There’s a wonderful quote from Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff about quarterbacks. “Until you find your quarterback, the search for him consumes you.” Well, Cleveland have been searching since 1999 and how far has it got them? Exactly. It’s not necessarily a good thing! So, I’m having a look at why Cleveland maybe shouldn’t go quarterback-hunting (at least in the first three rounds), and what they might be able to achieve instead.
The Factory of Sadness; Also Terrible Quarterbacking
Round 1: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel; Round 3: Charlie Frye, Colt McCoy, Cody Kessler; Round 4: Luke McCown; Round 6: Spergon Wynn. Did you feel a shiver reading that list? Feel a vague sense of emptiness? Or unwittingly catch an interception and return it for a touchdown? Me too. To all three.
I just don’t know how you get here as a franchise. The Browns aren’t the only team to have drafted unfettered ball-hurling futility this millennium (Jaguars, Jets depending on your opinion of Chad Pennington, Texans), but they’ve got the most pitiful record of those franchises. That includes two first-round picks and a third-round pick since 2012. That is a lot of draft capital to have spent on one position.
Of course, quarterback is the most important position. But by dint of swinging and missing on so many quarterbacks, Cleveland have had fewer high picks elsewhere. So, their roster as a whole is thinner too! If ever you wanted evidence of the Dimitroff quote in the intro blurb, here you have it.
So, here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as curses. No-one is ‘cursed’. Cleveland are not destined to never have a quarterbacking star because their training facility is built on an Indian Burial Ground. But sports teams can get an aura around them that feeds fatalistic attitudes. If everything around you darkly mutters that you’re doomed to failure, it’s that little bit more likely to happen! So, unless the Browns have their head straight (and maybe they do now!), it might just get under their next first-round QB’s skin.
Imagine There’s No QBs, It’s Easy If You Try
A note before we go any further. I am not proposing a method for Cleveland to not draft a QB and because of it win a Super Bowl. That is pie-in-the-sky stuff. What I want to do is get to a point where Cleveland have a well-rounded roster, where while quarterback is a missing piece, there are plenty of areas of strength. Yes, that means season records that mean no picking first overall (no “Scam for Sam!”), I get it. And I counter with: Tim Couch, David Carr, JaMarcus Russell, Jared Goff.
I feel a bit bad for citing Houston among quarterback futility above. Admitteldy they’ve not drafted a successful NFL quarterback during their existence. But they got a few good years out of Matt Schaub, and have been a good team in recent years. They provide a neat template for how a team can miss on quarterbacks and still acquit themselves well.
Houston have been to the playoffs four times in the last six years. That’s not amazing given their talent, but it’d definitely be welcome respite for Browns fans. Then you’ve got JJ Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus. Four players the Browns would kill for, am I right? And it’s generally a well-balanced roster.
I think Houston are a decent blueprint for Cleveland. They’ve had a first-overall pick in recent years as a result of quarterbacking futility. They’ve built a roster where quarterback’s the only missing piece. I understand that Houston fans are more than a little narked that they keep going one-and-done in the playoffs. And I know they wish they hadn’t just had to shift a second-round pick just to get rid of Brock Osweiler. But come on. Look how much better a state that team is in than Cleveland’s!
The Draft: The Land Of Opportunity
It’s only really worth using gazillions of draft picks on your roster if you have gazillions of holes. Luckily, Cleveland do! In fact, it’s easier to identify their positions of strength (offensive line – mostly, linebacker) and non-urgent need (running back, maybe tight end and defensive tackle) than their positions of weakness. So, if the Browns get a pass-rusher, two safeties, cornerback, wide receiver with their first five picks, that’s a positive step! Let’s try and guess who they could be.
Round 1, Overall Pick 1: Myles Garrett, defensive end, Texas A&M. DING DING DING! Pass-rush improves leaps and bounds.
Myles Garrett could solve a problem or two (Aaron M. Sprecher/AP)
Round 1, Overall Pick 12: Marlon Humphrey, cornerback, Alabama. Everyone has a different #2 cornerback. I think Humphrey has top-10 talent. Maybe you like Gareon Conley here. Or a safety like Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams slides here.
Round 2, Overall Pick 33: Budda Baker, safety, Washington. Baker or UConn’s Obi Melifonwu, depending if you prefer tape or mouldable clay. Baker can probably play in the slot if you’re so inclined, too.
Round 2, Overall Pick 52: Marcus Maye, safety, Florida. And just like that, Cleveland’s got a box safety too and has solved all its safety problems. Brilliant! I’m going for coffee.
Round 3, Overall Pick 65: Zay Jones, wide receiver, East Carolina. Or, if Jones has gone, maybe Cooper Kupp? Either way, there’s a possession receiver to help free up Corey Coleman, and avoid having to rely too much on Kenny Britt.
And just like that, the first two days of the NFL draft are over, and Cleveland have solved almost all their problems! They’ve got premium players at two super-important defensive positions, they’ve solidified their roster at safety, and have an extra receiver option to put whoever plays at quarterback in a better chance to succeed!
But They Still Have Cody Kessler At Quarterback
Oh for heaven’s sake. Dear everyone. Cody Kessler’s first season was fine. Fine enough that saying “oh, Kessler, yeah he’s obviously a career backup” is idiotic! He’s thrown under 200 passes, which is not a huge sample size. He has a 6-2 TD-INT ratio, a 65.6% completion rate and a 92.3 passer rating. He only has 7.1 Y/A, and those TD stats have come over 8 games which okay might make people think “poor man’s Alex Smith”. The reality is, he’s shown enough that you might think a full offseason of prep as a starter, and the chance to be a touch bolder could reap rewards! At least you can say, the position he was in last season didn’t give him any kind of chance to succeed.
Cody Kessler (Joshua Gunter/Cleveland.com)
We know something about the Browns which feeds into this, too. Their number 1 quarterback in the draft is Mitchell Trubisky. Their assumed quarterback starter is Cody Kessler. Hue Jackson was responsible for the best football of Andy Dalton’s career. These are three quarterbacks of rather similar styles! And are all high-floor/low-ceiling players. Common wisdom is that Trubisky’s somewhat of an upgrade over Kessler. Great! But there’s that opportunity cost, giving up a potential franchise-changing non-quarterback to improve just a bit at QB. And as for Trubisky, I’m willing to say that Andy Dalton’s his ceiling, and say that he’ll probably get there. Andy Dalton was selected with the fourth pick of the second round. You know what? If Trubisky’s there at 33, sure, draft him. But he might even be gone by 12. And I just don’t see Deshaun Watson as being a Hue Jackson quarterback.
And if he’s gone? Well, Mahomes and Kizer are even less Hue Jackson quarterbacks. And as for Davis Webb and below? I don’t see any being an improvement on Cody Kessler. This Davis Webb hype train needs to stop right now because it is stupid and he is a third-round pick at best.
I Guess Cleveland Have Passed on QBs Before
Okay, mystery person doing the subheadings in my post, I get it. Cleveland attracted a lot of ridicule for passing on Carson Wentz. Wentz enjoyed a promising rookie season in Philadelphia, but I doubt he’d have done the same in Cleveland.
Why? Cleveland curse garble garble garble? NO. STOP THAT. The Cleveland roster last year was so so thin. Before the draft there was no Corey Coleman, no defensive depth, no idea how good Terrelle Pryor would be at receiver, only two good offensive linemen. It looked like a hellish situation for a quarterback to go into. Wentz would’ve been sacked a lot, he’d have had no-one to throw to (okay, he didn’t in Philly). And his defense would’ve shipped enoughpoints that he’d have been put in terrible positions.
I really suspect Wentz would’ve looked like a bust had Cleveland drafted him. As always for eloquence, I pass it over to Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier, on Cleveland trading down for Coleman:
“Give the Cleveland Browns some credit. They looked themselves in the mirror and realized they weren’t ready to draft a franchise quarterback just yet. They were like the family that realized it should not bring home a new puppy until it cleans the rusted car batteries out of the backyard and Junior outgrows ripping the heads off his Build-A-Bears.”
The interesting thing is this. Now Cleveland have Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter, they’ve got a strong O-Line. If you buy they didn’t last year, Cody Kessler didn’t get a square go then. And so, we don’t know properly how good he can be. Now, he can. And we can. I do accept this is an argument for saying “okay, well draft a quarterback this year”. Fair enough. In any case, that backyard isn’t spick-and-span yet. And Junior? Well, there’s still some fluff escaping from those cuddly toys. But Cody Kessler’s coming home to a less chaotic household. This metaphor is out of control.
Skip To The End
Somewhere in this maelstrom there’s a coherent argument to not drafting a quarterback on day 1 or 2, I promise. It’s this:
- Cody Kessler was okay last year in fairly dreadful circumstances. With a stronger O-Line, and potentially a defense that can sometimes stop opponents, you’re giving him and the Browns a chance to at least explore what potential he has. That’s something we’ve not had enough of quite yet.
- Mitchell Trubisky is the Browns’ quarterback of choice. He’s an upgrade over Kessler, but not that much. His best comparison (and what the Browns are aiming for) is Andy Dalton. Dalton was a second-round pick and has been fine as an NFL quarterback. Quarterbacks are important but fine is not worth selling the house for.
- If Trubisky is the first overall pick, the Browns are passing up a generational talent (Myles Garrett) for a solid but unspectacular quarterback. That’s not worth it.
- If Trubisky is gone by pick 12, none of the other quarterbacks in range there really seem like a fit. Oh, and for heaven’s sake don’t draft Davis Webb in the first two rounds. This goes for everyone.
- Cleveland could come out of Day 2 at the draft having gone a long way to solving their problems at pass rush, cornerback, safety and wide receiver. Any quarterback picked in those three rounds means one of these positions is still broken.
- Getting to the Houston Texans situation of having a good roster, even if quarterback is not solved, would be a victory for Cleveland.
I expect Cleveland to draft a quarterback, to be honest. Potentially with their second first-round pick. Or ship out one of their picks for another quarterback. But neither would be a good move. It’d be risky, whereby Cleveland have got some low-risk, high-gain opportunities at other positions. Quarterbacks will always be available. Why not get the best team around them and give the next one the best chance to succeed?