For Browns, choice at No. 2 is clear: Draft the quarterback

The choice facing the Cleveland Browns with the second overall pick in the NFL draft really is no choice.

The Browns will have options, yes. They might be able to trade down and get extra draft picks. They can stay with the second pick and take a talented defensive back or offensive lineman. They could draft a quarterback second -- either Carson Wentz of North Dakota State or Jared Goff of Cal.

The choice is simple, and obvious, and important.

The Browns should take the quarterback. Don't overthink it. Don't try to be smarter than everyone else.

Just take the quarterback.

Because though a bunch of picks might be enticing, the more the notion is pondered the clearer it is that the Browns have to take a quarterback second overall.

As a wise football guy said last week, no amount of first-round draft picks can make up for the lack of a franchise quarterback.

Put more bluntly, would Pittsburgh trade Ben Roethlisberger for three first-round picks? Would Green Bay trade Aaron Rodgers or Carolina trade Cam Newton for three first-round picks? The answer is obvious. New England wouldn't give Tom Brady up for three first-round picks, even at his age.

Three of the four quarterbacks who played in the league championship games in 2015 were No. 1 overall picks (Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning and Newton).

According to the Los Angeles Times, 20 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round since 2008; only two taken outside the first five picks have won a playoff game -- Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Denver's Tim Tebow, who was replaced the next season by Manning.

The Washington Post reported that 14 of the 21 quarterbacks taken first overall since 1970 went to the Pro Bowl, and 12 went to multiple Pro Bowls.

FiveThirtyEight did a study, and came up with this conclusion:

"First, teams who take quarterbacks in the first five picks tend to perform better than expected (unsurprisingly), but teams who take QBs later in the round typically perform worse. ... In other words: If the top QBs are off the board, it's probably not worth spending a first-round pick (and more money) speculatively."

There are exceptions. Rodgers was drafted late in the first round. Russell Wilson was taken in the third round. Brady was taken in the sixth. Among No. 1 picks, JaMarcus Russell did not work out, Alex Smith had to go to a new team to find himself and Jeff George was a bust.

But the evidence is clear that the higher a team takes a quarterback, the more it maximizes the chance of success. The quarterback has to be handled right. He can't be thrown in before he's ready. He can't be allowed to be beaten up, as Tim Couch was.

Brought along properly, a quarterback should grow into the job. In Hue Jackson, the Browns believe they have the best person to bring along the quarterback they find. So take the quarterback and let Jackson do his thing.

In this draft, two quarterbacks are ranked above the others. Originally, neither Goff nor Wentz was thought worthy of the first or second pick. The likelihood they will go one-two shows the importance of the position.

Goff might be more ready to play right away; Wentz might be better in the long run. For every NFL talent evaluator who picks Goff, another favors Wentz. The consensus is that both will be fine, and that preference comes down to individual evaluation.

The Rams believed that one of the two was worth giving up a huge passel of picks to move up to No. 1. The Rams have excellent players on defense and a standout running back. They need a quarterback, so they made the move at the right time -- when one player is needed to complete the team.

The Browns know that 2016 will be a challenging season, with a rookie quarterback or with Robert Griffin III. There simply are too many holes to fill.

But if they draft a quarterback and struggle, as most expect they will, the Browns will have a high pick in the 2017 draft they can use the same way the Rams used their top pick in 2012 (when they believed in Sam Bradford): trading it to gain more picks to surround a quarterback with talent.

The time to trade down is when a team has its quarterback, or at least believes it does.

The science is not perfect. Mistakes are made. Injuries can derail plans, which happened with Bradford.

But as Rams executive Kevin Demoff said of the quarterback, "When your head hits the pillow at night, that's one position you do not want to worry about."

The Browns have been tossing and turning about this position since the day of the American Revolution -- or since Bernie Kosar played, whichever was more recent.

It's time to end the fitful nights.

Draft the quarterback second.