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On Drafts, Quarterbacks, and other assorted Cleveland-ness

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

I woke up, got cleaned up, and donned my favorite Homage Cavaliers’ championship t-shirt with “EARNED” stamped across the chest. I go about my Sunday morning routine: coffee, eggs, watch Manchester City suck, etc., and around noon, realize I’m a day early to the party, Cavs play Monday. I quickly scrap the Cavs gear, in its place, Tribe gear, obviously. In my weekend-of-Cleveland-excitement, I’d jumped the gun a day. I was fully ready to root on the Cavs on the heels of the Tribe starting to find their stride, and the Browns having arguably their best draft since the return.

(The Indians went on to win big Sunday, by the way. You’re welcome for the change, Tribe fans.)

The aforementioned “best draft since the return” captivated me this past weekend. I just couldn’t turn away from the coverage, regardless of what I was doing. My mother was visiting Lexington for the first time in almost two years, yet, I had to keep one eye towards the Draft. Some people may not agree that the Browns had a great draft, however most talking heads have agreed they did quite well. I personally believe the Browns knocked it out of the park, and while I don’t believe in Draft Grades a mere hours after the Draft, it is nice to see the Browns getting at least favorable reviews for a change. I won’t “grade” their effort, but I will say I came away refreshed, and quite honestly, relieved.

This isn’t to say that I am not captivated every year, hell, we’re all Browns fans, this IS our Super Bowl. It is just that this year felt differently. Despite all the noise around Mitch(ell) Trubisky going #1, in my eyes it all really did look like smoke from the get-go. Adam Schefter even got in on the fun leading up to the draft, video here.

I continue to hear that Mitchell Trubisky is square in consideration and may turn out to be the No. 1 pick. Now I know everyone thinks Myles Garrett’s going to be the pick, and I will not be surprised if that’s the case [Thursday] night. But I have got very smart, very well-connected people telling me over the last 24 hours that they think Trubisky’s going to be the No. 1 pick. We’ll see.

Schefty usually ain’t wrong, and I’ll freely admit seeing and hearing that did give me pause leading up to the Draft. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, “They can’t really screw this one up, can they?”

But, it’s the Browns, so that question’s answer is unfortunately usually followed by, “Yes.”

Much to the chagrin of the national media who stalk every opportunity to blast the Browns, they didn’t screw this one up. They made the right choice selecting Myles Garrett number one overall. Who knows if Garrett will be the first-ballot HOF’er my brother claims he already is, but we can at least take solace in the fact that the Browns made the right decision at this time.

Garrett should have been an easy pick, and by all accounts the noise connecting Trubisky and the Browns, was just that, noise. It never fully amounted to anything. Was all that smoke leading up to the Draft stoked by the Browns front office? Was that San Francisco attempting to drive the price up for #2? It’s hard to tell, but I believe it is a little bit of both. At first I think the Browns maybe tried to push some of that info out to connect themselves to Trubisky in an attempt to get someone to bite for #1, perhaps the aforementioned San Francisco. But I don’t think the 49ers were ever entirely sold on him, and thus coaxed Chicago to move up a spot to take him.

Regardless who was the flame-master, the Browns stayed the course and came away with the most talented player in the class. It’s easy to see why the Browns drafted Garrett #1, and the more I see and read about him, the more I believe this will be a homerun pick.

Early last week Peter King published a great article on MMQB regarding the Browns and the #1 pick. See here for the link, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t already given it a read. In the piece he has a quote from NFL Network’s Mike Mayock:

In the building, I think there’s got to be a conversation about the quarterback situation. The only way you don’t run Myles Garrett up there in minute number one [of the draft] is if the entire building is uniform and says there’s a quarterback in this draft that, A, we think is a franchise QB; B, he will be the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns for the next eight to 10 years; and C, we will win a lot of football games with him.

If you believe all of that, then take him at one. But my feeling is, that QB isn’t in this draft. So it’s got to be Myles Garrett.”

King goes on to point out that while he agrees with Mayock, he does believe there is one caveat. That being, there “might” be a franchise QB in this class. That is fair, but I suppose you could make that argument about a lot drafts. What was clear is that the Browns did not unilaterally believe Trubisky to be what Mayock describes as their QB “for the next eight to 10 years,” as such, he wasn’t the pick.

Obviously the Browns went with Garrett, thus showing they believe he is either, A, the ‘safer’ pick, or B, that Trubisky really wasn’t worth the #1 moniker. Cleveland would again show their true feelings towards this year’s QB class just 11 picks later. Faced with the opportunity to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson at #12, the Browns opted to punt on the big-3 quarterbacks of the class. There’s been some mixed reporting how interested the Browns were in Patrick Mahomes, but it’s clear that Kansas City was more aggressive in their interest, trading up to take him at #10, thus giving the Browns the path to drop down from #12, moving on from the trio of Trubisky, Mahomes, and Watson.

That brings us to the Browns current QB situation. By now you obviously know the Browns went ahead and took Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer with the 52nd pick. I had this year’s class ranked on my board:

  1. Pat Mahomes
  2. Mitchell Trubisky
  3. Deshaun Watson
  4. DeShone Kizer

And it wasn’t really that close to me. Each quarterback brings some unique pieces to the QB-puzzle, but none of them are by any means a finished puzzle. I know our great friend Mike Krupka believes Mahomes to be the QB with the highest upside, and 100% agree. I, like him, was genuinely bummed to see KC go get him, and us stuck at #12 watching from the sidelines.

It sucks, but I also believe the Browns did the right thing given their situation. Regardless of how interested in Mahomes head coach Hue Jackson may or may not have been, once he was off the board at #10, the Browns had the option of taking Watson, or acquiring more draft picks to further build the team. I think GM Sashi Brown put it perfectly, again, to MMQB, speaking about not blowing up the picks they’d worked to acquire.

“That’s probably fair. There are a couple things there. One, our roster, in our view, demands some attention. So we don’t really have the luxury to bundle a whole bunch of picks to go get a guy, or pass up on the opportunity to acquire a bunch of picks. The second thing, we don’t necessarily want to force it.”

I completely agree with that statement. Sashi obviously can’t say this, but saying the roster “demands some attention,” is obviously the understatement of the year. But, he’s thinking how we’ve wanted a Browns front office to think for years. There’s bigger holes on this team than Brandon Weeden could ever dream of filling.

It isn’t even that I like Kizer as a prospect, I quite frankly am rather bearish on him. But it’s the overarching idea behind the pick that I love. Instead of forcing a QB that may or may not be a great pick in the first round, they took a QB that may or may not be a great pick, in the second round.

This gives the Browns the added cloak of invisibility. Sure, Kizer will still get droves of attention, and there’ll be people saying he should start day one (spoiler: he shouldn’t). But he shouldn’t be under the same microscope that the first round guys will be under. I will say there’s one caveat to this and that is this class is a bit unique in that the three first round quarterbacks did go to situations that they should be able to sit for at least a year to develop behind established guys already on-roster, with the notable exception being Deshaun Watson in Houston. Trubisky gets the benefit of the doubt with the contract that the Bears gave Mike Glennon, while Pat Mahomes got the best situation of the three, getting to sit behind Alex Smith.

Kizer gets to come to Cleveland a little under-the-rader as a second round pick, and fight for the starting role against second-year signal caller Cody Kessler. Who knows what the hell will happen with Brock Osweiler. I don’t think the Browns will cut him just yet, instead opting to go to camp with Kessler, Kizer, Osweiler and Kevin Hogan. Some team may have a QB go down in camp or preseason and the Browns may be lucky enough for them to come crawling for Osweiler. It’s unlikely, but it could happen. Otherwise, I think it’s Kessler and Kizer for 2017, with Osweiler likely to be cut if the Browns can’t unload him. Which is just fine for me this year. I don’t know what either one’s ceiling truly is, nor do the Browns, for that matter.

What is known, at least on paper, is that the Browns offensive line should be drastically improved from a year ago. With the addition of TE David Njoku in the first round this year, that should give whoever is under center a much needed weapon. Cleveland ranked 30th in offensive yards, and 31st in scoring last year. So it shouldn’t be hard for the Browns to improve offensively. With the additions made, and the minimal subtractions, the offense should be trending upwards.

I thought Kessler played fine last season, especially for a rookie that really had no business starting. He was thrust into a tough situation, and played quite alright, all things considered. With the improvements along the offensive line, I think he should be even better this year. If I had to guess, and hope, I would say he goes into camp as QB1, and barring any injuries, be able to hold that spot down for the rook to be able to learn and develop behind him.

The Draft is one of my favorite sporting events of the year. It is borderline insane how much attention it gets. But, I just can’t help myself. It is just too damn fun not to get wrapped up in every pick. The Browns’ 2016 draft class is still up in the air, given that it has only been a year. Of the 14 selections, only one is no longer on the roster - Scooby Wright was signed off the practice squad by Arizona. There’s still a lot of pieces to like from last year’s class. A few of the guys battled injuries last year, and we should be well-positioned this year to see what they have to offer on a larger scale.

I’ve already begun professing my love for this class earlier, but I can't reiterate how much I enjoyed what the Browns did this year. You look at what Sashi Brown has done in two seasons at the helm: 14 picks in 2016, 10 selections in 2017. Those numbers don't even account for the 12 selections already slated for 2018. I wasn't a math major in college, but that should be good for 36 draft selections in his first three seasons, assuming Sashi makes it to next year in charge (obviously no guarantee there).

A lot can be said about the tactics involved here, and all these selections are great, but you have to hit on them for it to be worth a damn. The thing that works in Sashi’s favor is that the more they pick, the more likely they are for at least some to hit. So while it's easy to sit back and say they need to pick better players, at least they're playing the odds. This is why I like what the front office has done. I mentioned it earlier in what Sashi himself said the Browns “didn't want to force it.” I think that's a perfect reflection on how many Cleveland fans have wanted a front office to think for some time. Instead of maneuvering the draft, only to force picks, why not maneuver throughout the draft while letting the draft come to them? And that is exactly what the Browns did this weekend.

I am an eternal Browns optimist, for better or for worse. Every year I get up for the Draft, only to have my dreams crushed by week 3. It probably sounds tiresome to most when I say this time feels different. They all have felt different, in their own ways. This regime’s version of the rebuild, the same rebuild that each regime before them has tried to perfect, actually feels like it has a vision. A vision that not only is tangible, but being executed in real time. The Browns have a plan, and they're putting it work.

Going 1-15 in Hue’s first season was in no way at what he envisioned, I'm sure. He's a confident man that expects more from those around him, and himself. I believe he'll take solace in knowing that help is on the way. Who knows if Myles Garrett will be as great as advertised? Who knows if DeShone Kizer will live up to the potential? Who knows what position Jabrill Peppers will play? Like any draft class, there's more questions than answers. But what is clear, is that the front office is doing its best to try to answer as many questions ahead of time as they can. Before it felt like we were flying down a dark, foggy highway with one headlight. Whereas now there's still fog, but the highbeams are flipped on and we're plowing through. Hope springs eternal this time of year, and this Draft is no different.

Hope is a funny thing in Cleveland. If there's any city that has seen the dark side of hope, it is Cleveland.

Every season is met with new and unbridled optimism, regardless of sport. Years from now we very well may look back at 2016 as the year that optimism paid off. We already saw it come full circle in June last year. The Block, then Kyrie’s Shot.

October was a close miss, but Rajai gave us all reason to still believe, no matter the obstacle ahead. Cleveland turned the page last year. The Cavs and Indians had success of unmatched proportions last year. While the Browns were on the opposite side of that coin.

Hidden beneath all that losing for the Browns was the fact that they were a young team, trying desperately to build something. Sashi Brown’s first draft class didn't put the wins on the board like their neighboring baseball and basketball teams did last year. And that's okay. 2017 will hopefully be as fun as last year in the grand scheme of Cleveland sports. My cardiologist probably would prefer less stressful playoff series for the clubs, but I'll manage.

The odds the Browns make the playoffs this fall are minimal. According to Vegas the Browns are a cool 300/1 to win the Super Bowl. Get in while the gettin’s good, kids. So while the Cavs are continuing their title defense as we speak, and the Indians look to build upon their World Series run, the Browns will be looking to build something from nothing.

And that's exactly why weekends like the 2017 Draft are so important. Signing some good offensive line pieces, and friggin Kenny Britt, isn't going to get Cleveland all that far. Stacking successful drafts on top of each other is the key to building a sustainable football team. 2016 was a good starting draft, and 2017 appears to have built upon the initial success. It's up to Hue and Co. now to continue to develop the talent drafted and for the rest of the front office to continue supplying quality players.

The latter part of that statement becomes a little easier when you consider the return the Browns already have gotten for next year’s draft class. The Browns are far from done rebuilding, which is a statement uttered far too often, but having five selections in next year’s first two rounds should certainly go a long way in providing additional bulk to build.

Chris did a great job yesterday of highlighting a very insightful inside look at the Browns’ draft from Mike Silver, link here.

There’s a great quote in there regarding not being QB-dependent, “part of Hue Jackson's plan in 2017 involves forging an atmosphere in which the Browns are not so quarterback-dependent, at least in the short term.”

To hear a Cleveland Browns head coach has a plan, specifically at quarterback, in and of itself is refreshing, but to see it also being carried out by the general manager is borderline unfathomable. The Browns have started building a team, which at this juncture may or may not have its QBOTF. Again, that’s okay.

We, as Browns fans, are perennially scouting the next year’s QB class. Hell, I’m sure some of you already have your sights set on Sam Darnold for next year. While I’m on the subject, Josh Allen is the best QB next year, for the record. Anyways, I digress. The nice thing about how the Browns have positioned themselves is that they don’t have to force a QB right now.

In the Silver piece he talks about how Hue was sold on Garrett, rightfully so, and that the rest of the front office were “intrigued by Mitchell Trubisky.” Of course they should have been intrigued. If the Browns genuinely thought that he was a surefire franchise QB, then they should have taken him #1. Obviously they didn’t feel that was the case, and that’s where the patience of this front office shows. I personally didn’t think Trubisky was worthy of being drafted #1, or even #2 for that matter. To see Sashi, Hue, and the rest of the team stay the course is a welcomed change.

As we move towards the summer months of endless OTA and training camp chatter, I will continue to be excited about where this team stands. Do I think they’ll contend for the AFC North this fall? Hell no. But, I do believe the team is headed in the right direction, which is all the more reason to be excited.

Rookie mini-camps will be in the next couple weeks, and soon enough OTA news will be rolling in. Assuming the Cavs continue on, we still have a month+ of the NBA Playoffs, plus 137 more Tribe games. So we’ll have a heavy dose of Cleveland to look forward to this Summer.

It’s an exciting time to be a Cleveland fan. Whether you’re here just for the Browns, or if you have the crossover fandoms like so many of us do, the excitement in Cleveland is infectious. The sports teams in this town reached heights not seen in decades last year. Maybe 1-15 was karma for the other teams’ successes.

Honestly, it’ll be hard for the Cavaliers and Indians to top last year. It was just so special. The complete inverse is true for the Browns, though. Beating 1 win shouldn’t be that hard, but... ya never know. And that’s why we watch it all.

I’ll continue to try and get my dates straightened out for when the Cavs and Tribe play next, so I can plan my t-shirt accordingly. But I’ll be damn sure to mix in Browns gear along the way, for better days are near.