The Cleveland Browns selected defensive end Myles Garrett of Texas AM with the first overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, then added two more first-round picks via a pair of trades.
One of them was used on Michigan star Jabrill Peppers, whom coach Hue Jackson later said would be given a chance to play offense.
Jackson called Garrett “as good as I’ve seen in a while” when he described the Browns’ first overall pick since 2000. Cleveland sees Garrett as a key part of an emerging defense for a team that has not been to the playoffs since the 2002 season.
The Browns then traded out of the 12th spot with the Houston Texans and took Peppers with the 25th pick. In doing that, the Browns passed on bringing quarterback Deshaun Watson to Cleveland; Houston drafted him with the pick.
The Browns concluded the night by trading the No. 33 pick and a fourth-rounder to the Green Bay Packers, then using the 29th pick on tight end David Njoku of Miami.
It all added up to a busy night for a Browns team that became the first since Minnesota in 2013 to pick three players in the opening round. None, though, were quarterbacks, a position of significant need.
“We obviously value the position, but we don’t want to force certain positions,” vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. “Obviously we have guys here on the roster and we want to give them an opportunity and we will continue to look, but we wanted to make sure we got players we felt good about. We’ve got a lot of holes to fill on this roster, so this is just about making sure when we get the quarterback it’s someone that we all believe in and get behind and move forward.”
Since finishing the 2016 season with a 1-15 record, the Browns had discussed taking either Garrett or ex-North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 1 selection.
Garrett turned out to be the choice, giving Cleveland a much-needed pass rusher.
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“It was really just a weight off of my shoulders to finally just get the announcement that what I have been working for is finally came to fruition and I can actually know where I am going, know who I am going up against and know the schedule,” said Garrett, who did not attend the draft in Philadelphia, instead watching with family and friends in Arlington, Texas. “Now, it’s time to put in that work so I can be prepared to go against the best.”
Garrett has received widespread acclaim as a potential defensive standout. He left the Aggies with 31 career sacks and 141 tackles. In his final season, he had 15 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks while playing through an ankle injury.
“They picked me because they think they see something in me, and they know that I can help them rebuild and turn this program around,” Garrett said. “That’s the mindset that we have to have. Starting next year, we can put the pieces together, not only the players but with a mindset that we can actually do this. I know that the players there have that same mindset. I am going to keep that feeling contagious. I’m just prepared for that.”
Garrett is 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds, and he ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. His combination of size, speed, quickness and agility has brought comparisons to Julius Peppers, who has 143.5 sacks in 15 seasons. In fact, Garrett mentioned Peppers — along with Von Miller, J.J. Watt, DeMarcus Ware — as the players he most looks up to.
Garrett, though, also has been criticized for not going all out on every play, but said that criticism only has served as motivation.
“It adds more fuel to the fire,” he said. “It is burning hot right now.”
Garrett joins a Browns defense coached by Gregg Williams that includes Jamie Collins at linebacker, an improving Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah on the line, and Joe Haden at cornerback. Haden praised Garrett earlier this month, calling him “an immediate impact player.”
The Browns have needed that pass-rusher. Since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999, only three Browns players have recorded 10-plus sacks in a season (Jamir Miller, 13.0 in 2001; Paul Kruger, 11.0 in ’14; Kamerion Wimbley, 11.0 in ’06). That’s the fewest players with 10-plus sacks in a season for one franchise during that span.
But Cleveland also has needed a quarterback. Since 1999, the Browns have utilized 26 different starting QBs, most in the NFL in that span.
The Browns might have stayed with the 12th spot if they liked a quarterback there, but when Houston offered first-round picks this year and next, the Browns could not refuse.
“We just thought that the better opportunity was for us to trade back,” Brown said, adding it was more a reflection of the Browns wanting to build the roster than it was of Watson.
The Browns did not know that Chicago intended to make a move up one spot to take Trubisky, and Brown called any talk that the team called Washington about a trade for Kirk Cousins “bad reporting.”
The Browns now have traded down out of the second spot in the 2016 draft and out of the 12th spot in 2017. Those picks turned into Carson Wentz and Watson, respectively, but combined with the trade that brought Brock Osweiler to Cleveland, the Browns have two picks in the first round and three in the second round of the 2018 draft.
Brown admitted the team can reach a point where it trades down too much but said that point has not arrived. He said the deal was not made with the intention of making a trade for another veteran, like New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
“We’ll see what comes down the pike in terms of opportunities, but there’s no specific deal in place or plan in place to acquire a veteran QB at this point,” Brown said.
He conceded that the team’s quarterback position with Osweiler and Cody Kessler is “not solidified.”
“We also know that until we get it solidified, we are going to continue looking for players all over the league and in college,” Brown said. “That may be in next year’s draft. That may be in free agency. It may be via trade. We won’t rest until we really solidify that position.”
While he can’t play QB, Peppers can help in a lot of other places.
As a junior in 2016, he primarily played linebacker. He finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting, won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, and was a consensus All-American selection. Peppers did not play in the Orange Bowl because of a hamstring injury and produced a positive test for a dilute sample at the combine in February. Brown said that Peppers has been accountable.
“He understands that it is something that he has to clean up as we move forward,” Brown said.
Peppers says he’s willing to play anywhere for the Browns.
“I’m open to do whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “I did some things that nobody else did. They are going to get 200 percent out of me.”
ESPN Stats Information reports that Peppers took 29 snaps at quarterback, 12 at receiver and 10 at running back last season for Michigan, something that Jackson noticed.
“First we’re bringing him in here to play defense and play special teams,” Jackson said. “He’s one of the premier special teams players in football. He’s a tremendous punt returner and kick returner. So we’re going to make sure that he can hit the ground running doing that.
“But there’s no question, we’ll give him a chance over there on offense, too.”
Peppers tweeted early Friday morning about those who have questioned his love for the game, saying he would never fake an injury. Peppers was heavily criticized for not playing in the Orange Bowl — even Michigan fans were angry.
Speculate on what you want but my love for this game should never be questioned! Never would I fake an injury to miss a game. pic.twitter.com/MLaaqKPzMI
— JP5 (@JabrillPeppers) April 28, 2017
Njoku, the former Hurricanes player, led Power 5 tight ends with 480 yards after the catch in 2016. He had multiple receptions in all but one game.
Garrett’s selection, meanwhile, marks the fifth time in the past 11 years an SEC player went first overall. Before Thursday, there were only three defensive players selected No. 1 overall in the past 22 drafts (Jadeveon Clowney, Mario Williams and Courtney Brown).
Of the 10 defensive ends drafted No. 1 overall, five have been named first-team All-Pro: Williams, Bruce Smith, Lee Roy Selmon, Too Tall Jones and Bubba Smith.
While the Browns’ selection of Garrett was expected as of late Thursday afternoon, the draft took a turn for the unexpected after that.
Chicago Bears traded up a spot to acquire Trubisky, with the San Francisco 49ers dropping down and selecting Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. The Jacksonville Jaguars made ex-LSU running back Leonard Fournette the fourth pick, and the Tennessee Titans at No. 5 then took Corey Davis, the Western Michigan receiver who is the only player in FBS history with at least 5,000 receiving yards and 50 receiving touchdowns. At No. 6, the New York Jets opted for Jamal Adams, the safety out of LSU.
To round out the top 10, the Chargers took wideout Mike Williams of Clemson; the Panthers selected RB Christian McCaffrey of Stanford; the Bengals snagged speedy Washington wideout John Ross; and the Chiefs traded up with the Buffalo Bills to draft QB Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech.
Aside from Peppers, two others players who some thought would drop due to recent off-field issues ended up going in the first round. Cornerback Gareon Conley was picked by the Oakland Raiders at No. 24, and the San Francisco 49ers traded up to select linebacker Reuben Foster.
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