Matt Borcas is a Mentor, Ohio native who recently emerged from a field of 4,000 competitors to land a job writing about the NFL for ESPN’s Grantland. Matt’s Browns-centric column on the NFL Draft will run regularly here all the way up to draft weekend and through its immediate aftermath. Below is his first-round preview and your official first-round draft day open thread. Don’t forget, all of Cleveland’s sexiest singles (and no cost-plussers) will be at Map Room tonight, and we’ll be back with a round 1 recap and Day 2 open thread tomorrow. OK, here’s Matt!
¡Feliz Navi-draft! I’m getting a headache. For months, it seemed like a given that Luke Joeckel would go to the Chiefs at No. 1. These things rarely change – I can’t remember the last Draft where even an ounce of mystery surrounded the first overall pick. And yet, many notable NFL insiders now expect Eric Fisher to don a Chiefs hat tonight. (#MACtion, baby!)
Before Fisher-to-the-Chiefs was a thing, word on the street was that the Jaguars would take Fisher after the Chiefs had presumably taken Joeckel. This was a new and relatively surprising development; as I noted on Monday, the mock draft illuminati had been projecting Dion Jordan to the Jaguars basically since the Combine. (The mock draft illuminati have let us down this year.)
With the Chiefs seemingly leaning towards Fisher, Jacksonville’s pick will have the greatest impact on how the rest of the Top 10 plays out. Logic suggests that they’ll take Jordan: for one, they already have a good, young OT in Eugene Monroe, plus Gus Bradley is a defensive-minded coach. However, lest we forget, logic is at a premium in the NFL Draft. Peter King and Mike Florio think Joeckel’s going second, so I do too.
Folks hoping the Browns trade down should pray for the Jaguars to take Jordan. While there’s still a chance a team moves up to 6 for a quarterback, every trade down scenario I’ve seen floated requires Lane Johnson, the third and last of the Tier-1 OTs, to be on the board at No. 6. If Joeckel goes to the Jaguars, the Eagles will probably snatch Johnson up at No. 4, leaving no reason for OT-needy teams like the Chargers or Dolphins to swap first rounders with the Browns. (This would also be bad for Johnson, because Pat Shurmur will be his offensive coordinator.) Of course, the Eagles may not pick an OT – they’re reportedly head over heels for Star Lotulelei, and Chip Kelly is familiar with Dion Jordan – but that feels increasingly unlikely with each passing expert mock I read.
If the Jaguars take Jordan, there’s still an outside chance that the two remaining Tier-1 OTs go at Nos. 3 and 4, once again diminishing the likelihood of a Browns trade down. Walter Football details that possibility here; it essentially involves (a) the Lions moving up to No. 3 and taking Joeckel/Fisher (whoever doesn’t go first overall), or (b) the Raiders pulling a minor surprise and taking Joeckel/Fisher, while the Eagles, as expected, take Johnson. The good news about scenario (a): Oakland probably selects Sharrif Floyd or Lotulelei at No. 5, leaving Ziggy Ansah available for the Browns.
Speaking of Ziggy, Yahoo!’s Mike Silver tweeted yesterday night that “the Raiders may be trying to trade down from 3 overall… w/ Browns as possible partner.” He followed that up with this tweet, which, as of this morning, is still making my heart spin: “If Cleveland trades up to get the Raiders’ pick at 3, I believe Browns are targeting Ansah.” Yahoo!’s Jason Cole even offered up a corroborative retweet, so salute to you, Yahoo!, and keep fighting the good fight.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to get too excited about this with NFL.com’s Ian Rapaport reporting that the Lions “love” Ziggy, and, more disconcertingly, with Solomon Wilcots (the real one) reporting that the Browns “absolutely love” E.J. Manuel. If the Browns trade down and take Manuel in the second round, that’s fine, but if they take him at No. 6…gather your pitchforks and torches, because we’re marching on Berea.
Could a team move up to No. 6 for someone other than Lane Johnson? Perhaps, but I don’t see it. The most likely non-OT target for a potential trading partner is Dee Milliner, who’s incidentally the apple of Thomas Dimitroff’s eye, per CBS’s Clark Judge. Still, why would the Falcons surrender a boatload of picks for Milliner – almost definitely including next year’s first rounder – when they could stay put at No. 30 and land D.J. Hayden, Desmond Trufant, or Jonathan Banks? This deal makes perfect sense for the Browns, but none for the Falcons.
As for the QBs, I immensely regret my prediction from a couple weeks back that the Jaguars would take Geno Smith. That is not happening – at least not at No. 2. In fact, the buzz right now is that the Browns may take him at No. 6. However, I chalk this up to gurus like King and Mike Mayock having nowhere else to put him in their mock drafts, and don’t expect it to happen. Despite its dubious origin, I think there’s a lot more fire to the Manuel report. I’m also starting to worry about the massive under 32.5 prop bet we placed on Matt Barkley’s draft position. Unless a team in the early second round moves up and picks him somewhere 25-32 (which is possible, according to King), he may slip into the second round. At any rate, not all is lost: a Barkley free-fall would be extremely entertaining TV.
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Fingers crossed for Good Things, of course. I’ll post a mock draft in the comments later today and be back with a review sometime next week.