ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projected Wednesday morning that Penn State’s Saquon Barkley would go No. 2 overall to the New York Giants. But, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, he wouldn’t rule out a No. 1 selection either — depending on the Cleveland Browns’ offseason.
Here’s what McShay said at first, offering an explanation when asked what the wisest move would be between USC quarterback Sam Darnold and Barkley:
“Sure, it is a difficult decision to make. Now, running back typically is not a position we see go very often. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a running back go No. 1 overall. But ... (Barkley) is an exception-to-the-rule type of player. He’s going to come in and, obviously, his run skills are exceptional. The speed and lateral agility that he has for a 233-pound back is very unique. He can catch the ball effectively, which he did at Penn State and he did at the Combine. And he can protect the quarterback position too — and you’re getting a great leader and a hard worker. And he would probably become one of the leaders of whichever football team winds up drafting him.
“So the Browns have to weigh that versus the most important position there is and the fact that I know it’s (general manager) John Dorsey and he hasn’t’ been part of any of the past failures. But it’s been failure after failure at the quarterback position for the Browns. It’s been almost 20 years. And, most recently, three times they’ve used their second first-round picks on quarterbacks that have not had success — Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel. So if you’re John Dorsey and you think one of these quarterbacks is going to be the answer is finally going to be the guy and can be a leader at that position — and you can get him at relatively cheap money when you compare that to the free agency market and especially Kirk Cousins, then I think you have to pull the trigger.”
OK, so we have an answer! McShay says to go with Darnold. But — yes, there’s always a but — that’s “with the caveat of, what are they going to do in free agency with the quarterback position?”
Explain that qualifier, McShay:
“If they go get (Cincinnati Bengals quarterback) A.J. McCarron, then maybe you think about taking Saquon Barkley at No. 1 and then maybe at No. 4 you go after another one of these quarterbacks if you like 2-3 of the other quarterback candidates that are out there.”
That’d make a lot of sense for the Browns, who pick at No. 1 and No. 4 overall. But that then brings up another question: Why would McCarron sign with a team that’s poised to take a quarterback? It didn’t work out too well for last season for the Chicago Bears’ Mike Glennon, who was benched after four starts in favor of rookie Mitch Trubisky.
“That’s a really good question. It really is, because I’m guessing McCarron would want some sort of assurance that they’re not going to use one of their first-round picks on a quarterback. He might ask for that — I don’t know that they’d be willing to give it to him. ... So that would be difficult to navigate if you’re the Browns. And, ultimately, does he wind up choosing somewhere else if (that other team) is going to give him promises or they’re in a better situation to allow him to come in and be their starter?”
At this point, the Browns essentially hold all the cards. They have more cap space, at $108 million, than any other NFL team. They have the ability to pick up Kirk Cousins — although he’s been mostly connected with the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and Denver Broncos. Or they could pick up McCarron.
If one of those two things happen, the NFL draft certainly becomes a lot more interesting for Penn State fans. But, at this point, it’s still safe to say Darnold is the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 overall — but it’s not a lock just yet.