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Should the Cleveland Browns draft a potential franchise defensive player or quarterback to start the 2017 NFL draft? How could their selection affect teams like the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2?

Struggling NFL teams will make decisions that will either propel or sink their franchises for the next few years. Just ask the Indianapolis Colts or the Los Angeles Rams what a first-round hit or miss means for the immediate future.

The Colts selected quarterback Andrew Luck as Peyton Manning’s successor with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 and went to the postseason from 2012-14. The Rams expected quarterback Sam Bradford to help lead the team back into the playoffs. Multiple injuries and non-winning seasons later, the front office drafted signal-caller Jared Goff with the same objective.

Over the past 10 drafts, seven quarterbacks, two offensive linemen and one defensive player filled the top overall slot. This year, a pair of defensive players sit atop respected analysts’ mock drafts. The quarterback pool isn’t strong enough to warrant a surefire No. 1 selection.

The top four players projected today will likely differ from the order on April 27. Nevertheless, which players should we expect to see as top-five picks for the 2017 draft?

2017 NFL Draft – First-Round Order
Pick Team Wins Losses Schedule Strength
1 Cleveland Browns 1 15 .549
2 San Francisco 49ers 2 14 .504
3 Chicago Bears 3 13 .521
4 Jacksonville Jaguars 3 13 .527
5 Tennessee Titans 9 7 .465
6 New York Jets 5 11 .518
7 Los Angeles Chargers 5 11 .543
8 Carolina Panthers 6 10 .518
9 Cincinnati Bengals* 6 9 .521
10 Buffalo Bills 7 9 .482
11 New Orleans Saints 7 9 .523
12 Cleveland Browns 1 15 .549
13 Arizona Cardinals* 7 8 .463
14 Indianapolis Colts 8 8 .492
15 Philadelphia Eagles 7 9 .559
16 Baltimore Ravens 8 8 .498
17 Washington Redskins* 8 7 .516
18 Tennessee Titans 9 7 .465
19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9 7 .492
20 Denver Broncos 9 7 .549
21 Detroit Lions 9 7 .475
22 Miami Dolphins 10 6 .455
23 New York Giants 11 5 .486
24 Oakland Raiders 12 4 .504
25 Houston Texans 9 7 .502
26 Green Packers 10 6 .508
27 Seattle Seahawks* 10 5 .441
28 Pittsburgh Steelers 11 5 .494
29 Atlanta Falcons 11 5 .480
30 Kansas City Chiefs 12 4 .508
31 Dallas Cowboys 13 3 .471
32 New England Patriots 14 2 .439

NFL.com; *indicates team has a tie

          

Top Defensive Players 

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M


Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

It’s very likely a defensive player will become the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since the Houston Texans selected defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in 2014.

On most mock draft boards, Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett projects as the first pick to Cleveland. Despite not having a clear-cut front-runner in place at quarterback, choosing the best player available may work out for the Browns.

The front office could select a quarterback with the No. 12 overall pick, which deserves its own discussion below with the top offensive players.

Defensively, the Browns need another pass-rusher to pair with Emmanuel Ogbah within the front seven. The team’s 2015 second-round pick, linebacker Nate Orchard, has the raw skills to develop into a decent edge-rusher but doesn’t project as a game-changer after playing 18 games in two seasons.

Garrett’s skill set likely translates into solid production at the NFL level. If the Browns set their sights on a veteran quarterback or defer a decision at the position, the Texas A&M product should be the No. 1 overall pick.

    

Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama


Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

The College Football Playoff National Championship Game showcased several NFL-caliber prospects. Prisoners of the moment may view Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen as a comparable choice to Garrett on the interior.

With his hand in the dirt, battling lead blockers in the trenches, Allen displays dynamic playmaking ability as an interior lineman, racking up 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

He spent an extra year at the collegiate level sharpening his capabilities as a run defender, per the Montgomery Advertiser‘s Alex Byington: “I want to become an every-down player, show that I can play the run better; those are a couple of things I wasn’t really required to do in the past. But definitely this year, that’s a role I’m trying to get better at.”

In his senior year, Allen notched 16 tackles for a loss. In the national title game, he recorded seven tackles and a sack. Garrett seems like the current consensus No. 1 defensive player, but the NFL combine and player interviews could close the gap between the highly touted pass-rusher and Allen.

                  

Top Offensive Players 

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson


Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

The Browns have Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown and Cody Kessler on the quarterback depth chart. Maybe Browns head coach Hue Jackson has seen enough of all three players under center. Each signal-caller started at least three games in the 2016 season.

Due to Griffin’s lengthy injury history and McCown’s age (37), the Browns should add competition if they feel good about a particular prospect.

Cleveland’s search should start with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. He’s mentioned along with North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer among the top signal-callers in the draft.

More importantly, the Heisman Trophy finalist goes into the draft with the most playing experience and best collegiate resume among the three prospects. Based on game film against the nation’s best collegiate athletes, we know more about Watson’s strengths and limitations.

Choosing Clemson’s star quarterback as the No. 1 overall pick seems like a stretch, but it’s important for the Browns to establish their future at the most important position on the roster. If the front office and coaching staff like what they see in Watson, they must pull the trigger before the 49ers at No. 2, Chicago Bears at No. 3 or New York Jets at No. 6.

     

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State


Marc Serota/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys showed the blueprint for expediting a rookie signal-caller’s learning curve while winning football games. 

As the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 draft, running back Ezekiel Elliott joined a roster with a strong offensive line and eventually took the primary focus off first-year quarterback Dak Prescott’s arm en route to earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC.

Where Will Clemson Quarterback Deshaun Watson Land?

The early buzz focused on LSU ball-carrier Leonard Fournette as a transcendent talent. However, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook could transform an offense despite a mediocre or inexperienced quarterback. Given Cook’s speed and ability to catch out of the backfield, he could mask some deficiencies within an offensive line.

The Jets and Carolina Panthers hold top-10 picks. Both teams could add a dynamic running back to either carry the offense, in New York’s case, or provide a quick-strike ground attack, in Carolina’s situation. Running back Jonathan Stewart struggled with several injuries throughout his nine-year career with the Panthers and turns 30 in March.

Fournette could become an Adrian Peterson-like bulldozer in the NFL, but Cook’s versatility as a receiver could draw interest from teams who want to bolster their rushing offenses and short passing attacks with one selection. 

     

Stats provided by Sports-Reference.com/cfb/ unless otherwise noted. 

Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for intriguing discussions and analysis on NFL and college football topics.



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