Browns Review: Preseason Game 1 (New Orleans)

For my first impressions, try the Facebook post

Opening Statement

In a way, I’ll be sorry when Hue Jackson gets fired after this season. His inability to control his emotions– even in non-stress situations–make him so much easier to figure out. Normally I have to analyze to understand why a coach is doing something. With Jackson, you just need to listen.

During the broadcast, Solomon Wilcots recounted a conversation he’d had with Jackson. Last season, Jackson said, he didn’t care about the final score. But going winless in pre-season– then not winning the opener– caused a lot of stress. This year he intended to play to win in the pre-season.

And he did.

Winning pre-season games isn’t tough. When the opposing coach removes his first, second or third string players, keep your guys in longer.. Sean
Payton made it especially simple, since nine people who might have had an
impact didn’t play

  • Hall Of Fame QB Drew Brees didn’t play
  • Neither 1,000-yard running back Mark Ingram nor veteran pickup Adrian Peterson (yes, the future Hall-of-Famer) suited up
  • Their two-time Pro Bowl C Max Unger will miss all of pre-season due to a foot injury
  • Neither of the Saints’ #1 picks in 2017– CB Marshon Lattimore or T Ryan Ramczyk— saw action
  • TE Coby Fleener didn’t play
  • Pro Bowl DE Cameron Jordan wasn’t active and #3 pick Trey Hendrickson didn’t play

The starting offensive unit played only 11 snaps (two drives). It was done for the night at 8:05 of the first quarter– afterTed Ginn dropped a TD pass and they settled for a field goal.

The Saints’ #1 defense played only 12 snaps. Because the
Browns went 3-and-out on their first two drives, they played a third
series, But they left the field with 2:13 left in the first quarter.

The New Orleans second teams each played 25-30 snaps. For
the offense, that was the rest of the first half and their first drive of
the second half– the 11-play, 60-yard march that ended with the failed
end around on fourth down at the Cleveland two.

The New Orleans second-string defense got 27 snaps in the second quarter,
so they were pretty much done by the end of the first half. Because they
rotate in and out, a few defensive linemen started the third quarter. But
they were done by 9:07 (the final play fo the Browns’ first drive).


The Browns, on the other hand, had only three players skip the game: T Joe Thomas, one of their #1 picks (TE David Njoku) and (allegedly) starting FS Ed Reynolds.

I am assuming Gregg Williams isn’t serious about that. Just like Tank Carder is holding the fort at middle linebacker until Joe Schobert learns the ropes. If Carder and Reynolds are really the best players the Browns have at those spots, the team is in sad, sad shape.

Cleveland’s first-team offense played 28 snaps–more than twice as many as the Saints. They were in the game until 8:51 of the second quarter; they played 13 snaps against the Saints’ #2 defense.

If you’re not sure which series that was, here’s the drive chart for the first half– the drives where the first-team offense played are highlighted. See if you . You see if you can figure out when the Saints backups took over:Drive Chart PS Game 1

Suddenly the Browns have more plays on one drive than they had on the previous three– and Wilcots and Mike Patrick started crowing about how the offense finally seemed to be in sync. They didn’t even notice that the substitutes– for a team that allowed 28.4 points a game last year (31st in the NFL) had come in.

I mean, you would hope that Brock Osweiler, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt– who, except for Randall Telfer (one play) and Ricardo Louis (two) were the skill position players involved on the drive– would be able to make hay against the scrubs.

But as you should notice (13 plays for 44 yards is less than 3.5 yards per play), they didn’t. Crowell had 4 carries for 9 yards Osweiler went 3-7 for 16 yards– his big contribution was a 10-yard scramble.

And isn’t that special? New season– but the quarterback is still outgaining the running backs.

The MVP of the drive was referee Jeff Triplette, who called three penalties for 17 yards– two of which gained first downs. Despite his help, the Browns still couldn’t score.

On the next possession, the Browns scored a touchdown after third-string quarterback Garrett Grayson– playing with the second team because Brees
had the night off, remember– fumbled and Cleveland got it back on the 21.

It still took them five plays to score. “Hands” Coleman — last year’s #1– was still playing and he caught a 9-yard pass. Triplette also called another penalty (pass interference in the end zone) to put the ball at the 1.

It should be really easy to win if you have a huge manpower advantage. But the Browns won by six points– and didn’t put the game away until 1:58 of the fourth quarter.

Terrific. I’ll take a few questions.

Weren’t you impressed by the defense?

No. The staring quarterback, Chase Daniel, is going into his eighth season, He’s been with three teams (Philly and Kansas City) and is 1-1 in two starts. He’s thrown 78 passes for 480 yards with one TD and one INT.

I would expect him to be completely overwhelmed by a defense coached by the highest-paid assistant in the NFL, featuring:

  • Two Pro Bowl players: Joe Haden and Jamie Collins
  • A defensive line with three players taken in the first 32 picks– including the overall #1: Myles Garrett (pick 1), Danny Shelton (12) and Emmanuel Ogbah (32)
  • A former #3 (LB Chris Kirksey), and two #4s (safeties Ibraheim Campbell and Derrick Kindred), none of whom have more than three years experience, the oldest of whom (Campbell) turned 25 in May

But there’s more. Daniel wasn’t playing with an offense at full-strength. He was missing his starting center, right tackle and tight end. Also, Jahri Evans– who went to the Pro Bowl six times at right guard, decamped for Green Bay. They signed a free agent from the Lions to replace him and are breaking him in. .

I’m not through. Daniel’s running back (Alvin Kamara) was a rookie who never rushed for more than 698 yards in college. His #2 wide receiver (Ted Ginn) is 31 and has never caught more than 56 passes. (Ginn demonstrated why he is a journeyman received by dropping an easy touchdown pass.)

Despite all of those factors:

  • Daniel was neither sacked or intercepted. He went 4-6 for 27 yards– not great, but Ginn’s drop would have made it 5-6 for 31 yards and a TD (Ginn was also the target on his other incompletion).
  • Kamara was stopped for no yards and one yard– but he also had runs of 12 and 22 yards, making him 4-34 against the first string. Daniel Lasco, a seventh-rounder last year, gained 12 yards on two carries (a stuff and a 14-yarder).

When the Saints’ second team came in, then we saw the 6-yard sack and the two runs for three yards.

You have nothing positive to say?

Boy that Gregg Williams– wow can he coach! He made Garrett Grayson (a 26-year-old quarterback who has never thrown a pass in the regular season) look like a bum from the Mountain West Conference. That what you looking for?

Sorry, I can’t say stuff like that with a straight face.

Because the Browns have brought in so many defensive players in a very short period of time, they had enormous mismatches. Briean Boddy-Calhoun started seven games at corner for the Browns last season. He was playing against the Saints third string.

Carl Nassib was a #3 pick by this front office last year. Because they are so overloaded with defensive linemen– and because Nassib was hurt for most of last season– he is either the second or third-string defensive end. (It depends on whether you have Nate Orchard, a second round pick two years ago, at end on linebacker.)

That meant Nassib was playing in the third and fourth quarters, where he naturally played well. (Orchard also looked good– part credit on a sack and a run stuff.) Joe Schobert— a fourth-round pick a year ago, who showed some ability in the limited time (246 snaps) he played due to injury, got a sack a stuff, a QB hit and a pass knocked down– but against inferior competition.

I’m not blaming Williams, mind you. He inherited players who were high picks because Ray Farmer or Mike Pettine liked them, people who who were playing out of position (Orchard looks better because he is playing Defensive End, not linebacker) and brainstorms from the Marx Brothers front office. He’s trying to sort things out– of course some people who were high picks (Xavier Cooper was a #3 in 2015) end up playing in garbage time.

But when that happens, you don’t get excited. You say “Well, that’s nice– but he’s supposed to be able to do that. Let’s see if he can do that again, against better players.”

Tell me about DeShone Kizer

He was the 52nd pick in this year’s draft– and he was playing against people taken 150 picks later– or not taken at all. What do you think you could learn from that?

Did you see those two passes he threw?

Yes. Did you see the long passes Robert Griffin threw in every pre-season game last year? Did that matter when the season began?

Look, nobody has ever questioned Kizer’s arm. They question everything else. The game did little to quell those doubts.

1. Like Johnny Manziel, Kizer didn’t play in an NFL offense where he had to line up behind center and hand the ball off to a back. In the game, 26 of his 32 snaps were out of the shotgun,. Of those six plays where he had to line up behind center:

  • Matt Dayes ran for 6 yards
  • Rannell Hall lost -9 yards on an end around
  • Kizer threw an incomplete pass to Jordan Leslie
  • Terrence Magee ran for 3 yards
  • Kizer completed a 12-yard pass to Hall
  • Kizer knelt (losing -1 yards) to end the game

Even if we ignore the kneel, that’s 12 yards on five plays, or 2.4 yards per play. Also notice that three of the five plays where he took a snap were runs. Opponents might pick up on that.

2. Unlike Manziel, people question whether Kizer can throw any pass except a long one. He went 11-18 for 184 yards and a score. Three of his completions went for more than 20 yards– to receivers who were wide-open.

Remove the 52-yarder to Richard Mullaney, the 45-yard score to Jordan
Payton
and the 22-yard pass to Hall, and he went 8-15 for 65 yards, which is a 53.3% completion percentage and 4.3 yards per pass.

Also, one of those 15 passes was an 18-yarder to Mullaney. I don’t count a pass of less than 20 yards as a “long pass”, but it traveled 17 yards in the air, so the NFL play sheet correctly describes the route as “deep left”. If you consider it as a long pass, he’s be down to 7-14 for 47 yards. (3.3 yards).

I don’t think it is fair to say this, but TE Randall Telfer fumbled on a pass that wasn’t well thrownTelfer has trouble with all types of passes, so I wouldn’t blame
the QB, but if I had my knives out, I could.

3. People question his ability to read a defense and get rid of the ball. He was sacked three times for 22 yards and had to scramble a fourth time (he gained 7 yards). That’s 4 problem plays of 22 dropbacks.

Are you going to cut him any slack?
It was his first pro game.

I’m not ragging on him– I’m pointing out issues that everyione else seems to be deliberately obtuse about. Here’s me cutting slack:

It wasn’t a very good performance– especially since he was a possible #1 (who fell into round two) facing the ass end of a bad defense. That said, he did put up two touchdowns– twice as many as the other two players did. He has immense physical skills and throws a nice deep pass. He’s 21 years and 220 days old, and has played only two years of college ball. If he works hard and is given time to polish said skills, he could become a really good player.

But he isn’t one now. He isn’t close to being ready to start. The people who think he ought to play– even though he can’t set up behind center, drop five steps back and throw accurately– are showing they understand nothing about how to develop players.

When you take a player like Kizer– left school early, very raw– you have to be willing to develop him If he spends a year working on NFL quarterbacking– doing hours of practice every day– he could be ready in a year of two.

If he starts now, he’ll have to spend every minute trying to learn the offense and game plans– and figure out opposing defenses. He’ll never get better technically, He’ll struggle to make plays that people like Cody Kessler or Ryan Fitzpatrick can make in their sleep. He’ll make a ton of mistakes and get beat to hell by opposing defenses. He’ll end up injured and his skills will get ragged. In other words, he’ll end up a lot like Robert Griffin.

I have no idea if Kizer if willing to do the work he needs to do– I don’t know him. He might fail if he’s brought along slowly. But the “We might as well start him now” approach will guarantee that he blows up.

I’m being hard on him because it’s in his best interests. There’s no way Kizer should start.

Deadspin ‘Exposes’ Sports Blog Nation

I’ve occasionally been asked why I’ve never had anything to do with Sports Blog Nation. There are two reasons.

First, I intensely dislike the founder, Markos Moulitsas. I’ve never cared much for his politics (he founded Daily Kos), or his personality. Markos is very hard-working and supremely confident in his judgement.

That said, he isn’t remotely as bright as he thinks he is. His judgment on issues, people and the mechanics of politics and elections are almost always wrong. He’s also an egotist who is more than willing to ;take credit for things he had no impact on.

That’s a flaw common to many people who work in politics. But I don’t work for Bob Shrum, Mark Penn or Hillary Clinton either. And the problem with Markos Moulitsas (I’ve been told– though I’d recognized the personality type long before) is that you can’t work with him unless you kiss his butt constantly.. He is always right– even when he isn’t– and you have to tiptoe around that.

Life’s too short to deal with people like that.

Second, I know the business model. I knew everything in this Deadspin article, decades before it was published.


I did that gig for a few years when I was working for/with Bill James. Project Scoresheet relied on the free labor of thousands of people:

  • An Executive Director (John Dewan) and his wife, who neglected their work as accountants to run things.
  • Four “Division Captains” (Gary Gillette – AL East; Denniz Bretz – AL West, Mark Podrazik – NL East and some guy doing the NL West)
  • Twenty-six (at the time) “Team Captains” who supervised the scoring of each team’s games (assuming they didn’t do it)
  • A team of scorers for each team. In some cities, it was a few dozen people. In cities like Cleveland, it was the team captain and whomever he could scare up.

John was the only person being paid. And he wasn’t being paid much. Some of the team captains (Don Zminda with the White Sox, Chuck Waseleski in Boston) had newsletters or data businesses they ran. Some of us provided data to agents or the media.

It was almost entirely unpaid. Team captains and people who scored over 100 games could get the games scores for their team– or a discount on a book of league scores. (Not both). You had to pay for the league data on disk (hey, floppies were expensive in the 80’s).

Many people worked hundreds of hours– in a few cases, over two thousand– scoring games, checking games scores, inputting games into a computer, then cross-checking the game, team and league totals to make sure they matched the official totals. Just compiling the data for a league would take an IBM 386 running DBase III+ or Clipper 18-24 hours.

Compiling a database that is entirely accurate is an enormous amount of work. I once spent more than a day (counting time for recompiles) stuck in a basement– and an office in a spare bedroom– working with three other people. We were trying to track down one miscredited event that was wreaking havoc with the 1986 American League data..

Oakland’s Terry Steinbach hit a double against the Indians with two men on base. He scored both guys– then came around to score on a balk and either a sac fly or a wild pitch or passed ball. (I”ve blotted it out– but there was no official at-bat on the score.)
Our totals were off by one hit, one extra-base hit, three runs, three earned runs, three RBIs, plus two other events. Also, four “A”s hitters and three Indians pitchers (they changed pitchers in the inning) were affected.
I did this work for nothing partly because I was young and stupid. Partly I was ambitious and thought I could make a career out of it. But mostly it was because I believed in the cause.

At the time, major league baseball considered the play-by-play data to be confidential and proprietary information. They would sell you compiled data for a stiff fee,– you’d send them a list of things you wanted, they’d send you a bill, you’d pay it and you’d get the stats.

But you couldn’t see the game data. You couldn’t compile stats from it. You couldn’t sell what you compiled to the media. If you tried, you get threats from MLB lawyers.

That degree of secrecy infuriated Bill James, and he decided to build an organization that would collect the data and make it available to everyone for free.

He built an organization– and eventually the data became sort-of free. I’m not going to go into the details, but Project Scoresheet split itself to pieces because we began to make money and we had two choices:

  1. Pay a few people an OK living (not a good one)– but nobody else
  2. Split the money equitably– meaning nobody would get more than a few hundred or few thousand dollars, and those who did would be working for less than a dollar an hour.

The pitch behind option #2 is that as more and more money comes in, the people at the top will make more and more money.

Option #1 is the one that works. In both setups, 99.9% of the people won’t be able to make a living and will burn out.  You will have to replace 90% of the people doing the work every year (many of whom will only do a few hours labor before stopping).

The only question is “Do you want the 1% who do the largest amount of work of any single person to make an income remotely comparable to what they can make in real life?”

Not the largest amount of work– not even a substantial percentage of the work. Every baseball game has to be scored by four people (primary and backup for each team), then input. That’s 16 hours of work– and there were 2,106 regular-season games back then.

That’s 33,696 hours. Then you have people checking the game data, programmers writing code, DBAs managing the databases, IT folks tending to the PCs, and people doing the office work.

It worked out to over 60,000 hours for the regular season. My argument with John and Bill and other folks (I was arguing for option #2) was “Yeah, I know John works– let’s say 3,000 hours (he didn’t– although he did work huge hours in the season). Let’s also say Sue works another 3,000 (not even close). 6,000 hours is 10% of the total.

“If we get a $50,000 deal, you two should get 10% of it– not (as he wanted) $25,000 per person.” 

John quit– and Bill hooked him up with Dick Cramer, a guy who was eking out a living trying to sell data under the company named Sports Teams Analysis & Tracking Services, Inc.. John put the Project Scoresheet labor model — into effect– with him, Sue, Bill and Cramer taking the money that resulted.

Their approach? Well, you work out the acronym for e “Sports Teams Analysis & Tracking Services” and figure it out. The Project tried to continue as a volunteer model, but the new director (Gillette) turned out to be both incompetent (he got the 1988 league data done by 1990) and greedy.

Once Gary was in charge, he suddenly changed his mind. He also felt that the Executive Director should be paid most of the money. Gary eventually quit, taking all the data with him. What remains is Retrosheet– an volunteer organization that has dedicated itself to collecting the data from every major league game ever… and has done a remarkable job of that.

So I got the data– but next to no money. And a few people became millionaires off the effort.

That’s always going to be how these organizations work.


So, given that experience, none of what the article says about Sports Blog Nation is shocking or surprising. This is how all organizations that require enormous amounts of effort work.

And not just sports. Wikipedia works the same way. The people who do the work get nothing; the people at the top make six-figure salaries. Same story at Reddit, Facebook uses the same thing. You and I supply content, which they use to attract advertisers and other contributors.

For Christ’s sake, it’s the way Deadspin works. Nick Denton didn’t make his money paying writers fair wages. Gawker pays some people a decent sum, but most of what you read is being contributed free– either to give people a voice or in the hopes they can make a career out of it.

This is not the way things should work, you can say. But since human beings are greedy, it is the way things do work. Stories like these are the reason why I am not a socialist– why I do not believe socialism can ever work.

The notion that the workers should collectively own the means of production and share equally in its profits has been tried many times. It’s the capitalist model– let a few people at the top exploit the labor of many people at the bottom– that lasts.

The takeaway being that if you want to make money from a glow, you’re better off going it solo. You probably wan’t make much money, But what you do make will be yours. The odds of you rising through the ranks to get any sugar are very low. Not in those antfarms.

Browns 2017 Draft: Intro and Trade Grades.

Well, that first round was a lot more entertaining than I expected it to be. The takeaways, in my eyes, are:

  1. The Browns didn’t throw away any draft picks taking Mitch Trubisky, which means
  2. Hue Jackson’s authority has taken a huge hit.
  3. They didn’t throw away any picks.
  4. They didn’t take any clearly terrible players.
  5. They did take three players with potential.
  6. If things go as they hope, they might have improved the team a lot.

I’m not over the moon about any of the choices, but I’m pleased.

Since these are the simplest components, let’s start with the two deals and one non-deal.

1. Not giving their draft away for Mitch Trubisky: A+. The Bears made it very easy for the analytics crew to stand their ground. Chicago made one of those panicky deals like the Browns made for Trent Richardson in 2012. The Bears, who were picking third, gave San Francisco:

  • That third pick
  • Their picks in rounds #3 and #4 this year
  • A #3 next year.

Since the 49ers wanted defensive tackle Solomon Thomas anyway, it was a no-brainer for them. Free picks: whooo!!!!!

Most Chicago columnists think the deal was a no-brainer too– not in the same way. The kindest is saying “Follow your heart!” This guy is over the top. Jimmy Garappolo wasn’t coming for a #1 and #4… though Bill Belicheat probably would have taken the deal San Francisco got. A rookie also doesn’t have to start.

He’s not entirely wrong about the team being nuts. The Bears just paid Mike Glennon $43.5 million for three years. They signed Mark Sanchez as his backup. And their offensive coordinator is Dowell Loggains– who failed with the Titans, then came to the Browns and lobbied them to draft Johnny Manziel. With Loggains as his coach, Trubisky probably has no chance.

To beat Chicago’s offer– when the best pick they could offer this year was the twelfth– the Browns would have needed to offer much more. Probably what the Bears offered– plus their #1 pick next year. Maybe more.

Were the Browns seriously thinking about trading up? I now have two moles on Lou Groza Boulevard– both say Hue Jackson absolutely was. He had enough clout to get the front office to ask teams (which they were willing to do– phone calls are cheap). But it never went further than that.

Jackson still had enough clout to get an “all hands on deck” meeting called Thursday, so he could make a pitch. But it was apparently the same pitch he made for Corey Coleman and Cody Kessler: “I know I can make Trubisky a great quarterback if we bring him in.”

That doesn’t work as well the second time around. Especially when he also said he could go 8-8 last year, and the team narrowly escaped going winless.

Jackson also said something like “We need a big time quarterback. No NFL team can make the playoffs with the kind of quarterbacks we have here.”

Apparently he forgot that Houston did made the playoffs last year. Brock Osweiler started 14 games and went 8-6 (Tom Savage went 1-1). Houston also made the playoffs in 2015 with Brian Hoyer (5-4 in his starts), Ryan Mallett (1-3), T.J. Yates (2-0) and Brandon Weeden (1-0). You don’t want to overlook things like that when you’re arguing with a lawyer.

2. Trading pick 12 for pick 25 and a 2018 first-rounder likely to be even lower. B-. This wasn’t a great move. The Texans will probably make the playoffs again this year– if Deshaun Watson is as good as he thinks he is, they might reach the AFC Championship. That means pick 29 or 30– not a lot better than a #2.

The chance to get the 12th-best player in one draft is much more valuable than the chance to get two players at the bottom of the round. On paper, at least.

In real life? It depends on who you have to pass up. This was a draft that allowed them to gamble:

  • 3 linebackers– none of whom were overwhelming
  • 3 corners– each with problems (coverage or legal)
  • 2 defensive ends (of whom they already have scads)
  • 2 tight ends
  • 1 safety

Both tight ends were excellent prospects– but the draft had a bunch of them, and they got someone pretty good. The safety (Malik Hooker) is excellent in coverage but not much of a tackler. Some people think he’ll learn– others think he’s Justin Gilbert Jr.

Maybe, five years from now, we’ll say “How could they have passed up [DE] Jonathan Allen?” but right now it looks like they didn’t lose much.

3. Trading pick 33 and 108 for pick 29. C-. It’s one of those deals where “traded back into the first round” makes the move seem more heroic than it really is. Cleveland moved up four spots– they gave away a player in order to do it.

Was there a chance that Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Seattle, New Orleans (who had picks 29-32) or some other team (San Francisco did trade up) would have taken their pick away from them? Yes. Was it a big one? Probably not.

Is it worth screaming about? Yes, but I’m not going to. They got a good prospect at a position they needed to address. The next-best tight end would have been a step down. Had the player they took not been available, they would have been looking at a lineman or a running back. They did pretty much trade out of round four (they still have a pick, but it’s the 30th), so it isn’t a good deal. But if they got the right player, this makes sense.

What To Do On Draft Day

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
round.

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.

Scouting the 2017 Indians: Right Field

Trying to figure out how to handle the outfield has been driving me nuts. I planned to so three separate profiles, then put them together. Then I separated them.

In order for you to maintain the flow, I strongly suggest that you read these in the same sitting– in the order that the scorer intended– left, center, right. They build off each other and it’s not going to make a ton of sense if you do it piecemeal.

Let me use the same header in all three spots. The outfield is basically a mess– exactly the kind of mess that always makes me nervous, because the Indians have had these messes before, and have a history of handling them badly.

Let’s begin with some perspective. A year ago, the Indians’ outfield ranked 18th in the majors in Wins Above Replacement. The individual positions ranked as follows:

  • Leftfielders ninth out of 30 teams
  • Centerfielders 24th
  • Rightfielders 13th.

The Indians didn’t win because of their outfield– they won in spite of it. Things do not look substantially more reassuring this season.

Right Field

Right field is substantially similar to left field– but without the possibility of Michael Brantley taking over. The Indians ranked 13th (four slots lower than left, using nine different players (the same number as left), with many of the players no longer available: Continue reading “Scouting the 2017 Indians: Right Field”

Scouting the 2017 Indians: Center Field

Trying to figure out how to handle the outfield has been driving me nuts. I planned to so three separate profiles, then put them together. Then I separated them.

In order for you to maintain the flow, I strongly suggest that you read these in the same sitting– in the order that the scorer intended– left, center, right. They build off each other and it’s not going to make a ton of sense if you do it piecemeal.

Let me use the same header in all three spots. The outfield is basically a mess– exactly the kind of mess that always makes me nervous, because the Indians have had these messes before, and have a history of handling them badly.

Let’s begin with some perspective. A year ago, the Indians’ outfield ranked 18th in the majors in Wins Above Replacement. The individual positions ranked as follows:

  • Leftfielders ninth out of 30 teams
  • Centerfielders 24th
  • Rightfielders 13th.

The Indians didn’t win because of their outfield– they won in spite of it. Things do not look substantially more reassuring this season.

Center Field

The 2016 Indians’ centerfielders finished 24th in the majors with -1.0 Wins Above Replacement. (Others sites have them as high as 22 and as low as 25). Continue reading “Scouting the 2017 Indians: Center Field”

Scouting The 2017 Indians: Left Field

Trying to figure out how to handle the outfield has been driving me nuts. I planned to so three separate profiles, then put them together. Then I separated them.

In order for you to maintain the flow, I strongly suggest that you read these in the same sitting– in the order that the scorer intended– left, center, right. They build off each other and it’s not going to make a ton of sense if you do it piecemeal.

Let me use the same header in all three spots. The outfield is basically a mess– exactly the kind of mess that always makes me nervous, because the Indians have had these messes before, and have a history of handling them badly.

Let’s begin with some perspective. A year ago, the Indians’ outfield ranked 18th in the majors in Wins Above Replacement. The individual positions ranked as follows:

  • Leftfielders ninth out of 30 teams
  • Centerfielders 24th
  • Rightfielders 13th.

The Indians didn’t win because of their outfield– they won in spite of it. Things do not look substantially more reassuring this season.

Left Field

In order to explain what the issues are, we’ll have to drill down on 2016. Let’s begin by looking at who actually played each the positions. Left field, as it happens, is the best-case scenario for both 2016 and 2017. It won’t get any better than this. Continue reading “Scouting The 2017 Indians: Left Field”