The Browns have a crossroads-type NFL draft coming up. They can either become the “wow factor” team when the dust clears, or the franchise can once again becomes the subject of monologue jokes on late night television.
And the City of Cleveland needs the Browns to become relevant again. The NBA Cavaliers took the league crown last year. Another league championship saw the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters take home the Calder Cup last season as well. The Gladiators of the Arena Football League advanced to the Conference Championship Game last year while the baseball Indians won the American League pennant before losing in the World Series last post-season.
The Browns own eight pro football championships in their coveted history. They dominated the NFL in the 1950s and into the 1970s. However, since the move to Baltimore in 1996 and the subsequent expansion aspect, the Browns have struggled to find any sort of multi-year success. This Cleveland Browns 2.0 has had only two winning seasons and made the playoffs a single stanza.
Executive VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown, a Harvard graduate, seems to have the club focused on improvement at every position. Head Coach Hue Jackson is a player’s coach and an offensive strategist; yet like any successful franchise need quality players to fulfill those requirements. The 2016 NFL draft was the first for both Brown-Jackson and brought in plenty of able-bodied players that should become the nucleus of a talented roster. This year should become the bonanza that will be talked about for years to come.
But past drafts are an indication of where the mindset of the Browns drafting mojo stood and why the club has floundered all these years. Horrible, horrible decisions coupled with unforeseen injuries to talented young players simply crippled any attempt to get better and compete in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL – the AFC Central.
The first round is critical for every team to get that pick accurate. Those players are paid handsomely and arrive with the expectation to become a difference-maker along with the validation that the brass upstairs know what the hell they are doing. When you botch the first round - especially year-after-year - the win column barely improves. And the stagnation continues.
And with that thought, a list has been compiled of the very worst first round draft picks since the merger between the NFL and the younger American Football League. So, here goes.
#12 WR Willis Adams (1979-1985)
While playing at the University of Houston, Adams did not exactly set the college game on fire. Yes he averaged 18.1 yards per catch in his two starting seasons, but only gained 795 yards plus seven TDs total. Yet, the Browns took him with the 20th slot in the 1979 draft.
And nothing exceptional occurred when he gained employment in the NFL. In his first four seasons he netted only 10 receptions for 195 yards. Yawn. His best season of 1983 only saw 374 yards and his two total career TDs. Adams started a mere 10 games during his seven-year tenure. After football he became a physical education teacher.
Shortly after Adams was taken were defensive linemen Mark Gastineau and Bob Golic and a quarterback by the name of Montana.
#11 LB Barkevious Mingo (2013-2015)
Although the defense sported LB D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns were not happy with James-Michael Jackson and Kaluka Maiava at the other backer positions. So when Mingo became available with the sixth overall selection they grabbed him. A member of the Rivals 250 coming out of high school, Mingo quickly became a starter in his sophomore year while at LSU. He was twice named second team All-SEC.
He suffered a bruised lung in the pre-season of his rookie year which slowed his development. In 2014 he registered just 42 tackles and two sacks in 15 games. After a slow start the following season, he lost his starting position at outside linebacker and played sparingly. The Browns then traded him for a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft to the New England Patriots where he won a Super Bowl ring. He has since signed with the Indianapolis Colts.
#10 LB Clifford Charlton (1988-1989)
The Browns biggest weakness going into the 1988 draft was speed from the linebacker corps. They thought they solved this when they took Charlton with the 21st pick in the draft.
Charlton was a First-Team All American and a two-time First-Team All-SEC standout at the University of Florida. He netted 25 sacks in only two full time seasons along with 15 forced fumbles and had a dynamism on the defense. This was exactly what Cleveland was hoping he could transfer to the pro game.
Unfortunately, that never happened. He was basically a 3-4 linebacker that got installed into Cleveland’s 4-3 defensive alignment and could never adjust. As a highly adorned special teams player, he tore his ACL and MCL in his knee against the Minnesota Vikings in the second to last game of the 1989 campaign. The result ended a promising NFL career and after only two seasons, he was cut. He had one total sack before signing with Miami but never played.
If it was a linebacker the Browns wanted, they should have taken Chris Spielman or a future Hall of Fame running back named Thurman Thomas.
#9 CB Justin Gilbert (2014-2015)
The Browns owned the fourth pick in the 2014 draft. They traded back to the ninth pick then traded back up to the eighth slot as they had earmarked Gilbert. Considered one of the draft’s best cornerbacks, his strengths included raw speed and the ability to recover from mistakes. He played sparingly his rookie season partly due to a heel injury and then later some illness. In his first start in Week 14 he recorded his first INT.
The following season he started only one game as his tackling abilities were suspect and he had issues with excessive contact with players. He saw action mainly on special teams and nickel packages. Before the 2016 he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a future sixth-round pick and was later cut. For the Browns, he appeared in 23 games, had three starts with 33 tackles, one INT, one TD and nine passes defended.
If the Browns had stayed at the fourth slot they could have taken LB Khalil Mack or WR Odell Beckham, Jr.
#8 LB Robert Jackson (1977-1981)
Jackson was once referred to as the “dirtiest player in the NFL;” which might have made sense once his talent level was divulged as poor. The Browns took him with the 17th pick in the 1977 draft mainly because he was a Lombardi Award finalist and a consensus All
While working out at the Browns training facility during training camp at Kent State University, Jackson sustained a left knee injury that sidelined him for his rookie year. In the following year’s training camp, he suffered a knee strain in the same knee when he slipped during a routine agility drill and had to be removed from the field. He played sparingly in all 16 games. He started at left inside LB for the next two seasons and had two interceptions as well as two fumble recoveries.
Before the next year, he was traded to the Denver Broncos for a sixth-round pick. He was cut and then picked up by Atlanta where he saw minimal action and then released after one season.
The Browns missed out on DT Bob Baumhower, CB Nolan Cromwell and WR Tony Hill.
#7 RB William Green (2002-2005)
William Green loved two things: football and weed. And the leafy green stuff hurt him come draft day. He was suspended twice while earning an education at Boston College. His junior season he rushed for 1,559 yards with 17 TDs and had great hands. It marked the second straight season he had gone over the 1,000-yard mark in only 11 games. Draftniks had him placed in the Top-5 in the draft, but those pesky suspensions were predicted to push him to the bottom of the first round or out into the second.
Luckily for Green, the Browns swooped in and saved his reputation by taking him with the 16th overall pick in round one. Yeah Cleveland!
His rookie season was actually fairly productive as he gained 887 yards and six TDs with 10 starts as he took the job from James Jackson. Green’s sophomore campaign began just as promising as he accumulated 559 yards and appeared on his way to his first 1,000-yard NFL season. However, he was arrested for DUI and possession of his old friend Mary Jane. That led to a four-game suspension. Next, his fiancé (and later wife) stabbed him during a domestic dispute no doubt about Green’s attention to his other love Mary Jane. He did not play another down all year.
During a game with the Steelers the following season, he was ejected for fighting. Because fisticups on the gridiron did not satisfy his needs, it became known that he was going to father a child by another woman. This season only netted 585 yards and one less touchdowns than women gained with two total.
In 2005, he was consistently injured and played in parts of eight games. He gained a grand total of 78 yards. During training camp the following year the Browns placed him on season-ending IR then waived him. For Cleveland’s efforts, they procured nine TDs out of Green in four seasons plus 11 fumbles.
Who did the Browns miss out on you inquire? Try S Ed Reed (who tormented Cleveland for years with the Ravens) or running backs Clinton Portis and Brian Westbrook.
#6 WR Steve Holden (1973-1976) and OG Pete Adams (1973-1974)
In the 1973 college draft the Browns had two picks in the first round at numbers 16 and 22. The club had just gone 10-4-0 under head coach Nick Skorich and despite losing 20-14 to the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs, the future looked very bright. Two exceptional rookies in the first round would certainly elevate an already talented roster.
Four years, 927 yards, four TDs, 27 kickoff returns for a 23.3 yard average (zero TDs), 33 punt returns with an 8.05 average (zero TDs) is what the Browns got in return for making Holden the 16th pick. He had decent numbers while at Arizona State but nothing to garner a first-round tab. He struggled with the offense and was later cut.
Adams, a bit undersized at 260 pounds, was just a boy among men in his two-year tenure. He played sparingly at left guard in 1974. The offensive playbook was complicated and takes a toll on a young player. After sitting out the entire 1975 season, he won the starting LG position and played 13 games.
Players taken after Holden and Adams were DE Harvey Martin, LB Brad Van Pelt, P Ray Guy and QB Dan Fouts. The latter two now reside in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
#5 RB Charles White (1980-1984)
White was an exceptional running back while at USC. He won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Chic Harley Award, Walter Camp Award, plus was named a two-time All American, UPI Player of the Year, two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year, two-time Rose Bowl MVP and won a national championship. He gained 1,478 yards, 1,859 yards and 2,050 yards in three consecutive seasons while scoring 63 TDs. His rushing average was 5.4 yards per touch. He was a can’t-miss player for the NFL and destined for greatness.
Just not in Cleveland. During his four-year tenure he gained a grand total of 942 yards and scored a paltry 10 TDs. During training camp in 1985, he was cut. He would later admit to a cocaine addiction. He was picked up by the Los Angeles Rams whose head coach was John Robinson, White’s former college coach. In 1987 he had the breakout season everyone knew he was capable of by gaining a league high 1,374 yards, 11 TDs along with a 4.2 rushing average. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was Comeback Player of the Year.
In the end, White became a decent NFL running back. Just not in Cleveland.
#4 DE Courtney Brown (2000-2004)
On the surface, Courtney Brown appeared a lock on the defensive front. Big-10 Defensive Player of the Year, finalist for the Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award, plus was named All Big-10 and a consensus First Team All-American. He had 33 sacks in college. He was even a high school All-American. So when the Browns took him first overall in the 2000 draft, very few raised any eyebrows and assumed Cleveland got a player that would torment QBs for a decade.
And in his rookie season he was living up to the billing. He had 4.5 sacks with 69 tackles and anchored the defensive end position while starting all 16 games. But in the sixth game of his second season, he had an ankle injury and then later a right knee problem which required major surgery. He missed 11 games and ended up on IR. In 2002, after a promising start he sustained another knee injury and was again placed on IR with cartilage damage in his left knee.
The next seasons he had a torn biceps in 2003 and a left foot injury the following year in which he played in only two games his final season with the Browns. When he was released it was estimated Brown earned more than $25 million and he missed more games than he actually played.
Might should have taken LB Brian Urlacher with that first overall pick instead.
#3 QB Tim Couch (1999-2003)
QB Donovan McNabb, CB Champ Bailey, WR Torry Holt, RB Edgerrin James, DE Jevon Kearse, CB Dre Bly, WR Peerless Price, QB Daunte Culpepper, LB Joey Porter and WR Donald Driver. All of these were players taken after the Browns took Couch number one overall in the 1999 draft. Every single player on this list would become a key contributor to their club – except Couch.
To be fair, his tenure with the Browns was plagued with injuries. He also had a knack of throwing an interception at key moments in games which killed scoring opportunities.
Couch came highly-touted out of the University of Kentucky. He was a Heisman finalist, First-Team All-SEC, First-Team All American, SEC Player of the Year, plus tossed 76 TDs in three seasons with a 67% completion ratio. On the surface, he looked like a franchise QB for at least a decade.
And Couch did have that spectacular season in 2002 where the club made the playoffs with multiple dramatics and key outstanding plays. However, the following year he lost his starting position to Kelly Holcomb, captured his job back and then lost it again. Management asked him to take a pay cut from his $15.6 million contract, but he refused. He was told not to use the team’s facility and then his locker was cleared even though he was still a roster member.
In the spring of 2004 the Browns signed journeyman Jeff Garcia to be their starting signalcaller. With Couch’s salary of $7.6 million, the Browns cut ties with the 26-year old in June. His playing stats include 11,131 yards with 64 TDs with 67 INTs in 59 starts.
#2 LB Mike Junkin (1987-1988)
Junkin came to the Browns by mistake. Owning the 24th pick in the first round and in dire need of defensive backfield and offensive line help, Cleveland made a trade with San Diego swapping first and second round selections while trading away troubled LB Chip Banks. Taken with the fifth overall slot, the middle linebacker was immediately slated to become an outside backer opposite Clay Matthews, Jr. However, the Browns scouts had Junkin listed as a late second round grade. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer, a defensive mind, overruled his scouting notes and worked the trade that landed Junkin.
He was a standout middle linebacker at Duke having totaled 512 tackles during a four-year career and named Second Team All American. However, several LBs were ranked much higher such as Shane Conlan, Brian Bosworth and Johnny Holland. The point is though, he was a middle linebacker and a good one at that. In his rookie camp, he struggled to learn the new position of OLB and was regulated to special teams when he could not beat out journeyman Anthony Griggs. He would later be placed on IR.
In his second season the Browns switched to a 3-4 alignment which meant two ILB positions. He won one of the starting jobs, but became known for a player who missed tackles and would be out of position. He injured his knee a month later. When he was healthy, LB Mike Johnson had secured his place as a starter. When Schottenheimer was released before the next season and hired as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he traded a fifth-round pick for the young LB. Junkin was found guilty of taking steroids and never started a game before being released at the end of the season.
Shortly after taking Junkin, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected CB Rod Woodson while the New England Patriots selected OT Bruce Armstrong; both positions of need for the Browns.
#1 QB Johnny Manziel (2014-2015)
To say that the Browns are snake-bit with selecting quarterbacks is an understatement. Manziel had a demigod body and a knucklehead brain combo. And to rub salt in this wound QB Derek Carr was taken 14 picks later and has become an outstanding prospect.
Who could have envisioned what a travesty this selection would soon become? On the field, Manziel complied 1,675 passing yards, seven TDs, seven INTs, a 57% completion ratio coupled with a record of two wins amidst six losses. Off-the-field is where this train wreck got complicated and convoluted at best.
Some of his exploits include: took off his rookie season, spent time in an alcohol treatment center, was photographed using money for a phone and rolling a dollar bill as if he was about to consume cocaine, lied to coaches about his whereabouts during a bye week, spent the final week of the season in Las Vegas instead of with the team and then tried to conceal his appearance wearing a blonde wig to which he received the nickname “Johnny Vegas”, had an investigation started by a grand jury regarding an incident with his former girlfriend, showed up for practice drunk, among others. Since being released, his exploits include being indicted on an assault charge, charging for autographs at the Super Bowl while constantly being photographed at numerous parties while breaking his sobriety issues.
If the circus ever traveled by train and got into a train wreck, it would be called a Manziel.
Well, what about…….?
Was anyone left off this list? Many will harp off the names of players such as RB Trent Richardson or LB Craig Powell, who played only a single season. And while Richardson would certainly adorn a list of the greatest NFL busts, he was actually a decent player for the Browns. In his only season he gained 950 yards on 267 attempts and tied Jim Brown’s rookie record of scoring nine TDs. Plus, when he was traded the club got a first-round selection for him. And everyone in Powell’s draft played for the Baltimore Ravens, and not a down in Cleveland.