Considering the uncertainty surrounding this crop of QBs, Cleveland should attend to other needs in May’s NFL Draft.
Brian Hoyer looked good enough in his two victories, a win in Week 3 over the Minnesota Vikings and one the following Week versus Cincinnati. Those two showings, where he amassed five touchdowns and 590 yards passing, were enough to secure him the starting job against Buffalo the following week where a hit sidelined him for the remainder of the year.
Many think Hoyer, who, according to Sports Illustrated, is ahead of schedule and "should be 100 percent for training camp barring any setback", has enough potential that the organization shouldn’t be looking for a quarterback in the upcoming draft. Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam said that Hoyer played "played exceptionally well" in 2013. Others think that somewhere in this crop of draft prospects is a QB that can lift the recurrently below-average Browns out of the gutter.
Regardless of which train of thought one subscribes to, the Browns are in a completely different situation for a rookie quarterback than many of the other teams potentially looking to poach a quarterback from May’s draft. Someone like Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel may have a lot of success on a team like the Houston Texans, owners of the number one pick.
This doesn’t mean that the Browns should select that very same player, or that he would have the same success in Cleveland. A team consisting of several former Pro Bowl selections (J. J. Watt, Johnathan Joseph, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, Andre Johnson, Duane Brown, Wade Smith, Christopher Myers, etc.) that’s just one year removed from a 12-4 division winning year, most would agree that the Texans are a better team than the Cleveland Browns.
While stability at the position is seen as a necessity for the Browns, is a quarterback class with no discernible number-one-overall the place to obtain a franchise quarterback? For most of 2013, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater was the consensus favorite for the position. As of April 18th, Mel Kiper has him dropping to the second round in his latest mock draft. Several "experts" are currently predicting that Johnny Manziel will be the first QB off the board. Others, like Ron Jaworski, are of the mindset that he shouldn’t be considered until the fourth round. Such indecision over the consensus favorite may be a hint that there isn’t a QB worth building around that the Browns should draft using their 4th overall pick.
There are several cases in recent years where rookie quarterbacks have had success in their first years, but, the situations, and players involved, are much different heading into the 2014 NFL Draft.
As of late, only rookies of unequalled talent and size (which assists in survival and durability) have proven they can come in and have an immediate impact in the League on a dreadful team (such as the previously 2-14 Carolina Panthers of 2010). Cam Newton is an example of a transcendent talent who took a previously mediocre Auburn Tigers team (8-5 in 2009) and lead them to an undefeated season by passing for 2854 yards, and rushing for another 1473 en route to a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy. After being selected number one overall, Newton was able to help the Carolina Panthers improve to 6 wins. In the 2014 NFL Draft, there is no one who remotely resembles Cam Newton’s size (listed as 6’6" / 250 lb during the 2010 season) that can match his accomplishments in what many consider to be the best singular college season by a quarterback in college football history.
Another type of rookie quarterback that has proved it (even if only temporarily) can improve a franchise is the super-athletic passer. With his 4,293 yards passing and 699 yards rushing in 2011, Robert Griffin III certainly fit the profile. He was drafted 2nd overall in 2012, and led the Washington Redskins to a 10-6 Season (5 wins more than in 2011) and a playoff appearance. While Manziel is touted as one of the most athletic quarterbacks to enter a draft in recent memory, his passing ability and choices have been called into question regularly. Many, like NFL Film’s Greg Cosell, have concerns about Manziel’s arm strength and ability to make throws. As highlighted in a recent article on si.com by Josh Sanchez, Cosell said, "When you watch Johnny Manziel on film, when he had to make throws that were at the intermediate or deeper levels….he had to put his entire body into making those throws. And that was a concern."
Conversely, RGIII, with a passer rating of 192.3 in his final season at Baylor, was touted by Cosell, famous for his study of film, as being a natural passer and "having superior arm strength" even to Andrew Luck leading up to the draft. He also wrote that "the better term for accuracy is ball location. That’s what allows receivers to run after the catch. Griffin excelled in that area."
There is no one in this draft that’s as athletic as Robert Griffin III while possessing the same arm strength and efficiency as a passer.
The rest of the young QBs that have found success on teams are the ones who went to teams that were already established and relatively good. Andrew Luck, although a consensus talent across the board, went number one overall to an Indianapolis Colts team that wasn’t as bad as their 2-14 record would leave one to believe. With an offensive built around and led by one quarterback, who subsequently would be out for the entire season, the Colts didn’t stand a chance in 2011. But, previously a playoff team with 4 Pro Bowl selections in 2010, the Colts weren’t nearly that bad (think Houston, c. 2013), and Luck was drafted by and able to lead a playoff ready team from the get-go.
Additionally, Andy Dalton (2011), Russell Wilson (2012), and Nick Foles (2012) were all drafted by teams that were in the playoffs within the previous 15 months. Again, like Houston in the spring of 2014, these teams that were not that far removed from a time when they were really good.
Another young quarterback to have taken his team to the playoffs is Colin Kaepernick. Likewise, he took over a team that within the previous 10 months had appeared in its conference title game.
The Cleveland Browns, unfortunately, are not 15 months removed from a playoff appearance. As of May 8th, it will have been 136 months since the last time they were in the postseason (January 5th, 2003). Accordingly, they’re not one piece away from being back in contention like the above teams. Perhaps taking a flyer on a quarterback, in a year where there isn’t one agreed upon favorite or "sure thing", should not be in the organizations cards and the team should be built upon in other places.