The tl:dr would be “a new wing on the factory of sadness”, but if you want more detail,. I have the Q&A below.
What do you want the Browns to do in the draft, Geoff?
Not screw up. The people going “Hoodley-DOOO!!!!” about all the picks forget that this is the fourth time in the last six seasons that the Browns have gone into the draft with two #1 picks and a bunch of high choices. The last three times, they produced:
- 2012: RB Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden
- 2014: CB Justin Gilbert and QB Johnny Manziel
- 2015: NT Danny Shelton and OL Cam Erving
Shelton is the only one who resembles a player. Their #1 in 2013 (Meowkevious Mingo) is hanging on by his fingernails. 2011’s top pick (DT Phil Taylor) is, unless someone has taken a flyer on him, out of football.
If you were picking the worst bust, it would be Richardson, Taylor or Billy Relapse, because the Browns traded picks to get them:
- Richardson (the third pick) cost the Browns the fourth pick, plus a #4, #5 and #7.
- Taylor (the 21st pick) cost them the 26th pick and a #3.
- Johnny Football (the 22th pick) cost them the 26th pick, plus a #3.
To make matters worse, they often trade more picks to move back into rounds they traded out of. Having given up their third-round pick for Manziel, they traded picks 106 and 180 to move back into the third round to take Terrance West.
The last time Cleveland made picks in every round was 2012. In 2013, they made only five picks– in 2014, six. The media will write “Cleveland had so many picks, they felt they could afford to make these deals”— but they always seem to be short on talent the next season.
Here’s the list of the 11 high picks (rounds 2-3) from 2011-15. Exactly two (in blue, for blue-chip) are good players; neither is with the team. Two are role players (in bold) and the rest are in red:
- 2015: DE-LB Nate Orchard (#2) and DL Xavier Cooper (#3) will probably be purged by Gregg Williams; RB Duke Johnson (#3) has 1.785 yards in two years (a role player).
- 2014: G Joel Bitonio (#2) keeps getting hurt; LB Chris Kirksey (#3) is a journeyman, RB Terrance West (#3) got cut in year two.
- 2013: CB Leon McFadden (#3) cost them an upset in New England when he played.
- 2012: T Mitchell Schwartz (#2) has played well; DT John Hughes (#3) failed.
- 2011: DE Jabaal Sheard (#2) won two championships; WR Greg Little (#2) led the league in drops.
The Browns have seven picks in the first three rounds, If they use those choices to pick solid prospects who become quality players (any team would be happy to have Schwartz at right tackle) they’d solidify 30% of the starting lineup. If they shoot the moon again– gambling on players they have hunches on and missing– they’ll go 2-14 or 3-13.
My concern is that they’ll hump the bunny again.
Who do you think they should pick?
I don’t know. I don’t follow the college game closely enough to have opinions. You can’t know anything about a draft class by watching the highlight reels of the top 50 players– you have to spend 20 hours every weekend for four years (some draft picks are still seniors). I don’t have the time or the inclination to do it; so I leave the scouting to the many qualified full-time analysts.
But I can tell you who they shouldn’t take. Here are 10 simple rules for having a drama-free draft:
1. Take the best player available. The Browns went 1-15; they could very easily have gone winless. They don’t have enough talent at any position (yes, that includes left tackle; Joe Thomas will retire after the 2018 season).
The only exception to the rule is when your highest-rated player has a grade only slightly better than a player who fills a need. Unless the same scouts watched every game by both players (which rarely happens), the difference between a grade of 6.72 and 6.59 is most likely subjective. It’s OK to do a last-minute poll and recalculate. As long as you only do it occasionally.
2. Don’t fixate on any player. Occasionally there are drafts where one player towers over everyone else. In 2008, the best player in the draft was actually QB Matt “Matty Tank ” Ryan, who has been more than 30 value points better than the next tier (QB Joe Flacco, RB Matt Forte or four-time Pro Bowl tackle Grady Sitton).
The following year, QB Matthew Stafford was supposed to be head ans shoulders over everyone. As it turns out LB Clay Matthews and RB Lesean McCoy– who were available later– have been every bit as good. That’s much more common.
In 2010, there was an equally common development. QB Sam Bradford was supposed to be King Stuff, but DTs Ndumakong Shoe and Gerald McCoy turned out the be the big prizes– and DT Geno Atkins (who went in round four) and WR Antonio Brown (round six) were neck-and-neck with them.
Mike Holmgren wanted to trade all his picks for Bradford– that would have been as big a mistake as his attempt to trade all his picks for Robert Griffin.
In the majority of drafts, falling in love with a player– convincing yourself you have to have him, no matter what the cost– leads you to throw away picks trying to get him. That deal can blow up due to injuries (like RG3) or accident (Kellen Winslow) or drugs or attitude– or your just making a mistake.
3. Fill the positions that play the most snaps. Quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive backs and linebackers play the most snaps. They have roles on every play. Defensive linemen and most running backs rotate; they play 20% less. Receivers and tight ends make the least contribution.
Also, don’t spend picks in rounds 4-5 (the second tier of the draft) on situational subs. Kickers and punters– no problem with those. A good team that needs a fullback, slot corner or kick returner, fine. But a 1-15 team should be looking for building blocks–people who can play often and well.
And don’t take players like Reggie Bush– people you know can’t handle the standard load. Not high, anyway.
4. Don’t draft anyone that you intend to convert. Wishful thinking (“We can coach him up”) is the single largest cause of busted picks. Often the player can’t do it as well as you hope.
And the worse the team, the worse the coaches and front office are– are the more likely they are to be wrong. Take players whom you have seen play the position in both college and high school– that you know can do what you need.
5. Don’t take anyone who began playing football in high school or college. This is just a variation of rule #4. A losing team should never take a player that it hopes will keep developing. As Mingo and Pierre Desir showed, they often don’t keep improving.
There’s also a high risk that you’ll end up with a player like Jordan “Poke” Cameron. He was a basketball player who switched to tight end in college. He was a good receiver, but he didn’t like blocking– and when he got a few concussions, he retired, and told people “I don’t really like football.” You take someone who’s played since he was eight, you reduce that risk.
If you’re a defending Super Bowl champion– you’re picking later than everyone else and have shown that you know what you’re doing– you can dabble in projections. If the player has absolutely dominated in the short time he has played, OK. Otherwise, go with performance over time.
6. Don’t draft players with a history of injuries. This should be self-explanatory.
7. Do not, repeat do not, draft players with character problems. Puff Gordon, Johnny Football, Gerard “Big Money” Warren. Giving a problem player millions of dollars– setting him for life– means he can keep misbehaving with no real downside.
8. Don’t fixate on part of a player’s game (“great pass rush”) and ignore issues (“terrible run defense”). Teams assume they can coach the guy up or build a scheme for him. History shows that they usually can’t. If the player isn’t a solid, all-around guy, don’t take him in rounds 1-3.
9. Avoid spending high picks on the same position in consecutive years. Unless it’s a position where you can play both players at the same time (like corner), you’re creating a logjam. Many players make their big leap forward in year two or three.
Also, if your pick a year ago pick didn’t work out– unless the problem was a catastrophic injury– why go back to the well? Sign a free agent or make a trade. Don’t repeat the mistake.
10. Until you’re in the playoffs, follow the herd. Until such time as you prove you are smarter than the pack, if none of the draft periodicals or draft sites rates a player as high as you do, assume they’re right and you are wrong. Only take a flyer on players after the first three rounds.
These guidelines, if followed, will ensure that the Browns do not have a historically great draft. Such things almost always require taking successful gambles on players who make good on their promise. But they will guarantee that the Browns avoid the obvious mistakes that almost every team makes. The vast majority of drafts go south because the team takes a flyer.
If, in 2014, the Browns had simply taken DE-LB Khalil Mack or WR Sammy Watkins with their fourth pick and QB Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr with their 26th, they would probably have made the playoffs this year.
Playing safe still gives you plenty of players to pick from. Especially when you begin with picks #1 and #12.
So who do they pick? You just excluded everyone.
No I haven’t. Myles Garrett played three seasons at Texas A&M. He’s had one injury– the ankle injury he kept trying to play on.
I don’t like taking another pass-rushing end, given how many the Browns have taken in the last few years. But the consensus is that Garrett is the best player. The Browns should pick him.
Draft analysts often overrate quarterbacks and other skill position players. But they very rarely get defensive linemen wrong– Mario Williams, Von Miller, Gerald McCcoy, Marcell Dareus, Khalil Mack, Ndumakong Shoe, Javadeon Clowney (when healthy) and Ziggy Ansah have all done great.
Chris Long, Gaines Adams (who had a bad heart and died at 26) and Dion Jordan (who was in that terrible 2013 class) are the big busts.
You’re kidding about rule #10, right?
No I’m not. I’m not talking about sportswriters— idiots like Mary Kay Greenhouse or Doug Lesmerises. Nor do I mean national writers– Peter Queen or even Pete Prisco– who spend a few months asking other people questions and repeating it.
I mean draft analysts– guys like Rob Rang, Mel Kiper, Mike Mayock and Todd McShane, who spend the entire year watching college games and rating people– who sell those opinions for money
A good analyst pulls down a six-figure income– often multiples of it. Some very talented and capable people now do it. They each have weaknesses– like every scout, they have positions they aren;t good at evaluation. Some of them overrate raw talent; others overvalue attitude.
But if you look at them collectively, they don’t get that much wrong. Some people think Solomon Thomas of Stanford or Jonathan Allen of Alabama might be better players than Garrett in five years. Nobody thinks Garrett will bust out, or that he isn’t worthy of the first pick.
The majority of the really bad picks come when a team falls in love with a player who isn’t that highly rated, and picks him much sooner than he’s expected to go.
Look at the Browns’ last eight number ones. Richardson was the only one who was at the top of everyone’s boards. After him, Shelton was the most highly rated– ranked somewhere between 10 and 25 by all the analysts. He’s the guy who worked out.
The rest were players the Browns either convinced themselves was great or someone they ignored red flags on. Phil Taylor was ranked in a pack with Cory Liguet, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, Muhammad Wilkerson and Cameron Heyward– big bodies that could give you good run play and some pass rush.
Rang’s summary of Erving was “it would not be a surprise to see a team fall in love with Erving and make him a top-40 draft pick.” Gilbert was one of a bunch of corners than everyone had rated between 15 and 30. Ditto for Corey “Hands” Coleman. Nobody thought Weeden, due to his age and the scheme he played in, deserved to go sooner than round four. Pretty much everyone warned about Manziel.
Obviously there are players who are badly underrated by the consensus. The Browns haven’t shown they are smarter than the consensus. If they get to pick 12 and someone like (these are not recommendations, just guesses) S Jamal Adams of LSU or RB Christian McCaffrey is the highest-rated player, that’s who they should pick.
What’s the point of rule #9?
It protects you against two issues. If you spend high picks on a position in consecutive years, you create a numbers crunch. Everyone expects the rookie to play; last year’s pick gets trapped behind him. At the end of the year, the veteran is in the doghouse and the team is looking to liquidate him.
Unless it’s a corner or a receiver, or an offensive lineman– a position where you can play two guys at the same time– picks in consecutive years pretty much guarantees the second-year player busts out.
A year ago, the Browns had five picks in the first three rounds. All five players disappointed; only one looks like he could play for a good team:
- #1 pick Corey “Hands” Coleman (#1) couldn’t stay healthy and didn’t catch 55% of the balls thrown his way
- Defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah (#2) and Carl Nassib (#3) both struggled against the run. Ogbah (who stayed healthy) had 6 sacks; Nassib (who broke his hand and tried to hurry back) had 2.5.
- Offensive Tackle Shon Coleman (#3) played only 62 snaps and looked useless.
- QB Cody “Trust Me” Kessler (#3) showed the lack of arm strength that caused analysts to shy away from him.
At this point, Ogbah is the only player who looks like he might have a future, He’s a one-dimensional player– but Gregg Williams always always has a front seven with two men (linemen or linebackers; usually one of each) who play both run and pass, one or two guys who just play run and a couple who only go after the quarterback. There’s a chance Ogbah might work out.
There are extenuating circumstances on the others. A receiver with a broken hand almost always produces little or nothing. Right now “Hands” looks like a slot receiver who doesn’t like cold weather and only has value running deep patterns against weak secondaries. But he should get another look, when he is 100%, to see if he can do more. Ditto for Nassib.
The Browns claim they knew Coleman would miss most of 2016 but say he’ll be worth the wait. They not should spend a high pick on a tackle who might get in his way.
Reason two is “Don’t throw good money after bad.” If you draft a player who has a bad rookie year– unless it was due to an injury– it suggests you don’t know how to draft at that position. If you pick another bad player, you’ve wasted two picks.
Kessler turned out to be a terrible #3 pick. His arm was as limited as all the draft analysts said. He did, on the other hand, run the offense well and might look better if he had a better line. He was sacked 21 times in 195 attempts– only 12 players were sacked more (three of those 12 were the Browns other QBs).
If the Browns give him another shot– splitting him with Brock Osweiler– they can see if maybe he’s a Brian Hoyer type who can get you around .500 and be a first-class backup to a topnotch QB. If they spend a high pick on a QB, they’ll never know.
Last year’s draft grades as a D- at this point. If the Marx Brothers take players at other spots, there is a chance they might do better.
Are you saying “Don’t draft Trubisky so we can take another look at Kessler?”
I’m saying “Don’t draft Trubisky because he can’t play.” This guy has red flags all over him. Let’s walk through his career.
A. When he was coming out of high school, he ran from a fight. Trubisky was from Mentor; he wanted to attend Ohio State. But when the Buckeyes recruited J.T. Barrett, he chose another school. That tells me Trubisky believed he’d lose the competition– or someone told him that he would, so he bailed out.
Barrett is admittedly a phenomenal talent. But I’m not interested in spending a #1 pick on a quarterback who didn’t think he can win a battle for his job. The quarterback you’re looking for is someone who believes he can win any battle– and then does.
Trubisky had a chance to attend Alabama– and if he’d gone there, I could have rationalized that. Playing for Nick Saban means playing for the championship. But Trubisky didn’t pick Alabama– or Tennessee. He opted for North Carolina, who plays in what is clearly an inferior conference (the ACC).
B. He competed for the starting job and lost– three times. When he got to North Carolina in 2013, the starting quarterback was senior Brynn Renner, with sophomore Marquise Williams as his backup. Trubisky decided to redshirt. (Renner had a shoulder injury in mid-year, so Williams ended up playing.)
Maybe it’s unfair to say that Renner “wasn’t drafted”– the injury with seven games left might have scared people off. But it is fair to say that he didn’t make it in Denver (in 2014), in Baltimore or Tennessee (2015) or in San Diego or Pittsburgh (2016).
But Renner– who hasn’t been able to make an NFL team was able to shut out out Trubisky. He wasn’t redshirted due to injury– it happened because he wasn’t going to play..
Once Renner graduated, Williams beat out Trubisky in both 2014 and 2015. It wasn’t because Williams was tearing it up– in those two years, North Carolina went 17-10, losing both the “Quick Lane Bowl” and the “Russell Athletic Bowl.”
Williams also wasn’t good enough to be drafted. He was signed by Minnesota as a free agent, cut, then signed by Green Bay and cut. But he was good enough to limit Trubisky’s participation to 125 passes in two seasons.
This year, Trubisky played his first season. They went 8-5 and lost the Sun Bowl.
C. He’s cutting and running again. Trubisky has another year of eligibility. Even his biggest fans admit he needs polish. Assuming he isn’t run over by a zamboni at halftime, a second season as a starter in college could only help him. But he’s leaving early for the NFL.
A friend who really dislikes Trubisky points out that this is almost exactly what Blaine Gabbert did. Gabbert threw only 12 passes as a freshman, started as a sophomore and junior in a spread offense and then left to get into the draft.
As was true about Trubisky’s choice of colleges, this looks like a business decision more than anything else. There are no “can’t-miss” quarterbacks in this draft, so Trubisky seems more attractive than he otherwise would. If he had a bad senior year, his draft value would be damaged. Plus someone else might surface..
D. He hasn’t played in an NFL offense. North Carolina quarterbacks virtually never line up under center– 98% of Trubisky’s snaps were from the shotgun. He’ll have to be taught to line up under center. The Tarheel offense uses a spread, with lots of options, so he doesn’t have to throw standard routes or into coverage. It’s a lot like the scheme Robert Griffin played in at Baylor.
Tim points out another similarity between Gabbert and Trubisky. When you play in a spread, it’s very difficult to throw too many incompletions or interceptions. Trubisky’s 67.5% completions and 41-10 TD-INT ratio are eye-popping, but Gabbert completed 60.9% and had a 40-18 ratio.He adds that Tim Couch‘s numbers were 67.1% and 74-35.
The point is duly noted, but Trubisky did do more than either guy, Though in less time,
E. He’s similar to Robert Griffin other respects as well– all wrong. Trubisky isn’t great at reading defenses and his throwing mechanics are problematic. He gets rattled when pressured, doesn’t throw well on the move and lost four fumbles when he got hit and didn’t take care of the ball.
Bottom line, in my eyes, he’s similar to Trent Richardson (inability to beat a starter out). You’ve got some Brandon Weeden (no experience in a pro offense and trouble handling pressure). Like Griffin, his mechanics are an issue There’s some Tim Couch and Brady Quinn (deep throws).
Why would you spend a #1 to draft a player with those sorts of weaknesses? Much less consider trading up for him?
Hue Jackson says he can play
Hue Jackson has demonstrated that we can’t trust his judgment. When the Browns took Kessler, I wwnt through the roof. Every profile I saw of Kessler said the same thing:
“Smart player, very accurate. Too short (at 6’1″) to see the rush coming– or throw over it. Tends to panic when he sees defenders coming at him. His arm isn’t strong enough to throw deep, or when he’s scrambling– so he checks down a lot.”
Jackson told us we needed to trust him– that there was more to
Kessler than what people were saying. Jackson was dead wrong. Kessler
showed he was exactly what the scouts said he was– that the Browns
spent a #3 on a player who deserved to be taken in the fifth or sixth
Jackson promised, when the Browns signed RG3, that he could restore his career. That didn’t happen.
Jackson helped select five receivers– four wideouts and a tight end– last year. In addition to “Hands”, they chose Ricardo Louis in round four and Seth Devalve, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins in round five.
Those five players combined for 1,157 snaps (the Browns played 1,030 last season), with 68 catches (on 135 targets), 825 yards and 5 TDs.
People like to sneer at #4 and #5 picks, but teams get players at those spots every year. Travis Benjamin was a #4 pick; Buster Skrine was a #5. You get lucky, you get Geno Atkins (#4) or Richard Sherman (#5). Ahtyba Rubin and Antonio Brown were both #6 picks.
If you go hard on the low picks, you can often snag a bunch of players who fill spots and save you free agent money on kicking teams. The Browns can’t afford to toss any picks away.
So what would you do about quarterback?
Nothing. Not yet, anyway.
Look, there is a good chance that four QBs will be taken in round one– and that every team that picks one will dump their current starter. If the Browns pounce on Blake Bortles or Tyrod Taylor, they’d be in fine shape at QB.
In the 2-3 weeks after the draft, we usually see a substantial amount of player movement. Teams get players they didn’t expect to be available and liquidate people who suddenly aren’t in their plans. That triggers a ripple effect.
Not to encourage this craziness, but the Patriots currently have no plans to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, because Tom Brady is 39 and they always have a backup, plus a developmental QB (Jacoby Brissett). Suppose the Patriots really love Miami’s Brad Kaaya or Davis Webb of Cal– and they’re available on day two or three.
If Bill Belicheat follows his usual pattern, he auctions Garoppolo (whose contract is up at the end of the year and will get crazy money from some team), puts Brissett in the #2 spot and his draft pick at #3.
If you’ve got a stiffie for Garoppolo, picking Trubisky (or blowing a wad of picks to trade up) makes that impossible.
Hell, if Cleveland had to play the season with Brock Osweiler and Kessler, they’d be no worse off than they’ve been some years. It would be a little too similar to Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn for my taste, but the team’s biggest problem isn’t quarterback at this point. Currently, they have nobody in the defensive backfield who can cover and one player they can trust on the offensive line.
If they get Trubisky and get him sacked 66 times (the number they gave up in 2016) the odds of him developing are close to nil. Based on his history, Trubisky would most likely retire before the end of his rookie contract.
I’m going to say this for the nth time. Since 2006, there have been 29 quarterbacks taken in the first round. Only nine of them made the Pro Bowl:
- Matt Ryan (pick 3), 4 times
- Andrew Luck (pick 1), 3 times
- Cam Newton (pick 1), 3 times
- Vince Young (pick 3), 2 times
- Teddy Bridgewater (pick 32), 1 time
- Jay Cutler (pick 11), 1 time
- Robert Griffin (pick 2), 1 time
- Matthew Stafford (pick 1), 1 time
- Jameis Winston (pick 1), 1 time
17 pro bowl selections, but no championships. Only two players made the Super Bowl. It would, I think, be fair to say that the teams picking Young, Cutler and Griffin would prefer they had not. Griffin, Stafford and Bridgewater also illustrate the injury rate of quarterbacks taken high.
Of the players who didn’t work out so well, Jamarcus Russell (2007). Sam Bradford (2010), and Jared Goff (2016) were also overall #1s.
Marcus Mariota (2015) and Carson Wentz (2016) were the second picks and have not justified those choices. Blake Bortles (2014) was the third pick, Mark Sanchez (2009) was fifth.
Ryan Tannehill (2011) and Jake Locker (2012) were both the eighth picks. Matt Leinart (2006) and Blaine Gabbert (2011) were the tenth players. Counting Christian Ponder (the twelfth pick in 2012), that’s 12 failure out of 20 players taken with the first 12 picks.
Over that same time, seven quarterbacks taken in rounds two or later have made the Pro Bowl at least once. They have a Super Bowl champion in their midst (Russell Wilson), two Super Bowl appearances and 11 Pro Bowl games.
Wilson (3 Pro Bowls), Andy Dalton (3), Derek Carr (2), Tyrod Taylor (1), Kirk Cousins (1) Nick Foles (1) and Dak Prescott (1) cost their teams considerably less– both in picks and in tsuris— and delivered substantially more.
Not that any of this is likely to matter.
I expect Jimmy Haslam to order the Marx Brothers to give Jackson what he wants– just as he did with Johnny Manziel.
I expect Trubisky to fail. And I expect, when Trubisky does, that Gregg Williams will be taking over for Jackson (assuming the Marx Brothers are still in charge). That, unfortunately, is the history of the Cleveland Browns on draft days.
Note: I have heard persistent rumors that the Browns like someone other than Garrett or Trubisky. I don’t really expect them to diverge from the script– it would make more sense to trade down and let someone take Garrett– but I have learned never to overestimate the team’s common sense.