INDIANAPOLIS – If Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson knows who his next quarterback will be, he wasn’t playing his hand.
Jackson spoke at the NFL’s scouting combine on Wednesday morning, and this is the time of year the Browns take center stage. Cleveland has two of the top four picks of the draft, including the first overall pick, and a dire need at quarterback.
Jackson commented on each of the top four quarterbacks realistically in play for the top pick, and if he let anything slip, it appears the Browns’ plan is to draft a quarterback with the first pick. Last year the Browns used the No. 1 pick on defensive end Myles Garrett because they thought Garrett was a special player. They could do the same if they found another special non-quarterback in this class, but Jackson’s comments made it seem like they’re not leaning that way.
“We truly believe Myles Garrett is a special player,” Jackson said. “If there’s another player like that, better than the quarterback position, we’ll have to consider that. But I think there are some fine quarterbacks in this year’s draft.”
[Watch on Yahoo: Live stream the 2018 NFL scouting combine on Yahoo Sports’ website, app]
The one free agent that will be tied to the Browns is former Cincinnati Bengals backup AJ McCarron, but Jackson said he didn’t want to comment on him. In the meantime the focus turns to the draft, and Jackson had thoughts on all of the top four prospects: Wyoming’s Josh Allen, USC’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
Jackson wouldn’t rule out Mayfield for the first pick, even though he measured at under 6-foot-1. Mayfield was insanely productive in college and a Heisman Trophy winner, but it would be incredibly rare for a quarterback of his size to be drafted that high.
“There’s always outliers, right?” Jackson said. “There are still guys in the league who are playing who are below 6-foot-2, that have played really well. There is always that one player that’s going to be special, and this young man may be that. But we don’t know that yet.”
Darnold is also in play for the first pick, though he won’t be throwing this week at the scouting combine. Jackson expressed some dismay that Darnold won’t be showing off his arm like the other top quarterback prospects in Indianapolis.
“We wish he would throw. Would like to see him throw,” Jackson said. “At the same time, there will be other times to watch him work out and do those other things. But again, do I wish he was throwing this week? Yes, I do. To watch him compete with the other guys. At the same time, it’s not going to hinder us making a decision on what kind of player he is for our football team.”
There’s also the issue of Darnold’s turnovers, including nine lost fumbles last season.
“You have to see where that’s coming from,” Jackson said. “Is it because a guy isn’t protecting the ball? Maybe somebody is hitting him on the arm. Maybe it’s his grip. There could be a lot of reasons that’s happening. But that’s something we’re going to have to find out about.”
Rosen cleared up one hurdle to him being the first pick. There was a report in December that stated he didn’t want to play for the Browns, but Rosen recently said that’s not true. Jackson said that’s an issue they’ll address with Rosen this week.
“There’s always reports. There was a report about Myles Garrett,” Jackson said. “I don’t think we play into any of that. Obviously we’ll ask him that question and he’ll be able to answer it. I’m not concerned about those things, because sometimes things get written that players that don’t say.”
And then there’s Allen, whose size, arm strength and athleticism keeps him in play for the first pick. There’s a question about his accuracy, which is a significant obstacle.
“I think we’re going to find out why it was 56.2 percent,” Jackson said about Allen’s completion percentage his final year at Wyoming, though it was 56.3 percent. “That’s why we’re here at the combine. That’s what we’ll be doing over the month or two, to find out why those things are happening.
“He’s a big guy, big arm, talented, and we’ll find out more about him and why certain things happened the way he happened.”
All avenues are still open for the Browns. They have the salary cap space to chase any free-agent quarterback they want, and with two of the top four picks they can draft a prospect to groom for the long term. Jackson isn’t under any obligation to tell the truth to the media at the combine, but it seemed like the team is intrigued by its quarterback options at the top of the draft.