There's a long way to go until the 2018 NFL Draft. That means there will be plenty of time for surprises.
Earlier this week, ESPN's longtime NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. dropped this shocker on everyone in his initial mock draft projection: Wyoming QB Josh Allen to the Browns with the first overall pick.
Here's his rationale:
"Cleveland has to take a quarterback. Has to. And a winless season means the Browns can pick whichever one they want. My evaluations on this quarterback class are really close. I've gone back and forth a few times on Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Allen, but I just moved Allen up to my No. 1 quarterback. His numbers aren't impressive, I know. But the NFL is all about projection, and he has a high ceiling. Coaches want to work with the 6-foot-5 Allen because he has all of the tools. I said last month that he is one of my favorite prospects in this class. The other top quarterbacks have warts, and there is no slam-dunk No. 1 prospect, which makes it a fun class. Scouts are looking forward to seeing Allen at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, next week, where he will work out with much better talent."
Stunning. But as Jim Donovan and I talked about on Thursday's Donovan Live Postgame Show, the emergence of North Dakota St. QB Carson Wentz into a bona fide superstar with the Eagles has forced scouts to look closer at small school standouts.
Here's the problem, Allen completed just 56% of his passes in his two years as a starter for the Cowboys. Kiper has a ready answer for those who bring that up, "stats are for losers in my opinion, the guy won."
There's no question that Allen's arm is the best of any of the QB candidates in the draft. Starting with next week's Senior Bowl, scouts will see if the rest of his game measures up.
Also, Kiper projects the Browns to select Penn St. RB Saquon Barkley with the fourth overall pick, Here's his breakdown:
"This is the pick acquired in the Texans' trade up for Deshaun Watson last year. Cleveland has a new front office, and Barkley could be the best overall player in this class -- he's No. 1 on my Big Board. But how much do teams value running backs? We've seen in recent years that they can hit on backs in the top 10 (Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley), but the Browns also have recent history missing on one (Trent Richardson, though they later got a first-round pick in return for him). And there is always value in the middle rounds -- just look at Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara in 2017. Barkley is a big-time running back, and I think he'll be a top-10 pick. He is built for today's NFL as a do-it-all runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield."
Three other notable NFL Draft experts dropped in their mock projections this week.
The Browns will select USC QB Sam Darnold first overall: "The Browns finally land their franchise signal-caller."
At #4, he projects the Browns to take Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick: "The Browns need more dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball and Fitzpatrick is the best option available."
At #1, Brugler has the Browns grabbing Darnold: "The Browns’ search for a long-term answer at quarterback will continue into the offseason. Darnold’s turnovers stand out, but so do his intangibles, passing instincts and ability to move the pocket and create plays. Three months before the draft, Darnold is the current favorite to go No. 1 to the Browns."
With the fourth overall pick, Brugler projects the Browns to take Fitzpatrick: "With a league-low 13 takeaways on the season, the Browns lack playmakers in the secondary. Regardless if he is playing cornerback, free safety or nickel, Fitzpatrick has the intelligence, leadership and physical skill-set to be a game-changer."
No surprise, Matt has Darnold to the Browns with the #1 pick:
"As of now, this pick has to be a quarterback. And I believe Sam Darnold best fits what new general manager John Dorsey and his chief assistants (Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf) will want in a quarterback. The Cleveland Browns may throw $30 million a season at Kirk Cousins or trade for Alex Smith when free agency opens and blow this all up, but until then I'll be predicting Darnold to the Browns.
Why Darnold over Rosen? It doesn't have much to do with the on-field results. It's more about personalities. Darnold fits the Midwest. He's tough, a little quiet, willing to sacrifice his body and has the build to hold up in cold weather and against AFC North defenses. He also has not reportedly made comments saying he doesn't want to play for the Browns.Dorsey and his team have to nail this pick. Darnold isn't the best quarterback prospect we've ever seen, but he's worthy of being the No. 1 pick and would give the Browns a true franchise-caliber quarterback."
He then has the Browns going with Barkley at 4.
"The best overall player in the 2018 draft class lasts until the No. 4 pick due to his position. For the Browns, this is the best possible scenario. John Dorsey can go to bed after Thursday night of the draft with a new quarterback and the best running back prospect I've ever seen.
Barkley can do it all. He's 5'11", 230 pounds but runs in the 4.3-4.4 range. He's a threat to score as a runner, receiver and kick returner. Imagine Barkley as a faster Ezekiel Elliott but without any off-field questions. That might sound like Le'Veon Bell—which is the best comparison for him.If the Browns can end Round 1 with Darnold and Barkley, fans might throw another parade."
Touche, Mr. Miller, touche.