Cleveland Browns: Draft proves the NFL is changing
By Joel W. Cade
The Cleveland Browns headed into the 2018 NFL Draft with a plan. At the end, it is apparent things are changing for the better.
The Cleveland Browns had an excellent draft. Well, that depends on who one asks. The stark reality of the NFL is that the NFL is changing. The league is moving away from the typical pro-style offense and is moving toward an integrated pro-style/spread/RPO offense. Defenses are changing to respond as well.
Some think this hybridization of the game of football is a passing fad. The read-option came and went with the rule change that allowed defender to hit quarterbacks on fakes. But the concept that drove the read-option, the idea of optioning defenders to put them in binds, remains alive and well in the NFL. The proof? Just watch last year’s Super Bowl.
There are those who still think that the spread option/RPO concepts in the NFL is a passing trend. Truth is, I was one of those people. But something changed my mind. That thing was the 2018 NFL Draft. Not sure what opened eyes to it. But once they were open, what the Browns were doing started to make sense.
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The NFL is moving away from the traditional pro-style system. With that shift comes a shift in the type of players needed to succeed at the NFL level. The traditional big body, big armed guy is looking more like a dinosaur from an age long past. In their place is the quick, elusive quarterback who may not be the best thrower but can create plays outside the pocket.
The Browns really hit the jackpot with the No. 1 overall pick. Baker Mayfield is a good combination player who can win from the pocket. He can also run the spread style concepts and RPO’s that will come to shape the NFL of the future.
The Browns also knocked it out of the park with the No. 4 pick. Spread offenses neutralize great defenders. It options lineman and linebackers to keep them out of the play. These offenses also specialize in quick passing sets and quick reads.
In that type of future NFL, pass rushers become less important that a physical, sure tackling cornerback who specializes in man coverages. Spread offensive concepts like to isolate defenders in space. Defenses must be able to win those plays in space. Denzel Ward is the epitome of a dominant corner who can win in space. The Browns have set themselves up to defend players in space.
Round two brought another great pick at the top of the round. The Browns chose University of Nevada tackle Austin Corbett. Corbett is another player who epitomizes what spread offenses do. He can zone run block like a monster. He mauls people, takes great angles and overtakes defenders consistently. He can man up the power run game. He has concerns with pass protection given the quick college passing game. His size will probably make him an interior lineman.
The best pick of round two was Nick Chubb. This is a personal favorite as power backs who run over people hold a special place in my heart. Even so, Chubb also works well in spread style systems. Even though Georgia is one of the last remaining bastions of the pro-style offense in college, Chubb excelled in the zone style scheme where he used excellent vision, patience to the hole and power through the hole. He will fit a zone running game perfectly in Cleveland.
Another interesting pick was fourth round pick Antonio Callaway. Callaway is another spread/RPO style receiver to go along with Corey Coleman. Callaway is elusive and is most comfortable with the ball in space. If he can keep himself out of trouble and continue to develop at the NFL level, this pick could be a home run. If not, he can always be cut.
The NFL is changing and the Browns are being shaped to change with it. They drafted a quarterback who can effectively run a hybrid pro-style/spread/RPO offense. The Browns then added a corner who can win in space against receivers. They added a lineman who excels in zone blocking that is typical of the style. Nick Chubb is the old school power back who can run the zone scheme and run over the smaller linebackers necessary to defend receivers and tight ends in space. The last great pick of the draft was Antonio Callaway who excels with the ball in space.
Old school guys (formerly me) don’t quite see what the Browns are doing. They don’t understand how any team could pass on the prototypical quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. Nor does it make sense to pass on Bradley Chubb, pick a lineman at the top of the second round or take a chance on a speed receiver who excels in space.
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But times are changing and teams will have to adjust to keep pace. The Browns did exactly that in the 2018 NFL Draft. Give credit to John Dorsey, he has set up the Browns to change with the NFL.
Overall Grade: A