Will the Cleveland Browns Finally Land A Franchise Quarterback?

Published: Mar 16, 2014 05:09am EDT
By Lance Rinker, Managing Editor for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 16, 2014 @ 05:09am EDT

 

The Cleveland Browns are looking to draft their franchise quarterback with one of their two first round draft picks, again, and if history is any indicator they are unlikely to get it right (i.e. they could wait to take a quarterback until the second round). The Browns have drafted seven quarterbacks since coming back into the league in 1999 and 46 quarterbacks since 1950, the second most in the history of the draft. The Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams have each drafted 47 quarterbacks overall, but those teams have also been in existence for a longer period of time than the Browns.

You would think that they would have found a few franchise quarterbacks along the way, but outside of Otto Graham (the greatest quarterback in Browns history) and Bernie Kosar you would be hard pressed to find anyone that fits that distinction. From Tim Couch in 1999, the franchise’s first year back in existence since 1995, to Brady Quinn in 2007, and of course Brandon Weeden in 2012 this franchise’s fan base has lacked solid play out of the position for decades. There were other quarterbacks taken in between those players but those were the three quarterbacks that were supposed to pan out, that were supposed to be the franchise quarterback and it just didn’t work out that way.

Couch was selected over perennial Pro-Bowler Donovan McNabb and the strong-armed Daunte Culpepper in 1999. They completely missed the boat on players such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Richard Seymore, and even Drew Brees in 2001. When it was more than apparent that a mish-mash of aging veterans and second-day quarterbacks weren’t the answer in 2005 they could have drafted Aaron Rodgers, who fell to the Green Bay Packers with the 24th pick, but selected Braylon Edwards instead. Then, of course, they could have punted on Weeden in 2012 and waited until the third round to grab either Russell Wilson or Nick Foles.

It would be unfair to say that the Browns are simply unable to make smart decisions when drafting players in general, especially since it wouldn’t be true. They’ve hit homeruns on players like Alex Mack, Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, and Joe Thomas on their way to building up a stout defense and a solid pass-blocking offensive line since coming back to the league. But, and it’s a huge but, they are downright horrible when making a decision on which quarterback is the right one regardless of the round or pick.

The hope is that that all changes with this draft, finally, and even though their track record of not being able to keep a coaching staff or front office team in place long enough to develop any young signal caller doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to fail again. Owning the fourth and 26th overall selections in the draft will afford them some flexibility if they need to move up to guarantee they get ‘their’ guy, or at least ensure they can get two players capable of starting in Week 1 once the new season begins.

With so many variations as to what the Browns could do with the fourth overall pick it really comes down to the top three quarterbacks in the draft, with the Browns having the opportunity to draft at least one of them. Depending on who is available the Browns will have their pick of quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgwater, and Johnny Manziel.

Of the three QB’s Bridgewater is the most polished and pro-ready as he spent his college career in more of a pro-style system at Louisville and is the more accomplished pocket passer of the bunch. The only knock on him is that his frame is a bit on the slender side, coming in at just 6’2” and 214 lbs. As long as that doesn’t scare you off then he’s a guy that could come in and contribute from week one on. Bridgewater may not have nearly the potential upside that Bortles or Manziel does but he’ll be a solid starting quarterback for you right away and is considered the safest quarterback to take in the first round.

The quarterback that is garnering the most attention leading up to the draft is Texas A&M playmaker Johnny Manziel. He won the Heisman in 2012 and has continuously impressed with his play on the field, though his actions off the field have brought much criticism. What Manziel has going for him is his unyielding desire to win and make plays. He’s someone I would call a sand-lot style quarterback in the sense that he very often goes off-script and runs around to make a play with his legs or will pull a reverse spin and run around until something opens up downfield.

Manziel could thrive in a college-style system at the NFL level, at least right away because he hasn’t spent much time at all under center. His unique blend of scrambling ability, pocket presence, and vision will allow him to make plays more often than not with his legs but he also has a tendency to leave the pocket early to make the plays himself as opposed to relying on his teammates.

If the Browns decide to draft Manziel fourth overall, if he’s available, they will be getting a player that thrives under pressure and yearns for the attention that comes with making the big play. However, he carries the highest risk and highest reward because it will be his overall attitude and how much he matures once drafted that will determine if he has a Ryan Leaf-esque flameout or becomes a solid starting quarterback for an NFL team.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper released his third mock draft of the offseason and he had the Browns taking Teddy Bridgewater in his last one, but this time around he has the team selecting Blake Bortles.

No. 4 - Cleveland: QB Blake Bortles

Analysis: The Browns have already released Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. In other words, the writing is on the wall and the depth chart has a pretty big vacancy. So they'll keep Brian Hoyer as a possible starter and draft a QB at this spot knowing it's not such a bad place for a young QB to succeed, given their ability to pass-block up front and the fact that they have some dangerous weapons in the passing game in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Yes, I can see either Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel here, but this is a bet on where the Browns end up after evaluating all of them closely.

The reasons to draft Bortles fourth overall, assuming he’s still available of course, are plentiful. He has the size, standing at 6’5” and weighing 232 lbs, of a prototypical franchise quarterback and has all the intangibles to develop into the franchise quarterback the Browns have longed for since the days of Bernie Kosar.

Bortles stands tall in the pocket, doesn’t get rattled easily, and has shown in college that he can throw the ball accurately while running away from pass rushers or rolling out on a bootleg. He has also shown great field vision and is able to thread the needle on short-to-intermediate passes with zero issue. In addition to all of the physical attributes that make him very appealing to teams looking for a franchise quarterback in the draft, Bortles is still willing to work and prove that he has the talent and work ethic to be a successful starter in the NFL.

The biggest drawback to drafting Bortles, however, is that he could benefit from some additional development time in the form of riding the bench for most of his first season in the league. He has just two years of college ball under his belt and could use some extra time to further work on his footwork and setup off the snap. If the Browns were to draft Bortles with their fourth overall pick they would also be wise to sign a veteran quarterback in free agency to lead the Browns offense for the 2014 season while Bortles learns without the pressure to leading the Browns to a winning record, or the playoffs for that matter.

There will be the temptation by the Browns to take one of the best wide receivers in the draft fourth overall in Sammy Watkins and wait to take a quarterback with the 26th overall pick. As dynamic of a playmaker as Watkins would be, especially when paired across from Josh Gordon, there’s no guarantee you will find a starting quarterback outside of the group already mentioned and that would absolutely be the wrong move by the Browns if that’s the direction they choose to go. 


 

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Lance Rinker
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