If Saquon Barkley is the Cleveland Browns' top-rated player, could they draft him over a quarterback? (USA Today Sports)
If Saquon Barkley is the Cleveland Browns' top-rated player, could they draft him over a quarterback? (USA Today Sports)

If you want to know the difference between the Cleveland Browns' old regime and the new one, it's that this discussion hasn't yet completely been blown out of the water.

The idea of a running back being the first pick in the draft.

That would be Penn State's Saquon Barkley, of course, and the talk following his monster NFL combine performance is not just fluff to get some other team to trade up into that pick. There at least will be discussions between new GM John Dorsey and his talented scouting staff about using the first pick on the most explosive playmaker in the 2018 NFL draft.

The old regime, God love them and all the picks they've handed on a silver platter to Dorsey, never would have done that. That analytics-driven group led by Sashi Brown believed that the positional value of running back was such that you should never use such priceless draft capital on a position that (a) tends to burn out faster than others and (b) often produces very good-to-elite talent in lower rounds.

Say what you will about Brown and that Browns regime. There's actually an argument to be made about it given the recent lower-round successes such as David Johnson, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and the like. That regime believed in placing a higher value on pass rushers, offensive linemen, corners and — oh yeah — quarterbacks.

Bite your tongue. The fact that they're out and Dorsey is in clearly is directly tied to the Browns' inability to land a franchise QB, passing up on Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson and others. So even if their theory remains relatable in theory, it certainly didn't pan out in practice.

The Browns still need a quarterback. This is not breaking news. They likely need two, in fact, and even with their warchest of draft picks (including No. 4 overall) it's a risky proposition to pass on your first choice at QB at 1 and at least prepare yourself for the idea of settling for your QB3 at 4. Sure, they could trade up, and they have the ammo with which to do it, but perhaps that doesn't interest the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, owners of the second and third picks.

But here's what the news of Barkley being in play at No. 1 tells me: First, it says the Browns might not have that clear-cut top QB guy. Second, it means they are, like many, enamored with Barkley's skill set. And third, it lends more credence to the idea of the Browns landing a QB free agent — A.J. McCarron is the name that makes the most sense — before the draft, giving them a slight layer of insurance.

When you find a special player, you take him. Yes, the Browns need a quarterback even if they sign someone else there. But a potential game changer such as Barkley might not last until the fourth pick.

Giants GM Dave Gettleman took a 200-pound running back at No. 9 last year with the Carolina Panthers after saying he loved big backs. And he certainly didn't shoot down the idea of Barkley at 2 when asked during the media session. But the Giants and Colts badly need difference makers on offense and are thin in the backfield. There's also the possibility of someone else dealing up to that spot in front of the Browns' No. 4 pick if they pass on Barkley at 1.

Typically, teams don't act this way. The standard is not to draft backs that high, nor trade up to get one high. Recent top-five backs Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette both have had their moments early in their career, though, even with some potential worries down the road. But Barkley is much cleaner character-wise and health-wise than those two, respectively, and might be an even more dynamic player.

If the Browns don't love one of the quarterbacks in this year's group, or if they're convinced they can get their top man at 4 — Josh Allen conspiracy theorists, your time is now — then Barkley at 1 makes perfect sense.

Dorsey was in this position a few years back when the Kansas City Chiefs traded for Alex Smith before the draft. Could they have used a developmental QB that year too? Sure, but the offerings at the position were abysmal. They went way against the grain and took Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher first. After a few tough years, it looks like a solid pick.

But you know who the best player in that draft class has been? Le'Veon Bell — and it's not even close. Say what you will about Bell, but he and DeAndre Hopkins were about the only offensive playmakers in that class worth using a top-five pick on.

Each draft has its own feel and footprint. Even with far more depth, intrigue and talent at quarterback this year than most drafts, I still could endorse the Barkey at 1 method if the Browns come back at 4 (or slide up a spot or two just to be sure) over taking a quarterback. If they like but don't love, say, Sam Darnold or Allen or Baker Mayfield, why not be sure they come away with one player they absolutely do?

That would be Barkley. Yes, it has been a long time since a back went first, and the last time it happened (Ki-Jana Carter to the Bengals, 1996) it didn't work out so hot. But Carter was derailed by injuries, and history isn't guaranteed to repeat itself. Barkley could be a generational player, and passing on more than one of those cost every Browns decision maker in recent history his job.

Dorsey isn't likely to forget that idea when April 26 rolls around.