INDIANAPOLIS: The Browns will likely attempt to halt their abysmal quarterback carousel by addressing the game’s most important position with the second overall pick in the draft.
Coach Hue Jackson, though, is keeping his options open. At least that’s the message he’s sending publicly at a time of year when NFL teams treat draft plans like state secrets.
“We will come out of this draft with a quarterback. I guarantee you that,” Jackson said Wednesday during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Now where it’s going to be, everybody wants me to say it’s the second pick. Well, it could be. It could not be.
“I know everybody thinks that’s where we’re heading at No. 2. I think we’re going to draft whoever we think is the best player at No. 2 for us. But at the same time, there are some tremendous players out there.”
North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and California’s Jared Goff are the top-rated quarterbacks. Virtually every draft analyst has predicted the Browns will select one of them at No. 2.
“We all know those names,” Jackson said. “They’re two really good players in this draft, and we’re going to evaluate them just like we do every quarterback that’s here.”
The Browns also own the first pick of the second round (No. 32 overall) and could target a quarterback there if they don’t use their top choice on one. Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and Michigan State’s Connor Cook, a Walsh Jesuit High School graduate, are considered the third- and fourth-best quarterbacks. Should the Browns bypass a quarterback at No. 2, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey could be options.
Of course, waiting for a quarterback later in the draft can work.
The Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson’s former team, have made the playoffs every season since they drafted wide receiver A.J. Green at No. 4 and quarterback Andy Dalton at No. 35.
“We have several needs,” Jackson said. “So we have to take the best available player at the spot we’re drafting, and who we think is the best player on the board is the guy we have to take regardless of what position it is.”
The Browns’ previous regime led by former General Manager Ray Farmer skipped some important pro days, including that of quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in 2014, whom the Browns plan to cut March 9.
Jackson said he intends to attend the pro days of all the highly touted quarterbacks.
“I sure do,” Jackson said. “I think I’d better.”
Goff’s pro day is set for March 18 and Wentz’s for March 24.
Wentz measured 6-foot-5¼ and 233 pounds last month at the Senior Bowl, so he has prototypical size. But he also played for a lower-level college program.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is a small-school success story, and Jackson coached the eventual Super Bowl MVP during his first two NFL seasons out of Delaware in 2008-09.
“I’ve had an opportunity to help draft players that come from small schools before,” Jackson said. “I don’t think that will be the criteria that stops us one way or another. If a guy fits for us and what we’re looking for, we’ll draft him regardless of where he’s from at the position we think he’s draftable. I don’t want it to be about the school a player comes from. Can he play? And does he fit the criteria of what we’re looking for?”
Listed by Cal as 6-4 and 215 pounds, Goff is believed to be better prepared than Wentz to play right away in the NFL, but his lean build has raised questions among talent evaluators. His official measurements will be taken Thursday. NFLDraftScout.com analyst Dane Brugler noted Goff’s hand size will also be closely monitored because he fumbled 23 times in college.
“[Hand size] matters because we play in a division where all of a sudden there’s rain, there’s snow and it’s different,” Jackson said. “I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations, and so we’ll look for a guy that fits what we’re looking for in a quarterback. And is hand size important? Yes it is.”
Although the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers indicated Wednesday at the combine they want to retain Brock Osweiler and Colin Kaepernick, some intriguing quarterbacks could be available through free agency or trade.
However, drafting a quarterback at No. 2 and relying on veteran Josh McCown to serve as a mentor and potential bridge starter to the rookie is the likeliest route for the Browns.
“We’ll do whatever we can to improve our football team,” Jackson said. “Free agency, draft, but I think we want to be major players in the draft more so than we are in free agency.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.