Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA Championship is behind us, it’s time to slowly start working ourselves back into thinking about the Browns (although that might still be tough for some, considering the streak the Indians are on right now). That means it’s time to kick off our annual training camp preview, where we go position-by-position until we have looked at all 90 players who will take part in training camp.
We’ll start with the quarterback position. In part 1 of this preview, we’ll look at the three players who have the best chance at winning the starting job for Week 1: Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, and Cody Kessler. On Tuesday, we’ll talk about Austin Davis and Connor Shaw to wrap up the quarterbacks and then move on to running backs.
1. ROBERT GRIFFIN III - PROJECTED TO BE THE STARTING QB
Hue Jackson is no stranger to working with reclamation projects at the quarterback position. When he was the head coach of the Raiders in 2011, he and Jason Campbell helped lead the team to a 4-2 start. Campbell's injury in that sixth game (against the Browns) made the team give up a lot to acquire Carson Palmer. The team was 7-4 at one point before a floundering finish that saw them end the year with an 8-8 record.
After the release of Johnny Manziel for obvious reasons, and with veteran Josh McCown still on the roster, Jackson felt compelled in his second head coaching gig to grab a quarterback who many had/have written off in Robert Griffin III. Most of us know Griffin's backstory as it relates to the Browns. Cleveland fans had their heart set on him back in 2012, but the Redskins completed a pre-draft trade with the Rams, leaving Cleveland to sit back and settle for Brandon Weeden.
Griffin had a great rookie year in Washington, completing 65.6% of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He also ran 120 times for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he suffered multiple knee injuries -- likely coming back sooner than he should have -- and has not been the same since. Besides trying to come back from injury, though, he's also had to play the game of battling through a head coaching change and a quarterback who that coach (Jay Gruden) preferred in Kirk Cousins. While Griffin didn't look the same when he did play in 2013 and 2014, he wasn't terrible and there is optimism that he can benefit from a fresh start in Cleveland. Griffin's accuracy during a workout wowed Jackson so much that the team pretty much signed him on the spot.
The question now is whether Jackson will see enough from Griffin at training camp to name him the starting quarterback. Pat McManamon of ESPN said that during OTAs, Griffin displayed a lot of inconsistencies when team drills kicked in. We also have to understand that Jackson is trying to mold Griffin into a bit of a different quarterback -- a little more conservative when it comes to protecting himself, as well as changing up his mechanics, as Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer recently pointed out.
I think the team has committed too much time to Griffin for him to be truly "competing" for a spot. The only way I see him not starting in Week 1 is if he suffers an injury. As far as expectations go, I don't think this team is far enough along yet to start worrying about that. I trust Jackson's work with quarterbacks, and I think Jackson has a vision for where he wants Griffin to be by the start of the regular season. He wasn't there yet through the offseason programs, but I get the impression that this was to be expected. I'm optimistic that Griffin can show glimpses of being a former No. 2 overall quarterback of the draft again, so we'll see how far that takes us.
Final Roster Odds: 98%
2. JOSH MCCOWN - VETERAN QB IN CASE RG III SUFFERS AN INJURY
Last year, Josh McCown was the best player on the Browns. In 8 starts, he threw for 2,109 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions while also setting a couple of franchise records. At 36 years old, there is no doubt that he still has what it takes to step in and be a very competent quarterback in the NFL. Last year, I said the Denver Broncos would've been better off with McCown than Peyton Manning, and I still stand by that.
Despite only being in the second year of a three-year deal, I thought Hue Jackson would start over at the quarterback position after acquiring Griffin. As the months went by, though, it became more and more evident that McCown isn't going anywhere. I believe he's serving as an insurance policy to Griffin in case his knee acts up again, and so the team wouldn't have to be forced in to throwing Cody Kessler into action right away if that were to happen. It sounds a bit crazy to call McCown an insurance policy because his injury history has been well-documented too. If we're talking about negatives with McCown, he took a lot of sacks last year and wasn't afraid to put his body on the line (while the warrior-like mentality was appreciated, was it worth it at the expense of him then missing several weeks?). He also lost six fumbles, the most he's lost in any year of his career.
Although the signs are pointing toward Griffin being the team's starting quarterback, last year, I praised McCown for being one of the most competent-looking quarterbacks I'd seen in the years I've been going to training camp in Berea, and that carried over to the regular season. If we are several weeks in to training camp and Griffin gets frustrated by not being where he wants to be in terms of productivity (i.e. too many tipped passes or a lack of comfortability deciding when to run vs. slide) while McCown is still steady-as-can-be, I don't think Jackson's allegiance to Griffin will be so dead-set that he'll turn a blind eye to McCown.
Final Roster Odds: 80%
3. CODY KESSLER - ROOKIE QB WITH AN OUTSIDE SHOT
If you want to bury a storyline that wasn't even a big deal in the first place, the Cavaliers winning a Championship will certainly help with that. The storyline I am referring to is the drafting of QB Cody Kessler to close out the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Of the Browns' 14 selections, Kessler was the most polarizing one for fans and one who nobody saw coming. Back when I reviewed the draft, I said that as long as the team didn't take a quarterback in the first two rounds, I'd be content -- after that, I felt they were free to toy around with taking whoever they wanted.
Listening to Hue Jackson speak about Kessler after the draft, I became more and more convinced that he was "his guy." The team reportedly liked both Kessler and QB Jacoby Brissett, and when the Patriots pulled off a surprise by taking Brissett at No. 91 overall, Cleveland didn't want to take any chances on missing out on both of them, so they pulled the trigger at No. 93 overall.
DBN's Mike Krupka did a thorough analysis of Kessler's USC performance against Wisconsin last year. When the pick was made, some people quipped that Jackson now has his version of Andy Dalton in Cleveland, and Krupka came to a similar conclusion: "What I see when I look at Kessler is a carbon copy of Dalton, both physically as well as mentally." The Dalton we saw in 2015 was the one who I felt finally turned the corner, in large part thanks to Jackson. Kessler's odds of starting in Week 1 are very slim because he'll be working as a third- or fourth-string quarterback for several weeks, which will reduce the amount of reps necessary to lead the first-team unit. With a really impressive showing, though, he might be able to take the No. 2 spot away from McCown -- not because McCown isn't fit for the job, but because it'd also support the movement towards youth.
Here is a link to PFF's scouting report on Kessler, where accuracy is listed as his top strength.
Final Roster Odds: 100%
Feel free to discuss your thoughts on the Browns' top three quarterbacks below. Our poll asks whether you feel the Griffin experiment will pay off, and to what extent. Choose the option that is closest to how you feel.