Garrett became the first overall selection and Peppers the 25th choice.
The Browns also traded up into the late stages of the opening round and took Miami tight end David Njoku at No. 29.
They became the first time since the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 to pick three players in the first round.
In between the Garrett and Peppers picks, the Browns passed on quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson and executed a blockbuster trade.
The team traded down from its second pick of the opening round, moving from No. 12 to No. 25 in a deal with the Houston Texans. The Texans chose Watson, who led Clemson to a national title this past season. In exchange for the No. 12 pick, the Browns received No. 25 and the Texans’ 2018 first-round choice.
The Browns traded the first pick of the second round (No. 33) and the first choice of the fourth round (No. 108) to the Green Bay Packers, moving up to No. 29 to take Njoku.
The Browns have seven picks in rounds 2-7 this year, including one in the second round (No. 52) and another in the third (No. 65). They also have 12 selections in next year’s draft, including two in the first round, three in the second round, two in the fourth round and two in the sixth round.
Amid some speculation about the Browns possibly stunning the NFL at No. 1 by taking Trubisky instead of Garrett, the consensus best player in the draft in the eyes of analysts, they ended up going with Garrett. He became the fourth player they have picked at No. 1 and the most recent since they chose defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000
“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 during a conference call. “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.”
The Chicago Bears then traded up from No. 3 to No. 2, swapping picks with the San Francisco 49ers and drafting Trubisky, a Mentor, Ohio, native who’s widely believed to be the Browns’ favorite quarterback in this class.
Shortly before the Browns went on the clock at No. 12, the Kansas City Chiefs moved up from No. 27 to No. 10 to pick Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
When the Browns were up at No. 12, Watson, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and tight end O.J. Howard were among the standouts available.
The Browns have started 26 quarterbacks since 1999, and they don’t have a surefire starter with Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler and Kevin Hogan on their roster.
But a year after they passed on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz by trading down from No. 2, they passed on Watson by trading down from No. 12.
Whether the Browns use their stockpile of picks to pull off a surprising trade for a veteran quarterback like New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, Cincinnati Bengals backup AJ McCarron or Washington Pro Bowler Kirk Cousins remains to be seen.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Browns were attempting to trade for Washington Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins when the New York Jets were on the clock at No. 6, but Rapoport added he didn’t know if Washington would be willing to make a deal.
Then ESPN’s John Keim reported Washington has made it clear to Cousins he is their quarterback for 2017. Cousins has received a franchise tag from Washington in each of the past two years, and he’s scheduled to make $23.94 million during the upcoming season.
What’s clear is the Browns think they added cornerstones of new coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense by picking Garrett and Peppers.
They finished 31st out of 32 teams in yards allowed (392.4) and 30th in points surrendered (28.3) per game last season, contributing to a record of 1-15 and the firing of the previous defensive coordinator, Ray Horton. They also tied for 30th in sacks (26), a statistic they hope Garrett will immediately bolster with his elite pass-rush ability.
Garrett, 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds, compiled 145 tackles with 48.5 for loss and 32.5 sacks in three seasons at Texas A&M. He set the Southeastern Conference record for sacks by a freshman with 11.5 in 2014 and compiled 12.5 sacks in 2015. He had only 8.5 sacks as a junior last year, when he missed two games with a high-ankle sprain and later played through the injury during the second half of the season.
Peppers, 5-10 and 213 pounds, took a drug test in early March at the NFL Scouting Combine, as all prospects do, and tested positive for a dilute sample. ESPN reported Peppers’ camp explained he has a history of cramping and was ill at the combine, so he drank eight to 10 bottles of water before the drug test and that led to the dilute sample.
Peppers, 21, started the past two years at Michigan, playing outside linebacker this past season as a redshirt sophomore and safety and cornerback in 2015. He said during a conference call he believes he’ll fit best with the Browns as a defensive back and kick returner.
He tallied 72 tackles, including 16 for loss and four sacks, with a forced fumble and an interception last season. He compiled 45 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, with 10 passes defensed in 2015.
Njoku, 6-4 and 246 pounds, compiled 64 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons before leaving Miami as a redshirt sophomore.
As for Garrett, rather than attending the draft in Philadelphia, he stayed in his hometown of Arlington, Texas, to watch the event with family and friends. After the Browns called him at about 8:12 p.m. to notify him he would become the No. 1 pick, Garrett, a fan of music from the 1970s and ‘80s, took off a gray Adidas T-shirt to reveal another T-shirt that read “The Heart of Rock ‘N Roll Cleveland.”
Garrett, 21, explained head of football operations Sashi Brown had to call his mother’s phone because his phone “disappeared” during the draft party. Garrett revealed coach Hue Jackson got on the phone call and told him he was his guy all along.
Garrett said achieving his goal to become the top pick was “a weight off of my shoulders” to know his hard work had paid off.
“I want to be the best,” he said. “The only thing holding me back is me. I have to learn from the veterans, just pick everybody’s brain to know what they did and to stay on track, to stay focused and not get off track at all with their goals and their dreams. Going for the rookie sack record and those lofty goals is something that I want to do, but I just want to be the best from day one. That takes hard work.”
©2017 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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