Otto Graham and Bernie Kosar. Both are considered the Cleveland Browns’ all-time great quarterbacks.
Graham was a three-time NFL Champion, went to five Pro Bowls, was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, had his number 14 retired by the franchise, is listed in the Browns Legends Program, enshrined in the Browns Ring of Honor, has won a total of seven pro football championships, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. Plus, there is a statue of Graham outside the Browns’ stadium.
Kosar is a Super Bowl Champion (Dallas Cowboys) and earned himself a Pro Bowl. He actually chose the Browns as the team he wanted to play for instead of the other way around due to circumstances with the 1985 NFL Supplemental Draft. He is listed in the Browns Legends Program.
Both of these men provided the Browns with one crucial component: dependability at the QB position.
There have been other good Cleveland quarterbacks who glimpsed a speck of greatness for a while such as Brian Sipe, Derek Anderson, Frank Ryan, Mike Phipps, Milt Plum, and hopefully Deshaun Watson can be added to this list.
Phipps was traded from the Miami Dolphins for future Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield. Plum played five years and was a Pro Bowler twice during that span. Anderson had that sensational season in 2007 where he appeared on his way to becoming one of the best-ever and was rewarded with a Pro Bowl nod. Sipe played 11 seasons with the Browns and was named NFL MVP in 1980 after being taken in the 13th round. Ryan came to Cleveland from the Los Angeles Rams and provided leadership as the Browns captured the 1964 NFL title. He was also named to three consecutive Pro Bowls.
There have been other Browns’ quarterbacks that have sparked a glimpse of wonderment, but those moments were fleeting and these men eventually found gainful employment elsewhere. Mostly, this long list of QBs drafted is pretty dreadful.
But what if we could rewind each draft and select someone different other than the QB of the Future who eventually became the Bust of the Future? What would those awful Browns teams look like after that? Let’s take a gander in no particular order.
Tim Couch 1999
Couch was chosen as the first overall pick, and five years later was subsequently waived. He was on the Green Bay Packers roster for one season before he had tryouts with the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Houston Texans. He later signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars but was cut.
Who could the Browns have drafted instead? Selected behind Couch at Number 2 was QB Donovan McNabb who would go on to play 13 years and be named to six Pro Bowls.
Pat Screen 1965
Screen was one of three QBs taken in the 1965 draft as he was taken in the 10th round. The others were Gary Lane (Round 9) and Dan Simrell (Round 14). None worked out for the Browns. Instead of signing a contract to play professional football and going to training camp, Screen earned his law degree from LSU and was later named East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney in 1972.
His replacement on the roster could have been CB Spider Lockhart who played for 11 years with the New York Football Giants, went to two Pro Bowls and was one of the few bright spots for their ailing defense.
Spergon Wynn 2000
In the same draft that the Browns took DE Courtney Brown first overall, Wynn was taken in the sixth round to be Tim Couch’s backup. He had an illustrious college career at Southwest Texas State with 24 TD passes in his final two years. After one season and a 41.2 passer rating, he was allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals of the World League of American Football (WLAF) and then traded to the Minnesota Vikings. He later played for three Canadian Football League (CFL) clubs and had some success. What QB was taken after Wynn in the same Round 6? Tom Brady.
Bobby Garrett 1954
One of the biggest QB draft busts ever is Garrett. After a stellar campaign at Stanford, the Browns were looking for the heir apparent to an aging Otto Graham. They made Garrett the first-overall selection for a big-time player with huge college stats. In his senior year, he won the W.J. Voit Memorial Trophy, Pop Warner Trophy and was the MVP of the Hula Bowl.
Garrett had one crucial issue though: he stuttered. More importantly, he had problems getting out plays that began with the letter ‘S’. After only a few weeks in rookie training camp, Coach Paul Brown traded him to the Green Bay Packers packaged with three other players and in return received QB Babe Parilli and OT Bob Fleck.
Many a Pro Bowl player was taken after Garrett, but none more so than RB Max McGee and future Hall of Famer WR Raymond Berry. Garrett does appear in the 1954 Bowman football card set as a Cleveland Brown. He played a total of nine NFL games.
Gene Swick 1976
Before the 1975 college season, Swick was considered a first-round talent. He was first-team All-Mac Conference all three years as a starter at the University of Toledo. In 1975, he was the nation’s leading passer and was named to the All-American Team, plus won the Sammy Baugh Trophy for best QB.
The Browns took him in the fourth round and inked him, including a $20,000 signing bonus. He arrived at training camp with a sore arm and performed horribly. In July, he was cut. He had a tryout with the Giants before signing with Hamilton of the CFL but never played.
Who did the Browns pass on to get Swick? Try Hall of Famers LB Harry Carson and WR Steve Largent. Yeah, either of these would have made a difference.
Brady Quinn 2007
After taking All-World tackle Joe Thomas with the third slot in the first round, the Browns had another first-round pick which became Quinn at number 22. Quinn had signed a $20.2 million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed, but only started a few games and was subsequently traded to the Denver Broncos after being a roster member for just three years.
Right after selecting Quinn, Cleveland missed out on OT Joe Staley or TE Greg Olsen.
Jim Ninowski 1958
Ninowski was taken in the fourth round of the 1958 draft. He only played in six games and after two seasons became a roster member of the Detroit Lions. He had only 180 passing yards with one TD and four INTs.
Nino came back to Cleveland in a trade that sent Plum to Detroit. Ninowski was named the starter but became injured midway through the season and was told by Coach Brown his starting job was secure. Then Brown was fired. The following year new head coach Blanton Collier made it an open competition and chose Frank Ryan instead.
Instead of drafting Nino, the Browns passed on RB Billy Atkins and future Pro Bowl CB Dick Lynch.
Baker Mayfield 2018
After a successful college career at the University of Oklahoma in which Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy, Manning Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Chick Harley Award, was the AP College Player of the Year, Sugar Bowl MVP, Two Time Big-12 Offensive Player of the Year, Three Time First Team All-Big 12, and Two Time First Team All-American, the Browns selected Mayfield with the first overall pick. He even has a college eligibility rule named after him.
He had some success early on and was named to the PFWA NFL All-Rookie Team plus guided Cleveland to their first playoff berth in a long time, but a should injury early in the 2021 season lingered which affected his play. He was traded to the Carolina Panthers in 2022 for a fifth-round draft pick.
There are a plethora of players that Cleveland could have drafted in that top spot instead: QB Lamar Jackson, LB Roquan Smith, QB Josh Allen, LB Fred Warner, S Jessie Bates, OT Orlando Brown, TE Mark Andrews, DE Josh Sweat, OG Quenton Nelson, and S Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Gary Lane 1965
The Browns needed QB depth behind Frank Ryan and selected Lane with the 125th overall pick in the ninth round. Lane was a three-year starter at Missouri and had an excellent collegiate career. In the pros, he started only one game in two seasons before being released. Later, he became an NFL official for 18 seasons. Instead of drafting Lane, Cleveland should have procured DE Jethro Pugh.
Luke McCown 2004
The brother of Josh McCown, Luke was taken in the fourth round after a standout career at Louisiana Tech where he still retains school records. He started four games his rookie season with the Browns and then was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who traded him to the Jacksonville Jaguars where he was later cut. He had two stints with the New Orleans Saints and one with the Atlanta Falcons before he hung up his cleats. Later in the same fourth round, the Kansas City Chiefs took DE Jared Allen.
Harry Agganis 1952
This two-sport star was the second of two first-round picks for the Browns. With Otto Graham getting older, Agganis was taken to groom as the next starter. However, the Boston Red Sox outbid the Browns for his services where he played only two seasons. He died suddenly at the age of 26 of a pulmonary embolism after taking over as the starting first baseman. Future Hall of Famer DE Gino Marchetti was drafted two slots after Cleveland selected Agganis.
Mark Miller 1978
Drafted strictly to become the backup QB, Miller was taken as the second of two picks in the third round. In two seasons, he was exactly that with stats of 13 of 39 passing attempts coupled with one TD and five picks. After his time in Cleveland, he went to the Packers and then finished out with the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League. He went pretty high in the draft for what little he played. Right behind him were drafted two excellent kicking specialists: punter Craig Colquitt and kicker Frank Corral.
Brandon Weeden 2012
The 2012 draft was not kind to the Browns. After taking RB Trent Richardson with the third overall selection, Weeden was supposed to be the answer to all of the QB problems with the 22nd pick in Round 1. Instead, he played a mere two years in orange and brown. His only accomplishment was that he was the oldest player ever taken in the first round. Concussions and a lingering thumb injury sidelined his career in Cleveland and he was released.
Instead, the club could have drafted OG David DeCastro, RB Doug Martin, or WR Alshon Jeffrey. Or simply solved the QB situation by taking Russell Wilson in the same third round instead.
Paul McDonald 1980
McDonald was supposed to be aging Brian Sipe’s backup and eventual replacement when he was taken in the fourth round. He started only one season in 1984 and threw 23 interceptions while posting a 5-11-0 record. But in all fairness, McDonald possessed a sub-par offensive line that replaced four of five the following season, plus his receivers and running back were poor at best. The next year he was replaced by first-round draft pick Bernie Kosar. Instead, the Browns could have owned one of the best kickers with Eddie Murray.
Colt McCoy 2010
This kid had a phenomenal college career and was highly-touted with a plethora of awards and accolades too numerous to count. He was a Heisman candidate in three different seasons. Unfortunately, his playing abilities did not translate to the pro game. He was taken in the third round and signed a four-year $5 million contract. McCoy started most of the 2011 season, played backup to Weeden the following year, and then was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for two low-round draft picks.
Instead of McCoy, perhaps an injection of TE Jimmy Graham or S Kam Chancellor in his place?
Dan Simrell 1965
As the third QB taken in this draft by the Browns, he went into coaching instead and eventually became head football coach at the University of Toledo. Cleveland should have taken WR Otis Taylor.
Eric Zeier 1995
While a freshman on the University of Georgia team, Zeier started the final seven games plus the following three seasons as the starting signal caller so he came into Cleveland with plenty of experience in a tough conference. He placed seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting. With this much experience, Zeier was highly touted coming into the NFL. The Browns took him in the third round. He played only one season and went 82-161 with four TDs and nine INTs.
Later, he played for the Baltimore Ravens after the Browns relocated plus he was on the roster of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Browns could have had future Pro Bowler RB Terrell Davis.
Mike Norseth 1986
Taken in the seventh round is pretty safe for a QB you envision to become depth chart material. But Norseth never made it to the clipboard. He played for the Cincinnati Bengals one season before resurfacing with the Birmingham Fire of the WLAF. Drafted after Norseth would be much help to the Browns with LB Seth Joyner.
Bob Ptacek 1959
Ptacek was known as an “Iron Man” as he played both ways at Michigan. After he was selected in the eighth round, he appeared in just 12 games. In an unusual set of circumstances, he was then traded to Saskatchewan of the CFL where he played for six seasons and flourished. He remained a two-way player and was titled to several All-Canadian teams and is currently listed in the Saskatchewan Plaza of Honor. QB Joe Kapp was selected later in the same draft.
Charlie Frye 2005
This third-rounder broke 54 college football records while at the University of Akron and was MVP of the Senior Bowl. Frye started in Week 13 for the Browns of his rookie campaign and had a terrific game which concluded with a 136.7 QB rating. He started the final five games and was named the starter for the 2006 season and also in 2007.
In the first contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Frye was pulled for Derek Anderson who went on to have a Pro Bowl year. Frye would be traded to the Seattle Seahawks and later played for the Oakland Raiders. Instead of Frye, would DE’s Justin Tuck or Trent Cole have provided any help? Yeah, both were drafted after Frye.
Johnny Manziel 2014
One can only wonder how some players set the college football world on fire yet fail miserably in the pro ranks. Whatever the answer is to that riddle, Manziel is the poster boy. Two troubled years in Cleveland was all the front office could take from this knucklehead. Eight starts, 258 pass attempts, 147 completions, seven TDs and seven INTs, and a 74.4 QB rating to go along with the mess of a life he was off the field and a complete waste of great talent.
And who did the Browns pass on instead from his premium first-round slot? QB’s Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr would have solved the signal-caller spot. What about RB Devonta Freeman or perhaps WR Allen Robinson? Instead, the club got zero for their scouting efforts. Zero. Meanwhile, Manziel has probably set some sort of record for the quarterback who has participated in the most pro football leagues.
Jake Gibbs 1961
After a stellar football and baseball career at Ole Miss, Gibbs was selected in the ninth round of the draft; but chose to play with the New York Yankees as a third baseman and catcher. He hit a lifetime .233 in his 10 seasons with the Yanks. Instead of Gibbs, the Browns should have taken Hall of Famer DE Deacon Jones, founder of the term “sack.”
Cody Kessler 2016
The last of three picks in the third round, Kessler started eight games after being penciled in as third string on the depth chart. He showed promise, especially with his 92.3 QB rating and only two INTs to go with his six TD passes. Not to rain on his parade, but QB Dak Prescott was taken in the following round.
Rick Norton 1966
This was the era of the American Football League (AFL) vs. the National Football League and the war to get players. The Browns took Norton with their second-round pick, only to be spurned by the AFL’s Dolphins who took Norton in Round 1 in their league’s draft and second overall. RB Walt Garrison would have been a suitable replacement pick for Cleveland.
DeShone Kizer 2018
After a stellar college career at Notre Dame, the Browns took Kizer in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft. In college, he had 47 TD passes in just two years of being the starter. With the Browns, he inked a four-year, $4.94 million contract. In his rookie year, he beat out veteran trade acquisition Brock Osweiler and second-year signal-callers Kessler and Kevin Hogan. Kizer was benched shortly thereafter and then became the starter again before being benched again.
In 15 starts of his rookie season, Kizer completed 53.6% of his passes for 2,894 yards, 11 touchdowns, and a league-leading 22 interceptions to go along with 77 carries for 419 yards and five touchdowns. The following spring, he was traded to the Green Bay Packers for a swap of fourth and fifth-round picks, plus CB Damarious Randall. Kizer would later play for two other NFL clubs.
After Kizer’s slot in the draft, Cleveland could have obtained OG Dion Dawkins, RB Alvin Kamara, TE George Kittle, or WR Cooper Kupp.
Do you enjoy playing the “what if” game or does it annoy you more to see what could have been?