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The best player to wear No. 15 in Browns history

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Quarterback Mike Phipps never lived up to his draft status, but was still the best of a weak group of candidates.

Cleveland Browns - 1970’s Team File Photos

The Cleveland Browns were nearing the end of their dynasty years when owner Art Modell decided to take a gamble in the 1970 NFL Draft.

Even though they had made the playoffs in 1969, quarterback Bill Nelsen’s knees were deteriorating, meaning his days were numbered as an NFL quarterback.

Sensing that he needed to do something, Modell decided the best course of action was to trade wide receiver Paul Warfield — one of the team’s best playmakers — to the Miami Dolphins for the No. 3 overall selection in 1970. Once that was accomplished, the Browns used the pick on Purdue quarterback Mike Phipps.

In hindsight, it was not a bad pick as Phipps had led Purdue to three consecutive eight-win seasons and a share of the Big Ten title in 1967. His senior season, Phipps was a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, a unanimous All-America selection, and set school records with 2,527 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Still, it was a horrible year to be drafting a quarterback, as No. 1 overall selection Terry Bradshaw was the only quarterback out of 14 selected in the draft to have a successful NFL career. (Although Mike Holmgren, who was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the eight round, did pretty well for himself as a head coach.)

Phipps would not take over as Cleveland’s full-time starter until 1972, but that season he led the Browns to the playoffs as a Wild Card team and a date with the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

The Browns gave the Dolphins a good run, but Phipps’ fifth interception of the game ended Cleveland’s comeback hopes.

Things slowly went downhill from there for Phipps and he was benched midway through the 1974 season as the Browns struggled to a 2-5 start to the season. He would make 11 starts in 1975 before losing the starting job once again after separating his right shoulder in the opening game of the 1976 season.

Phipps made his final start for the Browns in Week 9 that season, but was pulled after going just seven-of-17 for 35 yards against the Houston Oilers.

When the 1977 NFL Draft rolled around, the Browns were somehow able to trade Phipps to the Chicago Bears for a pair of draft picks, including Chicago’s first-round selection in the 1978 NFL Draft that became Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome.

Phipps’ tenure in Cleveland never lived up to his draft ranking, but he may have been a little bit better than fans remember. He is still eighth in passing yards on the franchise’s all-time list, 11th in touchdown passes, sixth in attempts and 20th in games played.

The team’s struggles may not have all been the fault of Phipps, either, as Modell continued to make nonsensical trades during Phipps’ time with the club. Who could ever forget sending a third-round selection to the Denver Broncos for journeyman quarterback Don Horn or a fourth-round selection to the Dallas Cowboys for wide receiver Gloster Richardson?

It is a thin field for players who have worn No. 15 with the Browns, and Phipps did bring the draft pick that turned into Newsome, so Phipps earns the honor of being the best player to wear No. 15 in franchise history.

Honorable mention (aka players you may have heard of): wide receiver Greg Little, who had 155 receptions for 1,821 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons; Steve Cox, who averaged 42 yards per punt and kicked the occasional long field goal from 1981 to 1984; and punter Dave Zastudil, who averaged 44.1 yards per kick during his four seasons with the Browns.

Poll

Who is the best player to wear No. 15 in Browns history?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Bert Rechichar
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Ken Gorgal
    (0 votes)
  • 2%
    Tommy O’Connell
    (7 votes)
  • 12%
    Jim Ninowski
    (37 votes)
  • 1%
    Gary Lane
    (5 votes)
  • 34%
    Mike Phipps
    (100 votes)
  • 0%
    Mark Miller
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    Steve Cox
    (15 votes)
  • 3%
    Bryan Wagner
    (10 votes)
  • 28%
    Dave Zastudil
    (82 votes)
  • 3%
    Greg Little
    (11 votes)
  • 1%
    Davone Bess
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Marlon Moore
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    Charlie Whitehurst
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Mario Alford
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D.J. Montgomery
    (0 votes)
290 votes total Vote Now