On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns signed free agent running back Carlos Hyde. The reported deal is for three years worth $15 million, with $6 million guaranteed. The signing created some questions, mostly about the NFL Draft and Saquon Barkley.
After his impressive combine performance, Barkley entered the conversation to be the first overall pick. And even if the Browns did not select Barkley first overall, they could still get him with the fourth overall pick. But Hyde signing in Cleveland has created a lot of doubt with the Barkley-Browns connection.
Once Cleveland makes the Hyde signing official, they will have a solid 1-2 combo in the backfield. The Browns will be pairing Hyde with the dynamic running back Duke Johnson. Hyde is expected to be the early-down back who could catch the ball on third down. Johnson will come in during passing situations or to use for change of pace, explosive plays.
Although it appears that Cleveland signed Hyde to a relatively cheap contract, they are still paying him a decent amount for a 27-year-old running back. It signifies that Hyde will be the starter, and they are willing to commit to him.
The Browns are also reportedly working on a contract extension with Johnson, according to NFL Network’s Mike Silver. If Johnson and the Browns come to an agreement, Johnson could be seeing a good amount of money after putting up 1,041 all-purpose yards last season.
So how does this affect Barkley in the draft? Well it is hard to imagine Cleveland drafting Barkley and having three solid running backs in the backfield.
First, it will be hard for all three running backs to get the playing time and the amount of touches they want. Barkley has the potential to be an every down back, and drafting him in the top-five would signify that.
But Cleveland already knows that Johnson can be a dynamic receiver out of the backfield. Last year, Johnson led Cleveland in receiving yards and receptions with 74 receptions and 693 yards. Johnson has proved to be a strong receiver out of the backfield in the NFL. Barkley would lose out on playing time in passing situations, which is what makes him valuable.
Then you consider the signing of Hyde. Hyde being guaranteed $6 million will guarantee his spot on the roster in 2018. And although Cleveland had plenty of money to spend in free agency, they are not going to pay a running back an average annual value of $5 million to sit on the bench. Hyde was signed to be the team’s starting running back in 2018.
With that considered, it is hard to find the significant playing time Barkley would require to make him being a top-five pick worthwhile. The Browns have more pressing needs tahn to draft a running back in the top-five to split time with two other running backs. If they want to add a rookie running back, it would make more sense to add one in the middle to late rounds of the draft.
Keep in mind as well, Browns general manager drafted Kareem Hunt, the league’s leading rusher in 2017, in the third round. He also had four first-round picks in Kansas City, and drafted a quarterback, left tackle, cornerback, and a defensive end. He may not value running back being a worthwhile pick in the first round.
There have been reports that Cleveland signing Hyde does not affect their draft plans. But there is still month and a half left until the draft. The Browns are not going to publicly state who they have on their draft board and plan to draft. Take those reports with a grain of salt.
So if the Browns are not a fit for Barkley and do not draft him, what teams are options for him on draft day? The earliest he could be selected is second overall to the Giants. Adding Barkley could add a few more years to Eli Manning’s career.
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But if new Giants general manager Dave Gettleman feels that the end of Manning is near and is not comfortable with Davis Webb, he could select his future franchise quarterback. He could also rebuild his offensive line with Quenton Nelson, or trade down and select Nelson. And it is unlikely that teams will be offering more to trade up for Barkley than teams trading up for a quarterback.
So if Barkley drops to the Colts third overall, it would be a bit of a shock that Chris Ballard pulls the trigger on him. The Colts have needed a true pass rushing force for years, and Bradley Chubb is a natural fit for them.
The Broncos at fifth overall could be a solid fit for Barkley. They are looking to rebuild their offense and could give the necessary touches to Barkley. But Denver could also invest in a quarterback if they are unsure about Case Keenum’s future.
With the Browns likely out on Barkley, he could be in for a bit of a slide on draft day. Once projected to be the first overall pick, the Penn State running back has a solid chance of falling out of the top-five. Barkley will be a top-ten pick, it is just a question of what team values a running back that high.