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The All-Time Browns Team - Ez Like Sunday Morning 7/09/17

It Would Be Epic

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Eight-Year Pro Joe Haden Is One Of Two Current Browns To Make The Team
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Recently I had the pleasure to recount Gil Brandt’s ‘Best-of-all-time’ series, with parts one & two looking at offense. Parts three & four soon shall be forthcoming, focusing on defense and Special Teams. Going through all those names of former Browns’ greats reminded me of something I had done a long time ago but which I thought was a long time in redoing: assembling an All-Time Browns’ team, considering the entire history of the franchise.

Thus, I have endeavored to do exactly that: what follows is my selections for a 53 man all-time roster, with (roughly) the same position-group composition you will see in today’s game. There are even two positions dedicated to Kick/Punt-returner and long-snapper (and you should know both of those guys). Defense is basically a 4-3 but can actually be a hybrid (both OLB’s can play EDGE).

Of course, feel free to tell me where I goofed in the comments below.

Quarterback (3)

Starter: Otto Graham (1946-1955)

IMHO, the greatest of ALL the Browns. Sure he didn’t look like modern day passers, but then nobody in the modern day has even come close to taking his team to TEN straight championships. He is the Hall of Fame and his #14 is retired.

2nd String: Brian Sipe (1974-1983)

The three QB’s selected are remarkably similar statistically. Sipe gets a slight edge here. He was the last Browns player to be named League MVP. He quarterbacked that tremendous “Kardiac Kids” team that fell just short of the Super Bowl.

3rd String: Bernie Kosar (1985-1993)

One of my all time favorites, #19 took Cleveland the three AFC championship games. He was sort of manipulated the supplemental draft process in order to come to Cleveland, the team he grew up loving.

Running Back (5)

Starting FB: Jim Brown (1957-1965)

That’s right, Brown was a fullback his entire career. He still dominated the game like no one before or since. When he retired he owned every important NFL rushing record and held them for several decades. He still holds all team records, is in the Hall of Fame, had his #32 retired, and is generally regarded as the greatest running back of all time.

Starting HB: Leroy Kelly (1964-1973)

Usually you don’t want to be the guy to follow a legend (and it couldn’t have possibly gotten more legendary than Jim Brown in the 60’s), however Leroy Kelly was a star in his own right. He’s 2nd all time in team rushing and is a hall of famer in his own right.

2nd String FB: Marion Motley (1946-1953)

One of the original Browns, the legend before Jim Brown. Also was a FB, but was also an important historical figure in league history being among four (including someone yet to come on this roster) to break the NFL’s color barrier in 1946. Motley was a BEAST, and the perfect complement to Graham’s aerial assault. He is in the Hall Of Fame.

2nd String HB: Mike Pruitt (1976-1984)

This Pruitt ranks third all time in Browns rushing. He made the Pro Bowl twice (1979 & 1980).

3rd String HB: Greg Pruitt (1973-1981)

This Pruitt came along shortly after Kelly. He ranks fourth all time in team rushing, and also contributed over 2,000 yards in the return game.

Wide Receivers (5*)

Starter 1: Paul Warfield (1964-’69, ‘76-’77)

What a tremendous WR this guy was. Also a Buckeye, who had just a terrific NFL career, mostly for us but also for a stint with Miami (including being part of the perfect ‘72 team). He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Starter 2: Dante Lavelli (1946-1956)

Played during an era when teams didn’t throw the ball very much, except the Browns did! Lavelli was one of Graham’s favorite targets, and was known as “glue fingers”. He’s still, after having not played in 60 years, 2nd in club history in catches, yards and TD’s. He’s in the Hall of fame.

Third WR: Gary Collins (1962-1971)

Played from at the tail end of the championship era, and paired with Warfield to make for a dangerous combo. He ranks 4th in club history in receptions, 5th in yards but 1st (by plenty) in touchdowns (70).

Fourth WR: Mac Speedie (1946-1952)

This guy might should be ahead of Collins, or maybe even Lavelli. He was just hellaciously good for us during an era when teams barely passed the ball. He was also big (6’3) and reliable. Scored the 1st Touchdown in team history (9/6/46)

Fifth WR: Ray Renfro (1952-1963)

You’d think there would be more representatives from the modern (more pass-happy) era, but again this guy absolutely deserves to be on the list. Fourth in team yards and TD’s, and averaged an astonishing 19.6 yards per reception in his career.

Tight Ends (3)

Starter: Ozzie Newsome (1978-1990)

Browns all-time leader in receptions and yards. All pro player once and pro bowl player three times. Member of the pro football hall of fame.

2nd String: Milt Morin (1966-1975)

Prior to Ozzie this guy was the best TE in club history by a lot. Probably a better blocker than Newsome as well, he was a steady complement to the other offensive skill-players the Browns had during his time.

3rd String: Steve Heiden (2002-2009)

This one might be controversial, as I had to think pretty hard between he and Kellen Winslow Jr. While K2 had a better career statistically, that was concentrated mostly over a few seasons. Heiden’s career numbers are comparable, but he did so over a longer period of time. To my mind, he was a more valuable player, so he gets the nod.

Offensive Line (9)

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
What an awesome uniform
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Starting Left Tackle: Joe Thomas (2007-present)

What else is there to say about Joe Thomas? A pro bowler EVERY year of his incredible career. A first team all pro SIX times. He is on his way to stamping himself as the GOAT, will no doubt be a first-ballot Hall of famer and is right there as one of my favorite players ever. Oh and as I always love to point out - longest standing member of the entire organization; owners/front-office/coaches/players. He’s been here longer than all of them.

Starting Left Guard: Jim Ray Smith (1956-1962)

It took some serious deliberation to land on this one but he definitely earned it as one off Jim Brown’s henchmen during the heyday. He was 1st team all-pro three times for us and a five-time pro-bowler.

Starting Center: Frank “Gunner” Gatski (1946-1956)

Never missed a game or practice at any level of football throughout a glorious career. One of the original Browns who actually won more titles any any of the rest as he chipped in an 8th during his final season with Detroit. Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Starting Right Guard: Gene Hickerson (1958-1973)

This one’s pretty obvious; Hickerson is usually the first lineman you think of during the Jim Brown years. #66 was a fixture, being named first time all-pro 3 times to go along with six pro bowls. He’s a hall of famer.

Starting Right Tackle: Mike McCormack (1954-1962)

Another tremendous tackle, McCormack got to block for both Graham and Brown. Five-time pro-bowler and member of the pro-football hall of fame.

Backup Left Tackle: Lou Groza (1946-1967)

There’s just no way Groza doesn’t make the time, especially being the all time leading scorer, but he legitimately belongs on this team as a left tackle. In fact he deserves his status in the hall of fame on the basis of the tackle position alone, but solidifies himself as true legend given that he was also the team’s kicker for their first 20 years.

Backup Center: Alex Mack (2009-2015)

Yeah I realize he’s gone now but he still spend the majority of his career playing a very, very good center for us. Three time pro bowler and one of the best draft picks of the new era.

Backup Guard: Abe Gibron (1950-1956)

This is where the deep study pays off. Few know anything about this guy, but he joined Cleveland as they came into the NFL, and was selected to the pro bowl 4 times, being a part of three championship teams.

Backup Right Tackle: Dick Schafrath (1959-1971)

Realistically this guy would be the starting LT were it not for the incredible talent ahead of him. He simply cannot be left off this team though, having been selected all pro four times and to the pro bowl seven times over his thirteen seasons.

Defensive End (3)

Starting RE: Len Ford (1950-1957)

Unfortunately the #1 metric for evaluating the super important position of EDGE (sacks), is not one that was tracked during the days of Len Ford. Still, he was a force during the Browns’ 50’s glory, and is in the hall of fame.

Starting LE: Bill Glass (1962-1968)

Same story as Ford, and little known if you weren’t around during his time, but he was trouble. Four time pro bowler during his time playing for Cleveland.

Backup DE: Carl Hairston (1984-1989)

By the time “Big Daddy” came around they were starting to keep track of sacks, and he finished with 37.5. Not too shabby, and he was also a crowd favorite.

Defensive Tackle (4)

This man was TOUGH

Starting DT: Michael Dean Perry (1988-1994)

Ok, so maybe I am allowing my own experiences to color my rankings, but MDP was a stud back towards the end of the 80’s run and into the 90’s. A staple on the DL, Perry was an all pro twice as well as being a five-time pro bowler.

Starting DT: Jerry Sherk (1970-1981)

While not official, Sherk held the team sack record up until 1992. Played during a tough time for Cleveland, but was a nasty cog in the center of the line. All Pro in 1976 as well as being a four time pro bowler

Backup DT: Bill Wills (1946-1953)

I almost feel like Willis, the Hall of Famer of this group, is being disrespected, but it’s hard to put him above Sherk or Perry. Alas, three all-pros and three pro-bowls for the man who came into the league with Motley and helped to break the NFL color barrier in 1946.

Backup DT: Walter Johnson (1965-1976)

Another relatively unknown but solid player for Cleveland, Johnson was selected to three pro bowls in the late 60’s. He has a 78 career AV, kind of an odd metric, but one that shows he was pretty productive for a lot of years.

Linebackers (7)

Starting OLB: Clay Matthews (1978-1993)

Right there as one of my all time favorite Browns. Official team leader in sacks with 62. Four time pro bowler. Not in the Hall of fame, but should be.

Starting MLB: Mike Johnson (1986-1993)

I loved watching this guy but for not small amount because he was a holy terror in Tecmo Bowl. In real life, he was a very steady, good Middle linebacker for us. Two pro bowls.

Starting OLB: Chip Banks (1982-1986)

I’m taking the liberty of claiming Banks for Cleveland, as he played more for us than he did the Colts (‘89-’92) but he was a terror on the EDGE in his early years. All pro in ‘83 as well as being a 4 time pro bowler.

Backup OLB: Jim Houston (1960-1972)

One of these guys that doesn’t get much recognition when looking at great Browns’ history, but was a really good player for us during an extremely tough period of NFL play. Part of the ‘64 title team, he made the pro bowl four times.

Backup ILB: Vince Costello (1957-1966)

Again, this is where the intense study pays off. Costello didn’t many accolaides, but started for good defenses during the late 50’s up through the mid-60’s.

Backup OLB: Walt Michaels (1952-1961)

Here’s another great old defensive Brown who you’ve probably never heard of. He played during some tremendous Browns football, and made the pro bowl five times.

Backup ILB: Dick Ambrose (1975-1983)

Again no major awards but a good player during some forgotten years.

Secondary (9)

E-Rock, my all time favorite

Starting Cornerback: Hanford Dixon (1981-1989)

The “Top Dawg” is such a key figure in Browns’ lore, as he essentially created the Dawg Pound. He was also an all pro twice and named to the pro bowl three times.

Starting Cornerback: Frank Minnifield (1984-1992)

Who else could you pair with Dixon but his partner-in-QB-crime during the 80’s? Mighty-Minny was great, and though small was shifty, and sticky to receivers. All pro in ‘88 as well as being a four-time pro-bowler.

Starting Free Safety: Thom Darden (1972-1981)

As much enthusiasm as I have for the gentleman pictured above, Darden was the best safety in Browns’ history, period. He still holds the club record with 45 interceptions. Pro Bowler in 1978.

Starting Strong Safety: Warren Lahr (1949-1959)

Ok so I might be taking some liberties with the positional assignments as we get towards the end, but Lahr absolutely deserves to be here. He’s right behind Darden with 44 Int’s, and made the pro bowl in 1953.

Third Cornerback: Joe Haden (2010-present)

Haden has had an up and down last three years or so, but overall has had a very nice career in Cleveland. There have been moments where he has been excellent. He’s been a two-time pro bowler.

Backup Free Safety: Eric Turner (1991-1995)

I don’t mind this possibly being another selection I’m allowing my fandom to color. Turner is my all time favorite player (although Joe Thomas is inching up the mountain every year). He was all pro and pro-bowl selection in 1994.

Backup Cornerback: Clarence Scott (1971-1983)

Little-remembered good Cornerback from the 70’s, Scott remains third in club history with 39 interceptions. He was a pro bowler in 1973.

Backup Safety: Ken Konz (1953-1959)

Again, maybe some liberty taken with positional assignment, but this guy was a another good player for us WAY back in the day. Thirty career int’s, was named to the Pro Bowl in 1955.

Backup Defensiveback: Bernie Parrish (1959-1965)

Played during the twilight of the championship years. Twenty-nine career interceptions, two-time pro bowler.

The Specialists (4)

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Kicker: Phil Dawson (1999-2012)

Groza may have more points but only because Dawson left. He’s our best kicker, no doubt, and really our best player for much of the 00’s. Pro Bowler in 2012.

Punter: Don Cockroft (1968-1980)

Really, he’s kind of a backup kicker, but he also did enough kicking to easily get the nod (over 26,000 punting yards). This team is really set at kicker depth with Groza as well.

Long Snapper: Ryan Pontbriand (2003-2011)

Scoff all you want, this guy was a 2 time pro bowler. Also probably has the distinction of being Butch Davis’ best draft pick.

Kick & Punt Returner: Joshua Cribbs (2005-2012)

There was simply no way to make an all-time Browns team without including Cribbs. He’s right there with Joe, E-Rock, Clay, and Eric Metcalf (who didn’t quite make the team) as my top five favorite Browns. He was a three time pro bowler and an all pro in 2009, the year he broke the all time record for kickoff return TD’s. He’s also the reason there is an asterisk (*) by the ‘Wide Receiver’ group, because he would be the 6th in this scenario. He did catch over a hundred passes throughout his time in Cleveland.

Head Coach: Paul Brown

Absolutely, no doubt about this one. A career record of 214-158 (.767) and 7 championships. Supreme innovator, to the point of being a pioneer for the NFL. He coached the Browns from their inception in 1946 until he was (stupidly) fired by Art Modell after the 1962 season. He is the man after whom the team is named (despite the contrary legend about Joe Louis’ boxing trunks).

So there you have it, my friends. By all means tell me where I’m wrong and why in the comments’ section, but I feel like this is pretty close. Happy Sunday.