Not that it needs to be restated, but my stance on what the Cleveland Browns need to focus on with the first overall pick is pretty cut and dry – quarterback or bust.
I’ve written on a couple of the players being connected to Cleveland in this year’s QB class, but another name is starting to crop up as the trendy pick on everyone’s mock drafts. This is all despite the fact said player didn’t throw a single pass at last week’s NFL combine.
There are more than a handful of pundits who feel as though Sam Darnold is most likely to end up with the Browns this April. If this is indeed the case, I’ll find it tough to ignore my concerns with the former USC Trojan. There’s one major reason why I’d be worried about his future in Cleveland.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the hype surrounding Darnold. Watching him step up in 2016 and turn a fledgling USC team into a contender was nothing short of stunning. I watched his Rose Bowl performance against Penn State in awe, blown away as the then-19-year-old Darnold threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns. The passes he was making then were pro-level throws, making it very easy to see why many labeled him as the best 2018 prospect before last season even began.
Darnold regressed last year, which does factor into my worries about him potentially becoming Cleveland’s top pick. While he threw for 57 touchdowns, he had issues hanging onto the ball, throwing 13 interceptions and losing nine fumbles.
To be honest, I was surprised Darnold announced he was entering the draft this year. I felt as though he needed another year at USC, especially considering he took a step back last season. While some of this can be blamed on the injuries the Trojans endured through 2017, it wasn’t lofty to say the 20-year-old QB needed some more seasoning.
Which leads me to my main concern with Darnold. Despite his obvious talent, he’ll likely need time and teaching to develop. It’s tough to see the Browns as the best place for that.
Knowing Darnold would need to be properly groomed in order to reach his ceiling, how can you not worry about what would happen if he ends up in Cleveland?
There, he’d be working with one of the worst coaches in NFL history, Hue Jackson. Boasting a two-year record of 1-31, which he’d like everyone to know isn’t his fault whatsoever, Jackson would be charged with making sure Darnold is given the proper tutelage. One would hope this doesn’t involve the same strategy he used to teach DeShone Kizer last year, unless he thinks Darnold would benefit from getting thrown under the bus on a weekly basis.
While I believe new GM John Dorsey will take a smarter route with the QB depth chart this season (i.e. get an actual veteran to hold the fort for the time being), nothing Jackson has done since joining the Browns has indicated he knows how to appropriately handle a rookie quarterback, especially one in need of proper grooming. He has, however, given a masterclass in how to ruin a prospect’s career.
Which is why I’d be nervous about Darnold ending up with the Browns.
Though he’s coming off a tough season, he remains loaded with potential. Would he be able to achieve it in Cleveland, working with a coach who’s shown no hesitancy to blame his players for his own struggles? Would he develop into the player many project him to be if he’s hearing his coach openly question his abilities to the media the second he has a bad game?
This is why I’d prefer the Browns take a player who’s less green, someone who could start early in his rookie season if necessary. To be clear, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to drafting Darnold. That said, the second his name is called, I’d immediately start having doubts.
Said uncertainty wouldn’t be based on hand size or increased turnover rates. Hell, it wouldn’t even be concern about his adapting to cold weather.
It’d be solely because of Jackson, who’s only a few months removed from ruining the last raw quarterback prospect sent his way.