It's February, which can only mean one thing as we look ahead to the draft: The Browns are on their never-ending search for a franchise quarterback. We were having this discussion 12 months ago, when they were perfectly positioned to take Mitchell Trubisky (they selected Myles Garrett first overall; Trubisky went second to the Bears) or Deshaun Watson (they traded out of the No. 12 pick and the Texans took Watson), and instead settled on DeShone Kizer in the second round. The Browns were in a similar situation the year before, when the Rams drafted Jared Goff with the top pick and instead of pulling the trigger on Carson Wentz, they traded down to accumulate picks to help restock a barren roster.
Yet here we are, two years, two missed franchise quarterbacks and a single win later and the Browns, you could argue, have somehow regressed. But that all changes this offseason. New general manager John Dorsey sounds like he has every intention of drafting a quarterback early (Cleveland has the No. 1 and No. 4 picks) because it's clear this team has no chance to compete without one.
As has been the case pretty much since the team returned to Cleveland in 1999, the question now becomes: Who will they target in the draft to be the next face of the franchise?
Conventional wisdom says the Browns could take safe bet Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback who ticks all the boxes on the "This is what a franchise quarterback looks like" form. In a word, he's safe, something Johnny Manziel wasn't when the team traded up to get him with the 22nd overall pick in 2014. Darnold isn't perfect; he has a hitch in his delivery that has some scouts worried, but his accuracy is attractive though he struggled with ball security last season.
But there's another, less conventional choice and the only question may be when the Browns decide to draft him.
1. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Mayfield isn't your prototypical NFL quarterback. At 6-1, 220 pounds, and with a demeanor that can sometimes rub people the wrong way, he has drawn comparisons to the aforementioned Manziel. Mayfield is understandably bothered by this. Whether it's enough to scare away Dorsey and the Browns is another matter, particularly since the team's new draft consultant, former Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, has been a huge Mayfield fan for some time, saying in October, "He reminds me of a shorter version of Brett Favre."
2. New York Giants
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. Rosen has terrific mechanics and completed 63 percent of his passes last season even though he was victimized by 31 drops. He has struggled to stay healthy but with 37-year-old Eli Manning entering his 15th season, the Giants are in the market for his replacement -- and it's unlikely they'll have the second-overall pick again anytime soon.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. The Colts were terrible in just about every facet of the game a season ago but their pass defense ranked dead last, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. In terms of getting after the quarterback, the unit ranked 31st (ahead of only the sad-sack Buccaneers) with 25 sacks, which is why Chubb seems too good to pass up.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. Here's the good news: The Browns' defense was replacement-level last season. The bad news is that their offense was the worst in the NFL. More good news, though! They can address two offensive needs with the first four picks. And after taking Mayfield first overall, the Browns circle back and take the draft's best running back. And here's to hoping that this isn't a repeat of the 2012 draft when the Browns used their two first-round picks on Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.
5. Denver Broncos
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. Assuming the Broncos don't land Kirk Cousins in free agency, Darnold will be too good to pass up here, even after trading up in the 2016 draft to grab Paxton Lynch at the end of the first round. He, Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler aren't the long-term answers and the window is closing fast for a team two years removed from a Super Bowl title.
6. New York Jets
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. The run on quarterbacks continues, and Allen is the next name to be called. The Jets have a gaping hole at quarterback and while Allen comes with some flaws, it's hard to overlook his physical skills. That said, he's struggled with accuracy and God help us all if he's Christian Hackenberg 2.0. (He's not.)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The Bucs' pass defense ranked 31st last season and Fitzpatrick's best attribute is his versatility. He excels in the slot, at safety and as a nickel linebacker and he'll immediately upgrade a hapless unit that was hard to watch at times in 2017.
8. Chicago Bears
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The Bears' leading receiver last season was Kendall Wright, who had 59 catches for 614 yards. Yes, Kevin White and Cameron Meredith will return but you can never have too many big-play options for second-year quarterback Trubisky.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The 49ers have tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown but the interior of the offensive line needs some work and Nelson makes a lot of sense here, especially now that the franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo signed a five-year, $137.5 million extension.
10. Oakland Raiders
11. Miami Dolphins
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Like many of the other teams picking high in the first round, the Dolphins' secondary was exposed a season ago. Ward isn't the biggest cornerback in the draft but he can cover. Those skills are hard to come by in the NFL, and are especially important when you face the Patriots and Tom Brady twice a year.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Connor Williams, OT, Texas: Cincinnati's offensive line wasn't even replacement level last season and Williams would provide a much-needed upgrade, not only making life easier for Andy Dalton but for Joe Mixon too.
13. Washington Redskins
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. With Zach Brown possibly becoming a free agent, Smith would be a faster, younger, cheaper alternative. If the Redskins can re-sign Brown and pair him with Smith, all the better.
14. Green Bay Packers
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. Davenport parlays a big Senior Bowl week into a strong draft-day showing and the University of Texas-San Antonio standout brings his pass-rushing skills to Green Bay. He had 21.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss during his four-year college career, and he would join a defense that ranked 17th in sacks a season ago with 37.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. With the top quarterbacks long off the board, the Cardinals turn their attention to protecting whomever succeeds Carson Palmer under center. Brown can step into a starting job immediately.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. Just like the Browns are perpetually looking for a quarterback, the Ravens are annually in search of a game-changing wide receiver. They're hoping Sutton, who is a huge downfield target, is that player.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James, S, Florida State. Yes, the Chargers drafted two defensive backs a year ago, they were late-rounders and not nearly the talent that James is. Plus, in today's NFL you can never have too many competent defensive backs. James is solid against both the run and the pass and will make an already good defense better.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The Seahawks could have gone in any number of directions with this pick -- cornerback and defensive line among them -- but making an honest effort to protect Russell Wilson seems like the prudent move given that he spent much of the 2017 season running for his life.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. The Cowboys have a big need along the defensive line and Hurts is the most obvious player to fill that need. At 6-2, 283 pounds, he may be undersized but his unbelievable quickness more than makes up for it.
20. Detroit Lions
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. a At 6-4 and almost 350 pounds, Vea is one of the biggest players in the draft. And he'd make some sense in Detroit for first-year coach Matt Patricia, who once had Vince Wilfork dominating the line of scrimmage when both men were with the Patriots.
21. Buffalo Bills
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. A quarterback is an obvious need for the Bills but if history has taught us anything, reaching for one is a fool's errand. (See J.P. Losman, EJ Manuel, though maybe the lesson is don't take a quarterback whose uses initials as their first name.) Either way, Payne is as strong as he is athletic and he'll anchor the middle of the Bills' defensive line.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. The Rams could use an edge rusher but with the top players already off the board they'll settle for a cornerback who will bolster a top-10 defense from a season ago.
24. Carolina Panthers
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State. Devin Funchess was the Panthers' leading receiver last season, followed by a running back (Christian McCaffrey) and a player they traded after eight games (Kelvin Benjamin). Put another way: Cam Newton needs another downfield weapon and Washington could be it.
25. Tennessee Titans
26. Atlanta Falcons
27. New Orleans Saints
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. Drew Brees is planning to re-sign with the Saints but at 39 how much longer does he have left? Goedert will make an already explosive offense even more so as New Orleans preps for a Super Bowl run.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama. Evans could be off the board by the time the Steelers go on the clock but he would fit perfectly in Pittsburgh. Ryan Shazier suffered a serious spinal injury last season and he was the glue that held the Steelers' defense together.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Blake Bortles earned the right to be the Jaguars' quarterback in 2018 but there are no guarantees beyond that. If he regresses next season the Jags will have Jackson waiting in the wings.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Will Hernandez, OL, UTEP. The Vikings need help at tackle but Hernandez is too good to pass up here, and he'll bolster the interior line of a unit that was replacement level in the running game last season.
31. New England Patriots
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma. The Super Bowl proved that the Patriots desperately need pass rushers and cover cornerbacks. With Okoronkwo still on the board, New England addresses the pass-rushing deficiencies and will circle back to those secondary needs in later rounds.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Ronald Jones, RB, USC. With LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles headed for free agency, Jones would add some much-needed depth. That said, Jay Ajayi and Super Bowl hero Corey Clement return (along with Wendell Smallwood) but as Blount proved in 2017, you can never have too many talented backs in a game where injuries can derail a season.