In the final buildup to the draft, we’re taking our analysis of the draft’s prospects one step further. We’re making the case for and against 10 of the players and scenarios that are linked to the Browns, who hold the No. 1 and No. 4 picks.
The case for Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson.
1. He’s one of the best overall prospects in the draft: In his ranking of the draft’s top 50 overall prospects, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah paid Nelson the ultimate compliment, saying the offensive guard was the “easiest player to evaluate” in the entire 2018 draft class. Teams know what they’ll get from Nelson, whom NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projects as a future All-Pro. Even for an offensive lineman, Nelson boasts a must-watch highlight tape that includes plenty of bone-crushing blocks that aren’t typical of your average college guard. If the Browns opt for a quarterback with the No. 1 pick, they’ll be in position to take one of their top-ranked non-quarterbacks at 4. Nelson, presumably, would have to be near the top of that list.
2. He gives you options on the O-line: The Browns currently boast a strong interior presence and a new right tackle but aren’t settled at the most important spot, left tackle, after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. Nelson isn’t a natural left tackle, but some believe he’s talented enough to play the position. Joel Bitonio, who has manned left guard for the past four seasons, has experience at left tackle and coach Hue Jackson has said the team would consider moving him there if necessary. Shon Coleman, who was Cleveland’s starting right tackle last season, is also competing for the job. Ultimately, the addition of Nelson would give Cleveland the ability to put its best five offensive linemen on the field. His presence would be a good problem to have.
3. Quality O-linemen don’t grow on trees anymore: The transition of offenses in college football has put a premium on NFL-ready offensive linemen. It didn’t used to be that way, but the change has prompted teams to invest heavily in proven players during free agency. In back to back years, a different player has become the league’s highest paid guard and Nate Solder, an eight-year veteran, just became the highest-paid tackle in the NFL. Finding someone as talented and ready as Nelson in the draft would give Cleveland the type of player who would fetch top dollar if he was on the open market. Based on his abilities, he’d be employed at a relative discount over the next five years.
He's one of the best overall prospects in the draft, but does he make sense for the Browns?
The case against Nelson
1. Browns have already invested heavily at guard: Cleveland has invested a lot of money and years into the interior of its offensive line over the past year. Bitonio signed a major extension, JC Tretter signed to become Cleveland’s center for the immediate future and Kevin Zeitler, at the time, was signed to a deal that made him the league’s highest paid guard. Barring injury, where is there room for Nelson? It’s not unreasonable to say this is the one spot on the entire roster where the Browns need to consider their current situation before making a selection.
2. He doesn’t fix the left tackle situation: Yes, Nelson could play left tackle in the NFL if necessary. The only problem is, Nelson is an elite prospect because of how good he is at guard, not because of how he’s expected to perform as a left tackle. The same goes for Bitonio, who has never played a snap at left tackle since he joined the Browns and is coming off a season in which he reaffirmed why he’s considered one of the best young guards in the league. Drafting Nelson wouldn’t be a quick fix to filling the Thomas void. It would require a lot of trial and error without a guaranteed great result.
3. No. 1 or No. 4 would be historically high for a guard: The Browns would be really breaking recent precedent by taking a guard such as Nelson with a pick as high as No. 1 or No. 4. It’s been five years since a guard went in the top 10 -- that player, Jonathan Cooper, has since played for five different teams -- and it’s been 17 years since a guard was selected in the top five. And though Nelson is far and away the best guard prospect in this year’s draft, there’s a number of others who could be first-round selections. When Browns general manager John Dorsey was asked to name the top five most important positions, he did not mention guard. It’s why many believe the Browns will look to hit a more premium position when they’re on the clock with the first and fourth overall selections.