Back in another lifetime and another century, I paid lots more attention to what was happening in the National Football League in the "off season''. I covered the New England Patriots for the Boston Globe when they were the equivalent to today's Cleveland Browns--a hapless franchise, which seemed to perpetually hit the self-destruct button. I joked that the only day I could safely take off covering the Patriots was on Sunday, because nothing happened on Sunday's with the Patriots. This, of course, was before Brady, Belichick and Kraft and the Patriots were owned by Billy Sullivan and Victor Kiam and were in such a free fall that they almost moved the franchise to St. Louis.
One of the many reasons why I love college football is because I get to cover players before and as they become stars. I still remember with a sense of fondness spending most of Dan Marino's senior season at Pitt around the Pitt quarterback when Pittsburgh was a strong contender for the Cotton Bowl and I was covering national college football for the Dallas Morning News. Marino was so lightly regarded, he almost was bypassed in the first round of the NFL draft before Miami chose him with the No. 27 pick, AFTER such QBs as Tony Eason (Illinois), Todd Blackledge (Penn State) and Ken O'Brien (UC-Davis).
I also remember sitting with TMG co-founder Chris Dufresne in the football offices at Marshall U, listening to WR Randy Moss vent about racism and assorted other subjects long before he became an NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver.
My rule of thumb has been that I generally pay little attention to football players until they actually arrive on campus--no recruiting updates--and only scant attention once they leave college--although I make exceptions for two former Boston College players, QB Matt Ryan and LB Luke Kuechly, who are the two all time favorite players I have covered in 36 years of covering college football.
Which brings us to the present and the upcoming NFL draft. I am intrigued by the Browns, with the No. 1 and No. 4 picks. Will they parlay this into a step toward respectability or will they make foolish moves and act like well, the Browns?
Most mock drafts have Wyoming QB Josh Allen projected as the top pick with Penn State RB Saquon Barkley going No. 2 to the NY Giants. That would be a great move for the Giants and a mistake by the Browns.
In snooping--curiosity only--around about Allen, I hear lots of reports of a great arm, but a lot of question marks. Sounds like a Jeff George (Google for more information) type pick to me. Maybe even a Jamarcus Russell.
But I did like what I heard about Barkley. And I go no further than listening to former Dallas Cowboy's executive Gil Brandt, who I have known since my days back in Dallas when Gil was my go-to man on all college football talent that might move to the next level.
Here's what Brandt said about Barkley to Sports Illustrated. ""He has a 100% chance of being an All Pro. He's the best player in the draft.'' 100 percent chance of being an ALL PRO?
Sounds good to me.
The Browns need help everywhere after an 0-16 record last season. The logic of not taking a running back with the No. 1 pick in the draft makes sense if the Browns didn't have the No. 4 pick and there weren't at least four other quarterbacks besides Allen who are regarded as top half of the first round draft picks.
If the Browns can get a franchise running back AND a franchise QB with their two picks, why wouldn't they make this move? And here's an off shoot of that. If Barkley does turn into what Ezekiel Elliott was for the Cowboys, wouldn't the job of being QB be that much easier?
The Browns may feel Allen is much better than any of the others and that if they don' t take him, the Jets will take him at No. 3. But that seems like a gamble I wouldn't take, considering they do have the No. 4 pick and there are many choices.
The other QB who is being boosted for what he can do is Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, who deserved the Heisman for what he did on the field at Oklahoma.
But the NFL is big boy football and will not tolerate a Johnny Manziel personality (again go to Google for further background).
Mayfield thinks he will only drop to No. 5 (Denver). But there are already signs of trouble with an attitude. Consider what he told SI after a workout with the Los Angeles Chargers who are looking for a QB with the No. 17 pick in the first round. ""It could have gone a little better,'' said Mayfield.""...but at the same time, I'm prioritizing which playbooks to learn. No offense to them, but I''ve got a lot on my plate.''
Excuse me. Wow. If Denver does pick Mayfield, I can't wait for the game on November 18 when Denver travels to Los Angeles for its first game of the season against the Chargers.
But I digress. My purpose was to focus on the Browns and the NFL draft with some free--if unwanted advice. Take Barkley as the sure thing at No. 1 and take the best QB available with the No. 4 pick and good things will happen.