The NFL Draft isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Teams will encounter limitless scenarios over the weekend, including numerous paths to success.
Here are my top four for the Browns:
THE BIG FELLA
I’ve watched the film. I’ve talked to the coaches. I’ve listened to the experts.
I’ve concluded Louisville’s Mekhi Becton is the best left tackle for the Browns.
I can’t get past the wow factor from his combination of size (6-foot-7, 364 pounds) and athleticism (5.10 40 time) as he punishes defenders by driving them downfield or into the turf.
His technique in pass protection isn’t polished, but he’s so massive and has good feet so he’s tough to get past. And he’d get the chance to work with veteran line coach Bill Callahan.
Becton’s upside is through the roof, and isn’t that what the draft is about? He’s a Day 1 starter at left tackle, which would fill the Browns’ greatest need, and has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
I’m not worried about the flagged drug test at the scouting combine and trust the references who rave about him off the field.
The ideal scenario would be trading down five or six spots and getting Becton — Denver at No. 15 and Atlanta at No. 16 have explored moving up — but it’d be a gamble to expect him to still be on the board.
So the first option for first-time general manager Andrew Berry is staying at No. 10 and taking Becton.
I know many Browns fans cringe when trading down is mentioned — passing on Julio Jones, Clay Matthews III, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson left scars — but the thinking is sound. More picks provide a greater chance to win the crapshoot that is the draft.
The practice shouldn’t apply when a quarterback is involved, and we can debate whether it should be used when a “difference-maker” is available. But as a tenet, it holds up.
With this in mind, the Browns should consider a trade down from No. 10 Thursday night. If they can swing a deal with the Broncos or Falcons, the Browns would be able to get a third-round pick Friday or a second-round pick in 2021.
The risk is Becton and the other top tackles (Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs) will be off the board. But I think there’s a chance Becton could slide, which would give Berry a home run in his first time in charge.
I’m good with taking the gamble and hoping Becton makes it that far. If he doesn’t, Berry could take the draft’s best safety (Alabama’s Xavier McKinney) or best inside linebacker (Kenneth Murray), select from the second tier of tackles or trade down again.
THE OTHER GUYS
If analysts and teams can’t agree on the order of the top tackles, maybe it doesn’t matter which one of the top four the Browns get. This would be applicable at No. 10 or if one’s still around after a trade down.
Becton is the favorite of former Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah (I’m in good company). But ESPN’s Louis Riddick and Todd McShay prefer Wills, Pro Football Focus ranks Thomas No. 1 and The Ringer’s Danny Kelly picks Wirfs.
Wills and Wirfs would have to make the switch from right tackle, which is a concern for some experts but not for others. Berry downplayed the transition, so it shouldn’t keep him from taking Wills or Wirfs if they are the tackles remaining.
The Browns found the right draft to be desperate for a left tackle.
A SPECIAL CASE
Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons is the one non-left tackle the Browns would have to consider if he’s available at No. 10. (LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and OSU defensive end Chase Young have no chance of lasting that long.)
If Simmons is there, Berry would be justified in taking him. And the pick could be considered a victory.
Simmons is an athletic, playmaking freak who can play linebacker or safety. He can cover tight ends and running backs and rush the passer. He can force fumbles and intercept passes.
The Browns have needs at linebacker and safety. They could draft Simmons now and figure out exactly what to do with him later. If they believe Simmons is destined for greatness, he’s worth the pick.
The question for Berry would then become how to address left tackle. If he’s relying on the draft, as opposed to adding a veteran, the best bet would be trading up from No. 41 into the bottom of the first round and taking Houston’s Josh Jones, Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland or USC’s Austin Jackson.