Recently, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine did an interview where he talked about the quarterback position and his thoughts on the position as it relates to the team. Pettine described a quarterback that is not overloaded, not being the most important position on the team and more being a complementary piece that has had many onlookers reminded of Russell Wilson with the Seattle Seahawks. Provided that Pettine was being sincere and honest (which this time of year is always a question), it paints an interesting picture for how the Browns will attack the position in the draft, but that has to be balanced with how important the position is within Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
While there are people who are thinking that the Browns may hold off on quarterback until the middle of the draft, it may simply be the Browns expressing themselves as a team that will go for talent first. In that case, if the right guy is there at the #4 pick, they may opt to take that player and then try to get a quarterback later.
In my opinion, the guy the Browns would take if they fell to them at 4 would be either Khalil Mack, the linebacker from Buffalo or the really unlikely event where Jadeveon Clowney is sitting there at fourth pick. Should Clowney somehow find his way to fourth pick, the card probably will not be able to go up fast enough for the Browns, but that is a really unlikely scenario. Mack could happen.
Mack is the type of player that Pettine especially, could pound the table to get. While Mack is an outside linebacker in name, he does have experience playing defensive end and inside linebacker. The inside linebacker spot is where the Browns would need him. The Browns have an incredible amount of depth at outside linebacker. If the Browns draft Mack, they are ultimately wanting him to play next to Karlos Dansby. The immediate reaction to some is that would be a waste of Mack’s talents. I disagree.
Pettine’s defense likes to be able to attack from all angles and while Mack has shown he can play the run and make drops into pass coverage, he gives them an immensely talented player that can attack the quarterback from the middle or move around depending on the situation. The Browns could have passing situations where they are putting Mack, Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger on the field at the same time with some or all of them going after the quarterback. Mack, even at inside linebacker, would be used like an outside linebacker; just from a different starting point.
Could the Browns opt for Greg Robinson, the offensive tackle from Auburn or Sammy Watkins, the incredible waste of draft resources from Clemson at fourth pick? Sure. Obviously, hopefully not Watkins, but Mack seems like the one that Pettine would clamor to have in his defense as well as being a truly elite prospect.
Getting back to the quarterback position, if they were able to land Khalil Mack for argument’s sake, it becomes interesting to see how and when the Browns would want to address the quarterback position. Would they spend much of the rest of Thursday of the draft trying to work the phones and trying to work a trade up to get their guy, whomever that is? Or would they be satisfied to sit at 26 and if their guy falls to them, take him? They could also use a couple mid round picks on signal callers and truly embody the idea of the strategy the Seahawks were able to make work with Wilson. That is an extremely risky play, given the fact that while Russell Wilson has bee great, this is the same round the Browns have pulled Charlie Frye and Colt McCoy from in the past. And before someone throws a fit about that as a case of the Browns being the Browns, the overwhelming data says that hitting on a third round quarterback is really, really difficult.
The other part of this is Kyle Shanahan’s offense. If you include his father, Mike Shanahan, in that equation, since they are not only father and son, but also worked together in Washington, here is the group of quarterbacks they have had in their respective careers from when Shanahan was in Denver. John Elway, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III, Donovan McNabb and Matt Schaub. McNabb was a terrible trade and nothing without Andy Reid while Schaub had some good seasons but was more of a beneficiary of having a great offense around him, the remaining quarterbacks all have a few things in common. And no, Kirk Cousins is not good and was not good for Shanahan in Washington.
They have top end arm strength and are athletic enough to move the pocket and be able to roll out and are at least able to pick up some yardage with their legs. Not only that, but they all had a substantial amount of responsibility put on them and the offense really did operate around them for the most part. So while Pettine is seemingly trying to reduce the amount being put on a rookie quarterback and perhaps sending the message that talent will trump the decision, they do need a really talented quarterback.
If I was to guess what the Browns would like to have happen on draft day, it would be for Khalil Mack to fall to 4 and the Browns to take him, followed by Ray Farmer working the phones and trying to find a place to trade up to get his quarterback, which I believe is Derek Carr from Fresno State.
I am fully prepared to be dead wrong, but not only have the Browns been consistently interested in Carr going back to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, but he also fits what the Shanahans like in a quarterback. A cannon for an arm, the ability to make any throw a team could want, athletic and mobile and Carr would come in with a ton of experience and someone who had a lot of responsibility, putting his team in position to succeed, calling and setting up plays at the line of scrimmage.
I think the Browns really like Carr. I just don’t think they love him at 4. If Mack falls, I think he is the guy as of today with the team working the phones from that point on in hopes of getting Carr. Obviously if someone picks Carr, they will move onto their next target, so on and so forth. If Mack is not there, the team may try to trade down and adding more assets before taking Carr. To me, right now, with three weeks to go in the process, I think the Browns are hoping they can come away with those two players in the first round.
I think Pettine is being as honest as he can be, given the situation. I think if anything is to be taken from what he said in this interview, it is that they are trying to emphasize talent in this draft and really build the team. That does not mean that the quarterback position is not important, but it would suggest the Browns are all buy saying that the talent differential between players like Clowney and Mack to the quarterbacks is substantial enough, they feel as though they cannot pass on them if available. Still, the Browns do have to find a quarterback and while Brian Hoyer is there and could be good, his teammates like Josh Gordon and Joe Haden have implicitly or explicitly, in the case of Gordon, said they do not believe he is the right man for the job.
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