The Browns will have the first overall pick of an NFL draft for the fourth time since the NFL re-established a franchise in Cleveland in 1999.
None of the first three picks went to a Pro Bowl – quarterback Tim Couch and pass rushers Courtney Brown and Myles Garrett. But the jury is still out on Garrett, who was the first overall pick of the 2017 draft. At some point, though, the Browns need to hit a home run with that first overall pick.
That home run in the 2018 draft could be Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold, according to last week’s Talk of Fame Network poll. We asked our listeners and readers who the Browns should spend that top pick on and we gave them four options – four quarterbacks, a running back and a pass rusher.
Darnold received 45 percent of the vote to easily outdistance Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen at 17 percent. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley finished third at 12 percent, followed by Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield at 11 percent, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen at eight percent and North Carolina State pass rusher Bradley Chubb at seven percent.
Two of the three Talk of Fame Network hosts agreed with the poll – Ron Borges and Clark Judge. Rick Gosselin cast his ballot for Barkley.
“I'm going to listen to Jim Mora and vote for Darnold," said Judge. "He played in a pro style system, yet still was called to execute RPOs (run/pass options). I don't care about the history of USC quarterbacks, I care about this USC quarterback, and I believe he's the most ready to step into a pro offense today.”
Darnold redshirted as a freshman, then became a two-year starter for the Trojans. He passed for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in 2016, then passed for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2017. He had eight 300-yard passing games last season, including 397 against Texas, 358 against Utah and 356 against Ohio State. He threw four TD passes against Stanford and three apiece against Texas, Utah, Arizona State and Oregon State. He also rushed for five scores.
Borges did hedge on his vote, though.
“Barkley is the safest bet," Borges said, "and with all the swings and misses the Browns have taken at quarterback since coming back to Cleveland safe may seem smart. But Darnold is the safest of the quarterbacks and it's safe to say they need one. Badly. So go with Darnold and then hope Barkley is there at 4.”
Barkley became only the second player in Penn State history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, then opted to skip his senior season to turn pro. He rushed for 3,843 career yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and scored 43 touchdowns. He also set a school record by scoring touchdowns in 15 consecutive games. He caught 102 career passes for 1,195 yards and eight more scores. He returned 14 kickoffs last season for an average of 28.4 yards, with two more touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass on a halfback option in 2017.
“Go Barkley at one and a quarterback at four,” said Gosselin of Cleveland’s two picks in the Top 5. “I’m not sure you can go quarterback first and still get Barkley at four. With Cleveland’s great history at running back, go Barkley.”