Somebody had to be first in Mel Kiper’s first mock draft of the season.
Kiper, the longtime face and hair of the NFL Draft for ESPN, went with Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen to the Browns with the No. 1 pick. He cited Allen’s strong finish in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Central Michigan.
“He’s got the physical capability to do the job in the weather conditions like Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz, quarterbacks he’ll be compared to for that size and the physicality and the arm strength and mobility and the toughness and the competitiveness for playing in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore every year,” Kiper said Thursday on a conference call. “The big-time arm and the big body was the reason I gave him that slight edge over (UCLA’s Josh) Rosen and (USC’s Sam) Darnold.”
Browns fans should settle in. The draft doesn’t start until April 26, the decision won’t be made any time soon and countless mock drafts will fill the void.
The Senior Bowl, scouting combine, pro days, individual workouts and team visits will occupy new Cleveland general manager John Dorsey.
Kiper admitted his ranking is “very fluid.”
“You’re splitting hairs between all three of those guys,” he said. “All three of these kids are in the mix to be the No. 1 pick. But right now just because of the way Allen finished the season, I gave him the nod at No. 1.”
The Browns also own the No. 4 pick, courtesy of a trade with Houston during the 2017 draft. Kiper predicted they’ll take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
“For Cleveland, if you get the quarterback at one and the running back at four, you’re on your way, because that defense is pretty good there,” he said.
Allen is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and has a strong right arm. In two years as a starter, he completed 56.2 percent with 5,066 yards, 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
The completion percentage is the biggest red flag, as it was only 56.3 in his final season.
“You’ve got to look beyond his stats. Stats are for losers, in my opinion, in a lot of ways,” Kiper said. “The kid won. A lot of guys have stats and can’t get their teams over .500.
“If you go watch the throws, it wasn’t all on him. Incompletions are a result of bad offensive line play, not having a running game this year with the loss of Brian Hill, receivers dropping balls, there’s a lot of factors that contribute to that.”
Kiper conceded it’s a concern, because NFL teams want quarterbacks to hit at least 60 percent in college.
“That’s why he’s not lock, stock and barrel No. 1,” he said. “I get that stat. But I think you have to look at the tape, watch every throw and see how many of those were because of Josh Allen just being not accurate, not precise. Now certainly there are times when he could be a little more precise and a little more accurate, but for the most part if you watch the kid play, he can whip it to any point on the field, very competitive, great mobility. He finished strong, and the other two quarterbacks didn’t.”
Allen will have a chance to separate himself from Rosen and Darnold at the Senior Bowl next week in Mobile, Ala. He and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield are the signature participants.
“For Josh Allen, just stick out as a big-time quarterback,” Kiper said.
Rosen is the most pure passer of the top three, according to Kiper, and he outplayed Darnold in the battle for Los Angeles. But he missed time with a shoulder injury earlier in his career and had two concussions this season, keeping him out of the bowl game.
Kiper isn’t worried about Rosen’s reported hesitance to play for the Browns, who are coming off 1-15 and 0-16 seasons.
“I don’t know the Browns, if they really like a quarterback, really care about that,” he said. “He’s not going to sit out the year, and you can very easily with conversations change things. I think that if he would look at the Cleveland Browns’ personnel and the fact that you have John Dorsey as a GM, he might be changing his thought process just a bit on that.”
Darnold is No. 1 in other mock drafts despite a rocky season that included 21 turnovers.
“Darnold just didn’t have the great year he anticipated,” Kiper said. “He came into the year looking like the clear-cut No. 1 pick overall, struggled, some bad habits were developed, made some bad decisions, some poor throws, some ill-advised throws.”
The pick at No. 4 shouldn’t be overlooked, and Kiper sees a big-time talent in Barkley.
“The way he bounces. There’s strength in the lower body, leg strength. Balance through traffic. He’s a heckuva player,” he said. “He can pass block very effectively, catches the ball out of the backfield, not only swing passes but down the field.”