On one level, the Cleveland Browns’ decision to use a sixth-round pick to draft embattled defensive tackle Caleb Brantley wasn’t the worst move during the latter stages of the NFL draft on Saturday.
The sixth round is when teams take chances. Perhaps they’ll get lucky and find a Tom Brady.
Yet in selecting Brantley, a Florida product who earlier in the draft process was projected as a second-round talent, the Browns are rolling the dice on a man facing a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from an incident at a Gainesville, Fla., bar during which he allegedly struck a woman.
Maybe Brantley will ultimately be cleared. Conflicting accounts include an affidavit from a security guard who contended that Brantley shoved the woman after she threw a punch, but didn’t knock her unconscious. And Brantley’s lawyer has said a reported settlement offer on behalf of the woman was rejected.
You know the saying: Mo’ money, mo’ problems.
Or maybe in the Browns’ case: more picks, more problems?
So even though it is OK they are taking a chance late in the draft, the fact it raises questions about their process adds another dimension.
Shortly after making the pick, Sashi Brown, Cleveland’s chief football executive, acknowledged that Brantley may never wear a Browns uniform. If the facts support the Joe Mixon-like narrative that Brantley punched the woman, Brown pretty much declared they won’t keep him.
Still, it was striking that Brown maintained they picked Brantley even while still investigating the matter. That Brown said Brantley’s case “is very concerning to us” and that they still need to see if “we can get comfortable” with the situation left Cleveland open for second-guessing. Apparently, based on what they know, it was only so concerning.
This is what can happen when you’ve stockpiled picks like nobody’s business. After having an NFL-high 14 picks in last year’s draft, the Browns had 10 picks (one shy of the league-high 11) this time around. Next year, as it stands now, Cleveland will have 12 picks, including two first- and three second-round picks. The Browns wheel and deal so much that an endorsement deal with some Wall Street stock-trading firm would seem natural.
“We just fundamentally believe the draft is the formula for sustained winning,” Brown said.
It’s one thing to have the picks. With more picks, the chances of hitting on them increase. It’s the law of averages. Just don’t squander them. Especially when you were 1-15 last season. All the analytics and algorithms will blow up in your face if the substance of the picks is lacking.
Cleveland knows. A previous regime once landed five picks in exchange for the first-round pick that allowed the Atlanta Falcons to draft Julio Jones. While Jones has become an all-pro, none of the five players linked to the picks the Browns obtained – Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Owen Marecic, Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson – are still with the team.
And there’s a laundry list of other first-round flops in recent years (see Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert from the Class of 2014) to amplify that analytics or not, the draft is an inexact science.
Now the current brain trust headed by Brown, coach Hue Jackson and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, is flowing with picks linked to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, whom the Browns passed on with the second pick overall last year. The Browns, with the bartering of various picks, to this point have received nine picks for Wentz.
That’s impressive. Maybe. The first-round pick on Thursday night of Michigan’s versatile safety Jabrill Peppers (25th overall) was linked to Wentz. So was the second-round pick of Notre Dame’s Deshone Kizer, who will have a chance to become the franchise quarterback the Browns have been so desperate to find … if his development warrants as much.
Brantley, drafted 185th overall, didn’t come from a Wentz pick. But it’s all in the same, pick-happy universe.
The Browns’ draft, which began with the selection of cornerstone edge rusher Myles Garrett at No. 1 overall and included a third first-round pick in tight end David Njoku, was widely hailed after Day 1.
No, they didn’t find the quarterback, but they added A-list talent.
Then, on Day 3, the Brantley pick happened.
A bold move for a group that entered the draft wanting to be aggressive. Maybe Brantley will play like an A-list talent, too, and properly handle his business off the field.
Yet it was also just like the Browns – riddled by draft-day blunders for years, by one regime after another – to squash the momentum which raised the question of whether they’ve set themselves up for another glaring letdown.