The Expansion Era Guide to Cleveland Browns’ Drafting

Hollywood representation of Browns' war room gets it wrong right down to the attractive jerseys in the background.

Hollywood representation of Browns’ war room gets it wrong right down to the attractive jerseys in the background.

Most happy to have Dave Kolonich with a pre-draft contribution today.  Here tis.


Since I last checked in with Kanicki (Burger), my beloved Browns experienced a most epic of expansion December meltdowns – a franchise involution of sorts that exposed the organization as a bush league outfit boasting high production values.

Saved you a click.

Saved you a click. It’s a good word choice.

From the GM trying to subvert the coaching staff to Kyle Shanahan’s 32 Theses and onto plane drinks, rehab, a bumbled new logo, new uniforms and a Josh McCown bidding war, the last several months have registered new lows for a team that has been stuck in expansion purgatory for nearly 20 years.1

Browns war room.. what could go wrong?

Browns war room.. what could go wrong?

Or, you know it’s bad when the Bengals can troll your team on April’s Fool’s Day and you literally have no reply.

But the DRAFT, right?

Right. Right?

You know something’s wrong when you’re genuinely frightened that your team holds two first round picks. Throw in a GM in Ray Farmer whose best hope for keeping his job just walked out of a rehab facility and if you’re a rational fan, you can probably predict what happens next.

Browns war room today: showing that more is less.  "Involuted."

Browns war room today: showing that more is less. “Involuted.”

There’s a great chance that the Browns peaked last November in Cincinnati. And if recent history is any indication, another front office gutting and regime change is due in 2016. As such, the upcoming draft will follow in that tortured Browns’ expansion history where players drafted today will play for a different coach tomorrow (and then another one next week).

With these thoughts in mind, the 2015 Browns’ Draft Preview takes on a more permanent feel.

Apologies to those lusting for the immediacy of “loose hips” and “character concerns.” Instead, I offer the blueprint to ALL Browns’ drafts – both now and in the future.

1. Drafting Scheme-Specific Players Doesn’t Work if You Keep Changing Schemes

A few years ago, I half-joked that Phil Taylor was about as smart of a draft pick the expansion era Browns could make. Taylor can easily fit as a traditional nose tackle or end in a 3-4 esque alignment and/or plug into the kind of four-man front that leaves Kanicki (Mike) hot under the proverbial collar. Of course, Taylor is injury-prone and far from a dominant player. However, he’s a solid starter and more importantly – given that the Browns install new offensive and defensive schemes every 1.3 years, Taylor’s flexibility is ideal for a franchise that is continually rebooting.

Jabaal Sheard:  can play for SB champs; can't play for Browns scheme-oriented DCs.

Jabaal Sheard: can play for SB champs; can’t play for Browns scheme-oriented DCs.

Or, if you only view Taylor as a pugilistic crusader against local moronic sports talk radio personalities, Jabaal Sheard is probably the better example. Sheard wasn’t the ideal fit for the last two Browns’ defenses – Pettine’s version and whatever it was Ray Horton tried to sell in 2013. Sheard seemed to work best out of Dick Jauron’s four-man front and will likely do the same for Bill Belichick in New England. While Sheard’s numbers were disappointing, he still allowed Paul Kruger to have a career season. Unfortunately, scheme trumps talent and in Cleveland, a talented defender endures three coaching changes before he lands his first free agent deal.

The lesson is clear. Draft the guy that can play multiple positions and schemes. Because that’s what he’ll be doing in Cleveland.

2. Draft Two QB’s Every Year (Or Three or Four or Whatever)

I’m not going to explore the “Is Marcus Mariota Worth Trading Two First Rounders?” simply because there is an issue bigger than the Oregon QB. College football just doesn’t produce NFL-ready QB’s anymore. Spread offenses that only ask QB’s to make a simple read, then run if a wide receiver doesn’t have a ten-yard cushion on a defender are going to produce a lot of Manziel’s and very few Andrew Luck’s. At best, you’ll get Teddy Bridgewater – which means you’re 8-8.2 Or Jameis Winston. Maybe there’s a reason Zach Mettenberger is again a hot prospect.

Throw in the last collective bargaining agreement – you’ll remember, the one where the players bargained for less practice time in exchange for salary, health care, benefits, retirement and their livelihood. Those shorter summer days makes it even more difficult for a college spread QB to learn how to anticipate reads against real NFL defenses. The learning curve is exaggerated, yet the expectations are increased. And if you’re unlucky to be attempting this impossible feat in Cleveland, you’re likely learning a brand new offense for the third season in a row – assuming you last that long.

Which you probably won’t.

As long as we're taking two QBs, can one of them be Bo Wallace please?

As long as we’re taking two QBs, can one of them be Bo Wallace please?

So taking the expansion era long-view approach to Browns’ QB’s, why not increase the odds? Regardless of coaching or scheme change, just draft two QB’s every year. Eventually, you’ll stumble onto something resembling a starting-caliber player and just maybe when that happens, the Browns will have the correct corresponding offensive scheme already in place.

3. Stop Listening to QB Coaches You Just Hired

But while we’re onto QB’s, both the current and future front offices could take a lesson from 2014 and not try to validate the desires of the lowly QB coach. Last year, Dowell Loggains “reportedly” made a draft day pitch for Manziel. Naturally, Loggains is coaching somewhere else in 2015. This year, reports link Mariota to Kevin O’Connell, the Browns’ newest QB coach. If you thought Loggains and Manziel were cozy, O’Connell and Mariota are running a bed and breakfast.

As long as new QB coach isn't secretly George Goober Lindsay, we're moving in the right direction.

As long as new QB coach isn’t secretly George Goober Lindsay, we’re moving in the right direction.

At this point, if you’re a rational Browns fan, you must ask the question – who the f— is Kevin O’Connell and why is he influencing the Browns’ latest QB draft decision?

Or – here’s a better question: where do you think Kevin O’Connell coaches in 2015?

While we’re here, let’s briefly discuss George Whitfield.

Whitfield is talking up Winston, as most self-styled QB gurus/pseudo agents tend to do. For those of you who care to remember, Whitfield was also the guy who had Johnny Football ankle deep in the ocean, decidedly not practicing five-step drops. Anyway, Whitfield is apparently an authority on QB’s, at least evident by how much attention the collective draft media shines on him.

George Whitfield: JoeBees plus Flippen Group bracelets for aspiring QBs.

George Whitfield: JoeBees plus Flippen Group bracelets for aspiring QBs.

Of course Whitfield’s tutelage of Manziel, Winston and Mariota helps drive recognition of his QB training academy – the one where delusional football Dad’s take out a second mortgage on their third grader’s potential. Landing two more first round QB’s boosts Whitfield’s collection and you already know George has some friends in Berea.

4. Figure Out Your Team Strength, Then Do Something About It

Over the last several years, I can usually pinpoint a Browns’ weakness by checking out #BrownsTwitter. Usually, Hiram Boyd’s boyish fandom points me in the right direction. If he’s all in on the Browns’ offensive line, I know the team must draft two tackles and a guard with the first three picks. By the way, he’s a huge Manziel fan – for what it’s worth.

Anyway, in the past, what has appeared to be a team strength usually handcuffs the team by November. Horton’s 2013 pass rush was a bust. Norv’s ground game was worse. All that defensive line depth a year ago produced the league’s worst run defense. Alex Mack’s injury (and to a point, Joel Bitonio’s emergence) showed how dismal the O-line depth has been. Currently, the team’s strongest area is the secondary, featuring three Pro Bowlers and some promising young cornerbacks.

According to perfect Browns’ expansion era logic, this means that opposing QB’s will routinely put up 400 yards a game.

Let’s draft another corner and a safety.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

5. When All Else Fails, Draft “The Weed Guy”

For those of you who aren’t familiar, “Draft the Weed Guy” is a brilliant football philosophy from Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi.  The premise is simple: every NFL draft features some uber-talented players who failed a drug test or were kicked out of school and consequently see their draft status plummet. Often, the offense is because of marijuana. Dumb NFL teams annually trip over their moral coattails to avoid these players, then watch them become All-Pros elsewhere.

Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham is the latest example of such a player. He has some pot history, along with some sinister actions. However, in the spirit of finding people to play a sport where you hurl your body into someone else’s body to end each play, it’s probably worth mentioning that he’s maybe the most talented wide receiver in this year’s draft.

DGB, Josh Gordon comparisons are rampant.

DGB, Josh Gordon comparisons are rampant.

HOLD ON!! I’m channeling a Terry’s Talkin’ (to HIMSELF!) moment:

-But wait, you may exclaim – shouldn’t the Browns avoid such a player given Josh Gordon’s history?

-Of course not.

-Like it or not, Farmer and Pettine are on borrowed time – and Green-Beckham is a terrific player.

However, the bigger issue here is that the Browns just aren’t a strong enough organization to have such a player. Perhaps no better pure football example can be found than with the Patriots and Aaron Hernandez. If you learned anything about the Patriots from Hernandez’s trial, it was these three items:

  1. They were way more lenient with a star player than the media narratives let on.
  2. Because they aren’t an infinitely dumb and weak organization, the media weren’t cued into what Hernandez got away with.
  3. NFL players smoke a lot of pot.

Back in Cleveland, the Browns can’t even have one employee tell Gordon that his drinking ban lasts forever or hire a Mike Ehrmantrout to clean up their first round QB’s messes. Because of this organizational weakness, it’s doubtful Farmer has the resolve to take such a questionable player again. Instead, “high character” will be the buzz phrase – which often equates to “less talented.”

And naturally, “new GM” will soon follow.


 

  1. Here’s my uniform HOT TAKE! I appreciate the effort, but it’s obvious that way too many hands were involved in the overall project. The uniforms felt like those stories comedians tell of getting TV movies and shows made. Everyone had to have a hand, which made the final result convoluted. You just know that some of Alec Scheiner’s top assistants focus grouped this thing to death – which meant that a once simple uniform style now looks like a cross between Nascar and an Arena League team.

    The CLEVELAND across the jersey is a great idea, but looks bush league. While it’s being sold as “unique”, perhaps there’s a reason 31 other NFL teams don’t do this. Similarly, the BROWNS on the pants stripe is hideous. The jersey stripes are just odd, as they neither point to history or to some current trend.

    The helmet is great, the colors are fine and I love the idea of trying something new. However, it’s inherently difficult to f— up three colors – which is kind of what happened. [back]

  2. Serious question – can you really picture Bridgewater as an “elite QB?” There’s some Andy Dalton ceiling there. [back]

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  • I believe drafting a QB every year should be right along with drafting an offensive lineman every year as a core Browns philosophy. The only certainty with this team is that, while you may not know what will happen, you know something will happen during the season.

    Bridgewater may turn out to be a “not so bad” quarterback, but he has been elevated way beyond his production by many, which is puzzling. Also puzzling is the continuing love affair with Sam Bradford.

    Other than that, should be a heck of a weekend in Chicago, as always.

  • MrCleaveland

    You may be as shocked as I was to learn that the Haslams are not the absolute worst team in the cosmos when it comes to butchering first-round picks since 2000, at least according to this measurement just offered up by SI (http://www.si.com/nfl/2015/04/23/2015-nfl-draft-first-round-history).

    We’re actually 18th “best,” tied with the Packers, Bills, and Bears. And we’re better than real teams such as Denver, the Giants, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Strange but true.

  • Sam Gold

    A snarky article criticizing Browns incompetence? How refreshingly original and unlike anything else on the Cleveland sports media landscape.

    • nah. while i get where you’re coming from, dave’s chops of skepticism are long-standing and always well-crafted. never to be confused with hacky ‘100 years war’ refs. i defy you to read piece this in goldhammer’s high-pitched whine.

      lookit, it’s a mixed bag for me with the browns. i love pettine. i am super uncomfortable with alec scheiner’s sense of place within the organization. i have no faith in jimmy haslam as wise enough when to allow his hired experts to pursue their craft. i’m inclined to give farmer a pass on last year’s draft and think he knows his stuff; but i also i wonder if the craven toadyism i think i see from him w.r.t. haslam is real. i vacillate between liking this regime and wanting to throw tomatoes. so well-placed snark from a non-page-hit seeking good writer has its place.

      i think hoyer got porked, but i think mccown will be better suited to the job by dint of being ‘farmer’s guy.’ i think either will exceed the lunatic proclamations of 100% of media types. “the browns need to find their qb.” ok, thanks for that astute analysis, why havent the browns and 25 other qb-needy teams thought to get their qb? weird when it’s so obvious to grossi, rizzo, and the twitterati. i think dk’s tongue-in-cheek draft two QBs a year until you find one is a) not so tongue-in-cheek and b) a proffering of solution as opposed to simple bitching.

      (btw i think mccown is going to be good — like B+ good — and i really think it’s laughable when cleveland radio sniff at his signing. they know NOTHING.)

      • Dave Kolonich

        It’s certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the overall idea isn’t far from reality. If a solid draft pick like Jabaal Sheard or a really good one like Joe Haden have already played for 3-4 coaches, then its hard to view one draft in such an immediate, temporal sense.

        As for Pettine, he’s mostly solid – but he’s no doubt elevated in status thanks to the ineptitude around him. I think this year will be a better indicator of his worth.

        Farmer put himself into a hole and his arrogance is confusing. Surely, he’s taken some bullets for Haslam – we’ll see if it buys him some time. But, his mid-round draft and UDFA business last year was excellent. He’s definitely has the best eye for talent in a while.

        Where Mike and I differ is on McCown. The FO definitely put itself into a corner and given how bad Manziel turned out, they grabbed at the best of some really bad options. I just don’t buy into the “QB mentor” myth – football players are competitive and should want to be the guy. I’m out on McCown if all the guy wants to do is play future High School Coach. For the FO, it’s telling that Hoyer was deemed a threat to Manziel. Hoyer has his faults, but you want a guy like that to take the job.

        In the immediate, I’m sour on 2015 mainly because of the QB situation. Manziel will probably never play QB in the league again and this year’s draft class is pretty weak. I’m not sure how a full year (maybe) of McCown is somehow better than what they had a year ago.