Cleveland Browns should consider drafting a safety in the first round

Oct 15, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) celebrates after picking up a fumble during the third quarter of a game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) celebrates after picking up a fumble during the third quarter of a game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Browns traded away the No. 2 overall pick in 2016 to the Philadelphia Eagles, who selected Carson Wentz. Now, the Eagles’ season is falling apart, setting up the Browns with two potential top-ten picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.

It was just a month ago when the Philadelphia Eagles appeared to be a playoff team led by rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. Of course, the Cleveland Browns essentially passed on drafting Wentz by trading the No. 2 pick to the Eagles in last year’s NFL draft for a handful of future picks.

At first, it looked like the Browns whiffed as Wentz made passes early on that only elite quarterbacks could replicate. However, as the season progressed, Wentz has failed to remain consistent resulting in the Eagles to drop in the standings.

As it currently stands, the Browns are projected to have the No. 1 and No. 8 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Eagles still have the New York Giants (10-4) and Dallas Cowboys (12-2) remaining on their schedule, only increasing the chances their pick becomes more valuable.

Despite the notion this draft lacks the “can’t miss” quarterbacks, it’s a defensive-heavy class that provides teams with immediate starters. The likes of Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen can alter a team’s defensive identity – something the Browns have been searching for.

Garrett, Texas A&M defensive end, is one of the initial projected first overall picks for the 2017 NFL Draft. There isn’t a logical reason the Browns wouldn’t take the generational talent that dominated the collegiate level in his three seasons, even playing through injuries.

Assuming Cleveland jumps on Garrett with their first pick, who do they consider for their second pick? The defense was absolutely horrendous this season and an additional defensive player would help immensely. Defensive back is a necessity for this Browns defense and there are a number of prospects for that position. Jamal Adams, Malik Hooker and Jabrill Peppers are a few names to consider to fill the void at safety.

Jamal Adams – LSU

Adams recorded 70 tackles (6.5 for loss) this season and established himself as a do-it-all safety. Despite intercepting four passes in 2015, he only registered one this season. Quarterbacks were also wary to throw it deep with Adams lurking over the top, so that plays into it as well.

One of his best games this season came against top-ranked Alabama, where he made clutch plays and recorded his lone interception. Adams was all over the field, making several big plays to prevent first downs.

His awareness and instincts make him a top player in the draft and his consistency when tackling is a huge plus for his position. He can contribute right out of the gate for Cleveland and provide quality tackling, something the Browns have lacked since T.J. Ward left town several years ago.

Adams displays excellent decision-making in pass coverage and is quick to break from coverage during read options. Adams delivers vicious hits and receivers are aware of it, forcing quarterbacks to avoid throwing it down the middle to protect their teammates. Excellent vision and footwork on top of his skill set, Adams could be the first defensive back taken off the board come April.

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Malik Hooker – Ohio State

Malik Hooker was arguably the best overall defensive back in college football this past season, and is another candidate for Cleveland in the first round. Hooker totaled six interceptions in 2016, only trailing four players with the leader having eight. Of his six picks, he returned three of them for touchdowns.

Play-making ability is Hooker’s forte, but he also is a reliable tackler as well. He totaled 67 tackles (five for loss) and is great off the line. Despite his six interceptions, he lacks consistency in man-coverage and tends to let receivers slip by him on routes. This enables him to get some leverage underneath and snag the jump ball, however it also allows the receiver to catch the ball in stride if the ball is placed where it needs to be.

Hooker still has yet to declare for the draft and is a player who could grow with another year of experience. His potential is what makes this a tough decision because the sky is the limit for this kid. Mistakes happen in college, however NFL quarterbacks’ accuracy will exploit Hooker if he doesn’t step up his coverage skills.

Jabrill Peppers – Michigan

Lastly, Jabrill Peppers was perhaps the most talked about defensive player in 2016. His versatility and play-making ability is unlike most prospects we’ve seen in recent memory. In fact, he played 15 positions this season. Peppers has played running back, linebacker and defensive back while also returning kicks. However, it is likely he enters the draft as a safety.

A super-athlete nonetheless, Peppers has drawn comparisons to last year’s No. 3 pick, Jalen Ramsey. He is all over the field and has blazing speed with incredible acceleration. Not to mention, he returns kicks and punts just as well as any other top-rated prospect.

The Michigan standout also finished fifth in the Heisman voting,  becoming the first defensive player to be a finalist since Manti Te’o in 2012. Peppers only recorded one interception in his three season (only played three games in 2014) and it came this season. He totaled 66 tackles (13 for loss) and also had three sacks as well this season.

He hits hard and anticipates the ball well, although he doesn’t exclusively excel at anything in particular. Peppers is a top-notch athlete who is above-average at nearly everything a safety should be, however isn’t phenomenal at one particular topic (outside of being a natural athlete).

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The three of these players seem to be the top safeties this draft has to offer (if Hooker does declare) and will make teams ecstatic to add them. Any three of them can immediately upgrade the Browns at safety, and if one were to be there with the Browns’ second first-round pick, the team would be wise to pull the trigger on one. Adams appears to be the safest pick, Hooker the highest potential, and Peppers the most versatile.