The Cleveland Browns have the first pick of an NFL draft that features plenty of uncertainty about the quarterbacks but is deep on defense, particularly at edge rusher and defensive back.
So, what to do?
That’s not a new choice at the top of the board -- quarterback or defensive end. Of the last 17 drafts, quarterbacks have been the top pick 12 times -- including last year -- and a defensive end has been a top pick three times, including Jadeveon Clowney in 2014.
Let’s weigh the merits of using the draft's top pick at each position and on the players themselves.
Pros: Don’t overthink it. If a guy is the top player on the board -- and Garrett is No. 1 for many talent evaluators around the league -- you take him. No questions asked. To leave the top player on your board to take a quarterback based on need is to leave the draft’s top player for another team to select so he can sack said quarterback. Garrett is a rare athlete who performed at the highest level in the SEC, which many consider the nation’s most pro-ready conference, against an array of tackles who are either already in the NFL or are on their way. He had 34.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks over the past two seasons combined. He played through a knee injury in 2016, despite his potential to be the draft’s No. 1 pick, which some players simply wouldn’t have done. At his best, his game video matches his phenomenal workout numbers and suggests All-Pro potential as a pass-rusher, a position that is almost as difficult to find as a franchise quarterback. And the team with the No. 1 defense in the league, either scoring or total, has won three of the past four Super Bowls.
Cons: If you’re the No. 1 pick, you have to be ready to be the face of a franchise that has struggled enough to have the No. 1 pick. Garrett is smart and engaging, but some in the league are concerned about his maturity and ability to carry the expectations that would be placed on his shoulders. He is decidedly unfinished as a player and has relied on his unique athletic abilities to construct his résumé. Certainly, that’s natural for a guy who can do things most other people on the planet can’t. But it does force a projection of his skills. Can he set the edge in the run game? Can he find the countermoves quickly enough to be a force in the pass rush against tackles who’ve seen plenty of countermoves? As a point of reference, this year's NFL sack leader, Vic Beasley, had one sack as a rookie. Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack had four sacks as a rookie. As a rookie, perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller often got yanked off the field on third downs, the prime rush down, because of missed assignments. The team that drafts Garrett better have the infrastructure and backbone to live with a four- or five-sack season.
Pros: If political commentator James Carville were running an NFL war room, he would almost certainly say, "It's the quarterback, stupid." You don’t need a quarterback bound for Canton, but you do need one who earns the respect of his teammates, works his butt off, performs under pressure and can handle the constant scrutiny of the job without losing his composure. Taking a quarterback at No. 1 overall ensures, of course, that a team will get the quarterback it believed was best in that draft. And the game video shows Trubisky has the talent to vary his velocity for a variety of passes and routes. He has shown the willingness to hang in to make a throw and the toughness to take a hit to make a play. He has mobility but does a better-than-average job of keeping his eyes downfield when on the move. The deep-out pass can be a deal-breaker for many talent evaluators if a prospect struggles with it, but Trubisky consistently throws it with accuracy and pop. He had to wait until his third year at North Carolina to start, but he didn’t let disappointment deter him -- a must-have attribute for a rookie quarterback on the NFL’s hot seat.
Cons: A dirty little secret of the NFL draft is there are really two draft boards each year -- the quarterback board and the board for everybody else. Unless a team has a QB named Manning or Luck, there’s a good bet the quarterback was drafted above his real draft grade because of the constant desperation level at the position. That means plenty of high-profile mistakes get made at the top of the board. Plenty of teams believe Trubisky may not be the best quarterback in this draft, let alone the No. 1 pick. And there are other worrisome things. Trubisky made about eight of every 10 of his college throws from the shotgun, so he'll have to adjust his footwork if he's asked to do something else. Much of his game video shows him against defenses offering plenty of room in the throwing windows, the kind of windows that are not consistently available in the NFL. That is a significant adjustment to make -- learning what "open" is in the league and throwing on time and with anticipation. He doesn’t always feel pressure around the corners. Much like Brock Osweiler, Trubisky doesn’t always play to his height in the pocket because he drops his release point at times under duress.