BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Browns didn’t mess around with the No. 1 pick. They didn’t find their franchise quarterback either.
Convinced that Myles Garrett was too good to pass up, Cleveland wasted no time in taking the consensus best player in the NFL draft with the first overall pick on Thursday night.
And although their biggest need remains a long-term answer at QB, Texas A&M’s defensive standout should help one of the league’s worst defenses.
Selecting the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Garrett was smart and safe, something the Browns haven’t always been on draft weekend.
But while the pick of Garrett was expected, the Browns caused some head scratching by passing on a chance to select Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson at No. 12. Instead, they traded the pick to Houston for the No. 25 pick and used it to grab Michigan’s all-purpose defensive dynamo Jabrill Peppers, who fills hole at safety and on returns.
The Browns weren’t done, sending the No. 33 pick to Green Bay for No. 29 and taking Miami tight end David Njoku, a physical playmaker who scored eight touchdowns last season.
Cleveland became the first team to make three picks in the first round, but not using any of them on a quarterback was a surprise.
“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.”
Brown didn’t rule out taking a quarterback in this draft, and said it’s possible the team could bundle its many assets to trade for a veteran QB.
“We won’t rest until we solidify the position,” he said.
The Browns had their eyes on North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a local kid who grew up a Cleveland fan, but he was surprisingly selected at No. 2 by the Chicago Bears.
This wasn’t supposed to be a strong quarterback class and yet three were chosen in the top 12 — not by the Browns, who are already set for next season with two first-round picks and three second-rounders.
“It’s not like we didn’t try,” coach Hue Jackson said. “We’re going to do everything we can to find one.”
In Garrett, the Browns have found a dominant player capable of changing a game with a sack or punishing hit.
Unlike many of the top picks who were in Philadelphia walking the red carpet and hugging Commissioner Roger Goodell on a stage in front of 70,000 fans, Garrett was with family and friends in Texas when he received a phone call from the Browns.
“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 come to fruition,” said Garrett, who wore a Cleveland T-shirt that said “The Heart of Rock ‘N Roll.” ”I can actually know where I am going, know who I am going up against and know the schedule. Now, it’s time to put in that work so I can be prepared to go against the best.”
Garrett recorded 32½ sacks during his three seasons with the Aggies. He joins a Browns defense undergoing a major makeover. The team hired former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams — of “Bountygate” infamy — this winter and signed linebacker Jamie Collins to a four-year, $50 million contract, locking up a player they can pair with Garrett to form their defensive foundation.
Cleveland ranked 31st defensively last season and was 30th in sacks with 26.
Peppers played some offense for the Wolverines, but Jackson said the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder will be at either free or strong safety. He’s one of the nation’s best return specialists and Jackson is excited about getting the ball in his hands.
Peppers may have turned off some teams after testing positive for a diluted sample at the scouting combine. He blamed the failed test on overhydrating for a cramping problem and said he didn’t have to persuade the Browns he was clean.
‘”I really didn’t have to convince anybody of anything,” he said. “My character speaks for itself. People can speculate on what they want. I am putting that behind me now.”