INDIANAPOLIS: The Browns must select a quarterback at No. 2.
After talking to league personnel at the NFL Scouting Combine, that’s the consensus of both offensive and defensive coaches. Whether they’ve worked or played for the Browns or are merely watching from afar, all agree the failure to find a franchise quarterback is the No. 1 reason for the organization’s continuing struggles.
On April 28, the Browns have a legitimate chance of fixing that.
It is the day they can stop the embarrassing string of 24 starting quarterbacks since the franchise’s rebirth.
It is the day they can quit messing around at No. 22 (Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel), when they can erase the fact that they haven’t picked one higher than that since selecting Tim Couch first overall in 1999.
All the infrastructure is in place to end the insanity.
The Browns hired coach Hue Jackson, a former quarterback at Pacific who has had success developing them in Cincinnati (Andy Dalton), Baltimore (Joe Flacco) and at USC (Carson Palmer). They have a staff of analytics experts who can break down the numbers needed to make the decision. Presumably the new front office won’t ignore its studies and scouts’ recommendations like it did in picking red-flagged Manziel over Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
Even though Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown has final say on the 53-man roster, hopefully Jackson will be the lead dog in the quarterback hunt. I presume the Browns made some concessions in that regard or arguably the second-best candidate for league openings in January (behind Adam Gase) wouldn’t have agreed to take the job.
All the smokescreens the Browns will create about other options in the first round will be unnecessary. This is a slam dunk. Not whether to choose Cal’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, but whether to take a quarterback with their first pick.
Forget considering a cornerback or a pass rusher. Forget trading down to gain more picks. Forget a project like Cleveland native Cardale Jones of Ohio State. The Browns need to maximize their odds of getting the quarterback issue settled by using their No. 2 selection to do it.
Those I spoke to at the combine were evenly split on Goff vs. Wentz. One observed, “Where did this guy come from?” in regard to Wentz, who played at an FCS (formerly I-AA) school that has won five consecutive national championships. Wentz vaulted into the spotlight at the Senior Bowl, and analysts said he had the best workout Saturday. He showed athleticism in the non-throwing drills. At 6 feet, 5Ľ inches and 237 pounds, he’s built like Ben Roethlisberger (6-5, 240). The lower level of competition bothered some, but it’s not like Wentz is trying to make the leap from Divisions II or III.
Others in the league preferred Goff for that reason. They figure it is an easy call for the Browns to go with a quarterback from a Power 5 conference, even though Goff (6-4, 215) will need to put on weight. Goff excels with his accuracy, quick feet and quick release.
I can see why ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. called the Goff vs. Wentz debate for the Browns a flip-a-coin scenario last week. It doesn’t matter to me whom the Browns decide is a better fit for Jackson’s system, as long as they take one of them.
At this point, I’m leaning toward Wentz because of his size and what looks like more upside. I see no reason to fear his level of competition when he went 20-3 as a starter and led the Bison to two national titles. But I also like that Cal finished 1-11 Goff’s freshman year, and he helped lead the program back from the abyss, which would be his task in Cleveland.
No matter whom the Browns favor, there is no reason to worry about the Dallas Cowboys trading up from No. 4 to vault the Browns and select Tony Romo’s successor. There is no reason to panic if the Browns want Goff and the Tennessee Titans trade the top pick to a team that wants him more.
Both seem capable of being the face of the franchise, of leading the Browns back to respectability. As foreign as it sounds, the Browns are in a win-win situation. All they need to do is turn in the card for Goff or Wentz with the second overall pick.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.