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Building The Browns Through The Draft: Quarterback Edition

When the Browns took Colt McCoy in the third round a couple of years ago I, like many others, thought it wasn't a bad pickup. True the pick was risky, a flier, an experiment; but with the stable of retread and former backup QBs in the Browns locker room, there was always the possibility that the experiment might prove successful. Obviously, NFL teams saw a lot they didn't like in McCoy. Maybe his lack of elite arm strength, his short stature, or his tendency to leave the pocket early, but you had to be impressed by his college record as a starter all four years. Colt was a winner and a master of the college game. But as quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, Colt's record and statistics have been less than stellar. He has no division wins in 8 attempts, one of the lowest yards-per-attempt numbers in the NFL and only 14 touchdowns with 11 interceptions and 5 fumbles. It would appear that the experiment has fizzled.

To be fair, expectations about Colt should never have been that high. College records seldom translate to the NFL. In my eyes Colt had 3 strikes against him to start. First, he barely tops 6 feet. QBs begin each play in the very back behind towering offensive and defensive linemen; this is a significant disadvantage.
Second, McCoy does not have the strongest of arms. He was accurate in college but the margin of error in college is much greater than in the NFL. Many argue this point but if you google "Colt McCoy arm strength" you'll see that it is a subject of much discussion and that McCoy is generally thought to have one of the weaker arms in the league. If you watch McCoy play and then watch almost any other NFL game you'll see a marked difference in ball flight speed, flatness of arc and tightness of the spiral between Colt and other NFL QBs.
The third strike was the fact that McCoy slid so far in the draft. NFL teams pay armies of scouts a lot of money to do nothing but look at prospects. Though there have been QBs picked later in the draft that have become decent starters (like Schaub, Brady and maybe Cassel), the vast majority of QBs picked in the third round over the past 3 decades have never seen a starting job or even worked as backups. That list is rather long so I won't post it here but it contains such notables as Dave Ragone, Tommy Hodson, Hugh Millen, Anthony Dilweg, and Giovanni Carmazzi. In fact, looking at the complete list of 37 3rd rounders picked since 1980 I only recognized 10 mostly because 3 of them played for the Browns. None of these with the exceptions of Schaub, McCoy and Frye played as starters for any particular length of time. Meanwhile if you look at the top starting QBs currently in the NFL you'll find most were picked in the first round and a whopping 11 with the first 5 picks.
So if the Browns are looking to gain a franchise quarterback through the draft, they would be better served to use their first pick to do so. Their current projection for picking in the draft is 4th after the loss to Arizona. Looking at how the team has played in the last few games and the strength of their remaining schedule it is somewhat likely they will remain at that spot. Let's have a look at the 4 QBs likely to go in the first round of the 2012 draft.

1. Andrew Luck - Stanford 6'-4" 235lbs

It is hard to remember more of a consensus for the 1st pick in the draft than Luck is this year. He gets top marks in all the main categories: size, arm strength, and accuracy. He does not have world-class mobility or speed but has phenomenal pocket presence and excellent fundamentals even when throwing on the move. He also makes great reads and calls a lot of his own plays at Stanford which runs a decidedly pro-style offense. He is one of the least risky picks at this spot in the draft in years and GMs will have a hard time passing on him due to this.

Key Stats: 70% comp, 8.5 YPA, 3170 yds, 35 TD, 9 Int, Passer Rtg 167.5.

Browns Chances? Just about zero. But... the Browns are probably in one of the best positions to trade into the first pick having 2 first rounders to offer in return--one of them a high pick in its own right. The big question is will the Colts use a pick on a QB when they have Manning possibly for a few more years? This makes the 2012 draft have a chance to be one of the most dramatic in recent memory. If Luck slides to the 2nd pick it is almost a certainty that the Rams might also pass on him. With this situation a trade of one of the first 2 picks is a distinct possibility.

Brownsyup's Take: I like Luck a lot. I would NOT be upset if the Browns gave up their 2 first picks and their second or first from next year for him. If it takes more it is a bit harder to justify but when you look at how quarterback driven this league is, it becomes a lot easier. If Heckertt can swing a deal for Luck I'm all in.

Vs Videos - I like film that shows all QB throws in a given game so you can see their bad and good plays. I call them Vs videos because they are typically found easily with a search on youtube of "Andrew Luck vs 2011". Avoid highlights like the plague as anyone looks great in those. One. Two. Three.

2. Matt Barkley - USC 6'-2" 220lbs

Barkley has been described as the prototypical passer. He has average size, isn't very mobile and doesn't have a cannon arm but seems to do a lot of things well. He has shattered several records at USC--a school well known for producing top notch QB talent. He throws well on the move and shows poise and confidence when the chips are down.

Key Stats: 69% comp, 7.9 YPA, 3528 yds, 39 TD, 7 Int, Passer Rtg 161.2.

Browns Chances? Were the draft held today with the Browns having the pick it is doubtful that Barkley would still be available. It would likely cost a lot for the Browns to move up to take Barkley and I'm not convinced he is worth it over some of the other players the Browns could pick were they to stay put. I put the odds at about 25% right now that Barkley is available when the Browns pick.

Brownsyup's Take: The best thing about Barkley is that he does not seem to have reached his potential. He has improved in every category every year at USC. One thing I've heard is that his quoted size of 6' 2" might be somewhat padded and some say that he will not measure this tall at the combine. Though Barkley is a good prospect I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop in the draft as it gets closer. Also, look for Barkley to return to USC his senior year. USC was barred from the championship games and bowl games this year and it seems as if Barkley might want to add that experience to his resume.

Vs Videos: One. Two. Three. (sorry no true vs videos available... I guess USC controls their youtube presence)

3. Robert Griffin III - Baylor 6'-2" 220lbs

Robert Griffin III or RG3 as he is sometimes known, has vaulted up in draft predictions at an amazing rate. Winning the Heisman has just added to that furor. Ordinarily a QB with his quickness and ability to make plays with his feet would be of interest but RG3 also has a first class arm. He can throw with velocity just about anywhere on the field. He throws well under pressure and keeps his feet set until the point of impact. He also boasts excellent deep-throw accuracy. Still, he needs to learn to try to stay in the pocket more often and to play more under center at the next level.

Key Stats: 72% comp, 10.8 YPA, 3998 yds, 36 TD, 6 Int, Passer Rtg 192.3.

Browns Chances? If Barkley stays in the draft the Browns have a pretty good chance at Griffin. This will all depend on if teams eventually grade Griffin over Barkley which doesn't seem to have happened at this point. If it does then Cleveland would likely have to trade up to get Griffin--more on that later. I'd give the Browns a 50% chance of seeing RG3 at their spot on draft day.

Brownsyup's Take: You want to be excited about next year? I do. Picking up Griffin in the draft would definitely generate some excitement. RG3 is a smaller version of Cam Newton and there is no doubt he would be fun to watch. Though it is hard to say if Griffin will succeed at the next level with his style of play and in a system like the Browns have, I feel he is the best prospect after Luck. The Browns should definitely take Griffin if he is there at their pick and should seriously consider trading up to get him if not.

Vs Videos: One. Two.

4. Landry Jones - Oklahoma 6'-4" 229lbs

Jones has the size and look of an NFL quarterback--especially one that plays in the AFC North. Big, tough quarterbacks with good arms tend to thrive in the frigid, windy stadiums of the Midwest. Jones has greatly improved his accuracy this year. Though not particularly fast or quick, he has a good feel for the pocket and his size and strength helps him avoid sacks (see Skelton in the most recent Browns game with Arizona). He does seem to struggle sometimes with reads further down in the progression and has not distinguished himself under pressure.

Key Stats: 63% comp, 8 YPA, 4302 yds, 28 TD, 14 Int, Passer Rtg 142.4.

Browns Chances? Jones also has a chance of dropping in the draft. Quarterbacks typically go pretty high but there are a lot of questions about his capability at the next level. His size will probably win out over many objections but I think it likely that he will be around for the Browns first pick. I give an 80% chance of the Browns being able to pick up Jones.

Brownsyup's Take: Should the Browns take Jones with their first pick? I think there may be enough questions about Jones as a franchise QB prospect to make picking Jones a pretty big gamble. Still, he is likely to be an upgrade over McCoy so the Browns should give it serious thought. Another possibility would be to pick someone else with the first pick (maybe a receiver, linebacker or running back) and see if you could package up a trade including the second first-round pick to move up and get Jones.

Vs Videos: One. Two.

A Note About Free Agency:

For every Drew Brees there are half a dozen Kolbs, McNabbs, Cassels and Leinarts. Picking up a quarterback in free agency is no sure thing. There has been talk of Matt Flynn for example. Flynn in the small amount he has played this year has 0 TDs and 1 int and a completion percentage hovering around 40 percent. In the year he played the most, 2010, he was seen in 7 games, completed 60 percent of his passes and could account for 3 TDs with 2 interceptions. Not exactly the second coming of Brett Favre. Quarterbacks being released or traded by other teams usually have some kind of downside or they would be on the market. I say the Browns should use their prime position in this draft this year to get a genuine, top-notch prospect quarterback of the future.