Long the butt of many jokes, the Cleveland Browns have enjoyed little success since re-entering the NFL in 1999. Indeed, the long running Browns quarterback jersey, with a whopping 24 names, was retired last month. Created in 1999 by Tim Brokaw, the jersey had the name of every starting QB Cleveland has had since just before the Millennium to the point where it had to have names added in duct tape!
The Browns are hoping the road to better things started this January with the appointment of a new head coach in Hue Jackson (their 8th since 1999), and a new football analytics approach from the addition of Paul DePodesta.
Described by MMQB’s Peter King as the “football guy” and the “Moneyball guy”, it’s an intriguing cocktail as the needs of an NFL team and the metrics of a statistician don’t initially seem to mesh. But ever since the days of Jimmy Jones’ Cowboys and his infamous draft value chart, there have been numerous teams applying, to a lesser degree, the same idea.
Jackson hadn’t been in post long before the Browns released QB Johnny Manziel and shortly afterwards signed Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III from Washington. This is generally seen as a high risk manoeuvre from Cleveland but if former offensive coordinator Jackson can guide RGIII back to his glory days it will be hailed as a master stroke!
The Browns new management is also attempting to build through the draft, a method that has served the Packers, Ravens and Patriots well in recent years. After trading away the second overall pick to the Eagles in this year’s draft, the Browns went on to make a further four trades. What they achieved was impressive by anyone’s standards. A sizeable 10 draft picks were converted into 14 rookies, 2017 first and second-round picks, and a 2018 second-rounder. They even netted veteran corner Jamar Taylor.
So, who did they pick and are there any stars of the future? Wide receiver Corey Coleman (round one) will give the Browns a legitimate deep threat in a position of need. Coleman possesses the speed to take the top off defences and would benefit greatly from the reinstatement of wide receiver Josh Gordon.
Emmanuel Ogbah (round two) will make the switch from playing defensive end in college to outside linebacker in the Browns 3-4. Former Penn State’s exciting star Carl Nassib (Round three) should play and play early. Although he only produced at the top level for one season, he has the skills and motor to make a difference.
Both players rushed the quarterback effectively at college level and may make Barkevious Mingo expendable.
Auburn tackle Shon Coleman, also taken in round three, will likely begin the season as a backup but may find himself protecting the Browns quarterback sooner rather than later.
Finally there’s quarterback Cody Kessler. Whilst he lacks a big time arm, he sees the field well and delivers the ball quickly. Browns fans will be hoping that he can become that rarest of things, a USC quarterback that enjoys NFL success.
However, possibly my favorite Browns pick didn’t come until round seven when they took Scooby Wright, ILB, Arizona with the 250th overall pick. Philip ‘Scooby’ Wright III has never been the most impressive athlete or the prototypical, physically gifted guy. In fact he was only a two star recruit coming out of high school. But put on tape of any game when Wright is healthy and I guarantee you will see him making plays all over the field.
Comparisons to NFL players are often often written with a best fit approach. Optimum Scouting’s Mark Dulgerian commented that “The Zach Thomas comparisons are legit with this guy. He has some size/athletic limitations but injuries pushed him further down boards than his talent alone suggests,’’. For those not familiar with Zach Thomas, the diminutive linebacker played 12 years for the Dolphins before a final season with the Cowboys. He was a prolific tackler and the heart of the Dolphins defense. From 2001 to 2006 Thomas recorded a minimum of 145 tackles per season and was a 7 time Pro Bowler. It’s clear to see why Browns fans are hoping Scooby Wright turns out to be half the player Thomas was!
Watching Wright play it’s clear to see his impressive instincts and ability to diagnose a play. In 2014 he was awarded the Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski Awards. Upon returning to the field after an injury riddled 2015, many wondered what Wright could do.
His reply? 15 tackles, 3.5 for loss and two sacks against the New Mexico Lobos. With many predicting the Browns starters at linebacker to be Christian Kirksey, Demario Davis, Nate Orchard and Paul Kruger, Wright may find himself shunned yet again for the bigger, stronger, more combine suited players. I think Wright should play himself into a reserve role in the pre season. As they try to remake their roster, Wright should find himself in the ideal position.
The Browns 2016 season should begin with Robert Griffin III under Centre and will rely on him proving that he can be an effective pocket passer. With a largely unknown supporting cast he’ll be relied on to make plays more than just deliver the ball. Even with RGIII the Browns chances of winning more than two or three games are slim. They may beat Tennessee and could overcome the Giants, Eagles or Redskins, but the rest of their schedule, at this early point in the year, looks too much for a team firmly in its rebuild phases.
You can read the whole of Peter Kings article on the Browns draft here.
Jonathan Cumbleton first got into the game aged 12 when he started playing touch football for the Northants Storm and soon fell in love with the game. His favourite team is the Philadelphia Eagles, but he also has a soft spot for the Buffalo Bills as they were the first team he ever watched live. His favourite all time players are Randall Cunningham and Brian Dawkins. Jonathan can be contacted on Twitter @Cumbleton