with injuries, driving Cleveland fans to deeper levels of despair. That narrative, however, is tired. If the Browns secure Darnold and Barkley on draft day, there is every reason for optimism. With LeBron James likely leaving the Cavs after this season, Cleveland fans are going to need it.