clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cleveland Browns Quarterback Quandary - Ez Like Sunday Morning 7/30/17

The Picture Isn’t Much Clearer After Week 1 of Training Camp

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Minicamp
Every once in a while DeShone Kizer shows off his fencing prowess. Brock Osweiler & Cody Kessler pretend not to be impressed
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

As with every year, the BIG question - indeed the one to which the answer ultimately determines (more than any other) our success or failure this (and every year): who will start at Quarterback? Last year, the question was between Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown and Cody Kessler. The year before that it was between McCown and Johnny Manziel. The year before that it was between Manziel and Brian Hoyer. The year before that it was between Hoyer, Brandon Weeden & Jason Campbell.

I could keep going all the way back to 2008, the last time we went into a season with no question about who the starter would be. That was the year after Derek Anderson went to the Pro Bowl after leading the Browns to a 10-6 record. Even in his situation, Brady Quinn was hovering in the background ‘just in case’. Of course, ‘just in case’ turned out to be halfway through a lost ‘08, but unfortunately he wouldn’t be the answer either. The following year it was Brady vs. D.A. The year after that it was Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace & Colt McCoy...

Point is, it seems we do this every year, and this year is no different. It does feel different in many ways, but then again even that isn’t different - we always feel irrationally optimistic this time of year. Alas, whether it’s because we always get this part of it wrong or the players involved aren’t quality-enough to begin with, the bottom line is we just haven’t gotten anywhere close to solidifying the most important position in sports, and really the only one that matters in terms of winning in the NFL.


NFL: Cleveland Browns-Training Camp
Cody Kessler & DeShone Kizer represent young, viable options for the vaunted QBOTF designation
Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

This year, there are three (3) credible options for job, and while the scales are not exactly weighted evenly in terms of each candidate’s respective chances of getting the nod, none are disqualified at this juncture either. Generally speaking, the order to this point has been Cody Kessler with the ones, Brock Osweiler with the 2nd team and DeShone Kizer third. Although, Kizer has reportedly alternated in with the 1st team at times (just as in June mini-camp) and Osweiler has likewise worked with some 1st-teamers.

Presumably, if the season started tomorrow Kessler would figure to be the guy. He’s been, pretty consistently, the assumptive starter. Osweiler figures to be the backup as he’s the most experienced and really tall. The rookie Kizer has been generally assumed to need time before going up against big-league competition, which I guess could/should be assumed for any rookie. However, it’s not always necessary to do so, as we see every year. It just kind of depends on the player(s) involved.

Cody Kessler

He wasn’t terrible as a rookie

Coming off a very disappointing 3-13 campaign in 2015 which was punctuated by the unfortunate Johnny Manziel portion of the history book, fans were anxious for the Browns to address the QB position and reverse the ailing fortunes of a perennially struggling franchise. This would seem to have been a certainty given that we had the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft. That is of course until we traded it to the Philadelphia Eagles for a ransom that would turn out to be the wellspring of our the current roster composition. Another trade on draft night produced a further bounty of picks, which has since been added onto with the many moves made in 2017. Although none of the 1st rounders acquired have been used on a QB.

To be sure, with the exception of Jared Goff, there has been no QB’s in the last two drafts the Browns couldn’t have had. They instead chose the approach of acquiring a gozillion extra future picks - a strategy with which I am in full support. Still, if you count Emmanuel Ogbah (technically a 2nd, but picked with #32 overall because of the Patsies’ lost Deflategate pick), we’ve drafted a whopping FIVE players in the first round over the last two seasons, but none have been QB’s.

At the end of the third round in 2016, we selected Cody Kessler from USC. Right away people were outraged. With several other QB’s still on the board, this pick was a surprise. Coach Hue Jackson immediately attempted to reassure a head-scratching fanbase and media by saying “You have to trust me on this one”, presumably because he knew something other people didn’t about the apparently weaker-armed, short(ish) signal-caller out of South California.

While the college tape wasn’t particularly inspiring, it did suggest the kid is pretty accurate. That ultimately shown through during a tough rookie season in which he started eight games (losing all eight). All in all, the 1st-year performance didn’t especially endear him to fans looking (once again) to an offseason in 2017 for an answer to the only question that matters. However, the performance was enough for coach Jackson to continue to give him a hard look before moving on.

Thus far this has held true, but it hasn’t been exclusive. All the QB’s are getting looks, but no one as yet has done anything to move Kessler out of the #1 spot in the rotation. At the same time, it hasn’t been so nailed down to the point Jackson is willing to commit to his 2nd year QB in a definitive way. If he has already settled on Kessler as the starter, he’s still making him work for it.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that Kessler can improve from his (IMO) mostly positive rookie season. While his arm doesn’t impress, his accuracy mostly does. Given the two, I’d MUCH rather go with the accurate guy as opposed to the big-armed guy - though we’d all love to have both.

If he does improve, there’s much to be excited about. At the same time, one has to consider the injuries suffered during this rookie year that kept him both from finishing a lot of those games he started but also from starting more of them. The concussions especially are a concern moving forward, and why while I’m very optimistic about his overall talent, I have some misgivings about committing to him from the jump. He might be pretty good, or he might absorb all the (precious) 1st team reps through the offseason only to spend much of the year not playing due to injury. It’s something which has to be factored in.

Brock Osweiler

This gif is grainy, as was a great deal of Lobster’s play in 2016

When Cleveland acquired Brock Osweiler from Houston, Sashi Browns initial reaction was such that people just kind of assumed he was an afterthought with respect to Cleveland’s 2017 QB situation. It’s understandable as to why; Osweiler’s play was, to be fair, so bad last year that he was benched even after having quarterbacked the Texans to within playoff contention.

When his replacement Tom Savage was injured after taking over for him, he was inserted back into the starting lineup in time for the playoffs. He did lead Houston to a victory over the Derek Carr-less Oakland Raiders in the first round, but got no further as the season ended a week later in New England.

That Houston would trade him just one year after signing him to a large contract is embarrassing for them, but not nearly as much as was the compensation: a 2nd, Osweiler, and a (high) 6th, for a Browns 4th round comp pick. It was just absurd - so much so that some of the old guard got all kinds of bent out of shape over the strategy. Too bad so sad; buying a second round pick is something you can afford to do when you start the first day of free agency with over 100 million in space.

However that was to be that, there was no way Osweiler was ever going to be in serious consideration to actually win the starting job, right? Well, to this point that’s never been specifically ruled out. In fact it’s been specifically not ruled out.

In many ways, Osweiler is everything Kessler isn’t. He’s super tall, and big (240 lbs/109kg) and with a plenty ample arm. Physically, he absolutely fits the mold of the type of QB many people reason is necessary to be successful in the vaunted AFC North. The veracity of that summation notwithstanding there’s no doubt Brock looks the part right now.

Of course, he also varies from Kessler in the sense that he’s not as accurate. While certainly completion % isn’t an exact indicator, it’s what we have and along with the eye test suggesting that Oz may have real and unfixable problems doing the things you need to do in order to be good in the NFL: make good, quick decisions (predominantly from the pocket) and sharp, accurate throws.

Then again, there’s some reason to suggest that it may not have been entirely all on him during a somewhat tumultuous tenure in Houston. After all, he had to do something in order to garner that big salary in the first place. A look at his time in Denver, where he once was considered to be Peyton Manning’s heir-apparent (after John Elway spent a very high draft pick on him) shows some competency in a different system.

This suggests that perhaps a difference of scenery yet again can help Coach Jackson accentuate Osweiler’s positives while also masking some of his deficiencies. The big question is whether it’s worth investing too much time if it appears the “real” Brock Lobster is the Denver-prospect or the Houston-starter. As of now, he still has a shot to prove himself one way or the other.

DeShone Kizer

All the talent in the world, but is that enough?

As last year, the Browns used a non-1st round draft pick on a QB, suggesting a pattern. At number fifty-two we selected DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame. Many believed he’d be drafted much higher prior to the 2016 season, which is why you need to play the games. Still, he was regularly included in the “top 4” of QB’s available in 2017, the other three all going in the top 12.

The precipitous fall of course had to do with the lackluster performance in his final college season. The Irish finished with a losing record after a (typically overrated) preseason ranking. Kizer’s struggles aligned with the same, although with football being a team sport, and each team being a reflection of it’s leader(s), one must also consider head coach Brian Kelly’s role both in his team and starting quarterback’s failings in 2016.

Either way, Kizer’s obvious talent was enough to draft him as (relatively) high as we did and has furthered to his being in consideration for the starting role even as early as now.

While not as freakishly tall, he’s got similar desirable physical traits as Osweiler. Not just tall but big (233lbs/105kg) he too fits the physical profile people seem to prefer when scouting the guy we hope to be the franchise savior. As it happens, Kizepplin (as I affectionately refer to him) had more of that going on for him than any of the other QB’s in serious consideration on draft day.

Again though, his disappointing senior season leaves huge questions as whether he can put it together at the next level. Those prospects would seem especially dubious for his being able to put it together as a rookie. Nevertheless, he hasn’t been ruled out completely, and has seen some time with the first time over the first few days of camp. Especially with a commitment to running the ball on a more regular basis, perhaps Hue can improve on what Kelly couldn’t.

Thus far, the QB’s are all getting their time to audition, but soon a depth chart will need to be set and a starter at the position/leader of the team assigned. As always, that decision shapes the success of the team, so which way are we likely to go?

I think at this point (and have most of the offseason) that Kessler will be the starter opening day. The optimist in me compares him to a 3rd round draft pick of the 49ers from thirty years ago who wasn’t known for big arm strength but instead mastered a pro system with touch accuracy and phenomenal “clutch” ability.

The realist in me sees a situation where it’s possible he could improve and look pretty good as our starter - in fact were he to start every game I think we’d be a contending team. Alas, he likely will get injured, as he did so often in his rookie year. He’s got other problems with his game which I believe are fixable, but not if he’s not on the field working on them. So while I like Cod, and would love to see him get a shot, I personally would pass on this option.

For Osweiler, you’ve got the specter of a veteran who achieved some early success, but then hit a rough patch, and was traded away as an assumed lost cause. To varying (and wildly divergent) degrees, you can compare this to the 49ers trading away Joe Montana & and Alex Smith to the Chiefs. While admittedly neither of those situations is comparable to this one (and there aren’t that many that are) these are two examples when a vet QB was traded to a team (happens to be the same team) and it worked out pretty well for them - though not well enough to hoist a Lombardi.

The most optimistic optimist in me can see, faintly, a scenario where Brock Lobster takes control of the position, and aided by a strong running game, improved defense and pared-down offensive scheme (under the tutelage of Jackson) that we win some games this year. That was essentially what happened in Houston last year, and it really is not for nothing that to date: Oz is the only one on the roster that has won any games in the NFL.

The realist in me sees much of his problems being unfixable, and us probably being unsuccessful with him at the helm. I mean, there’s a very good reason why the Texans were willing to give away a second-round draft pick to offload his contract, a pretty definitive gesture.

That leaves Kizer, who so far appears to be on something of a promising trajectory. While either Kessler or Osweiler’s comparisons are worthy or not, Kizer’s to that of Russell Wilson is much more so in my view. A rookie who wasn’t expected to do it, but surprised people with how quickly he grasped the offense, and leapfrogged more experienced players they had brought in to nail down the job. There is still time for this story to unfold in that fashion.

Of course, Seattle helped him tremendously with a powerful running game and a very good defense. We may or may not have good versions of either or both of those two, but this approach is one that I would favor above all others. I have, as I’m sure you do, misgivings about all of these candidates. The difference with Kizer is that I think the lump of clay in question is less injury prone and more capable of a surprise in comprehension given the, ahem, antics of his collegiate head coach.

Perhaps that comes across as excuse making, but the kid isn’t dumb. You listen to him speak and you can detect a brain there, one that contains both charisma and love/knowledge/understanding of the game. He’s got the physical traits; if there’s some work ethic rolled in then we may have something.

This would be my preference, as things stand now. Even though Kessler has earned the chance to prove himself, the world is unfair and I’d rather see what the high-ceiling’d (IMO) Kizer can do with a great OL, contract year Crowell and an improved defense. Even if we fail, we probably win by getting the kid reps, though as happened with Wilson, maybe he won’t fail.

Time will certainly tell, but this QB competition unlike previous years has a sense of real openness to it which suggests any of these three may end up on top. Which would you prefer?


Which QB Do You WANT To See Starting On Opening Day?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Cody Kessler
    (499 votes)
  • 20%
    Brock Osweiler
    (195 votes)
  • 26%
    DeShone Kizer
    (255 votes)
949 votes total Vote Now