The Cleveland Browns have been a consistent punchline since the turn of the century in large part due to their inability to leverage drafts with multiple first-round picks.
Cleveland often accumulated enough draft capital to put itself back into playoff contention, but the results have ranged from passable to disastrous.
Below is a breakdown of what happened when the Browns selected in the first round twice, and why this year ought to be different for the moribund franchise.
Analysis: Shelton was considered the best defensive tackle of the 2015 class and while the evidence is somewhat inconclusive, it appears the Browns got this pick right. The former Washington standout graded out as the 17th-best interior defender and eighth-best interior defender against the run in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. Entering his third season, Shelton appears to be a key piece of a defense that is undergoing drastic renovations.
Erving, on the other hand, is perilously close to being labeled a bust after two subpar seasons where he featured at right tackle and center. Neither position has suited Erving well, ranked as the 69th-best offensive tackle among 78 eligible options via Pro Football Focus. Erving will likely have one more year to prove himself before the Browns decide to cut ties with him.
Analysis: The 2014 NFL Draft is widely considered one of the best classes of all time and the Browns’ resolute incompetence is only magnified by that fact.
Gilbert failed to make an impact during his rookie season, save for a particularly strong performance against the Indianapolis Colts where he returned his lone NFL interception for a touchdown. The Browns attempted to salvage some value, trading him to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick before the 2016 season, while Joe Thomas accused Gilbert of lacking passion for football in February 2017, the same month he was released by the Steelers.
Manziel’s descent as one of the most heralded college stars of all time to national pariah has been well documented by every outlet in North American sports media on numerous occasions. Believed to be the franchise quarterback the Browns so desperately sought, Manziel’s career was littered by menial play, along with a host of on- and off-the-field indiscretions. The former Heisman Trophy winner was a tabloid regular, fired by numerous companies and ended his career as a cautionary tale.
The Browns could’ve selected Jason Verrett and Derek Carr instead; alas, hindsight is 20/20.
Analysis: A prodigious high school talent that exceeded the hype at Alabama, Richardson was billed as the next great running back. It was a label that Richardson ultimately couldn’t escape and faltered immensely during his professional career. To the Browns’ credit, they realized they made a mistake and traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round pick (which the Browns used to move up in order to draft Manziel) after one season.
Weeden’s selection was more curious and there were red flags before he was drafted, flaws that the Browns ignored in trying to find a modicum of stability at quarterback. The former Oklahoma State product became the oldest player to ever be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft at 28 and the Browns evidently believed he’d be pro ready. Weeden threw 14 touchdowns against 17 interceptions during his rookie season, was benched the following year and ultimately released in March 2014. Now a backup with the Houston Texans, Weeden won’t be able to avoid the bust label barring a drastic turnaround.
Analysis: Thomas is arguably the best draft pick in franchise history. Named to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls, Thomas will don a gold jacket in Canton someday, the rare occurrence where the Browns get a phenomenal grade.
Quinn, however, failed to materialize. Buried on the depth chart during his first two seasons behind Derek Anderson, Quinn’s progress was completely stagnated in what proved to be shortsighted asset management. Quinn was given a chance to make an impact in 2009 but he struggled immensely, completing 53.1 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns against seven interceptions. Cleveland traded Quinn to the Denver Broncos in March 2010 and he underwent short stints with the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, the then-St. Louis Rams, and Miami Dolphins before retiring.
The Browns’ inability to find a franchise quarterback is one of their fatal flaws. It remains to be seen whether they get it right this spring.
Selections: To be determined
Analysis: Myles Garrett is widely considered to be the first overall pick, a transcendent pass-rusher out of Texas A&M. Garrett is considered to be a bona fide star and may represent the most stable prospect the Browns have had the opportunity to select since Joe Thomas in 2007. Barring a seismic change of events, it appears the Browns will unearth a future star.
Cleveland also holds the No. 12 overall pick, a selection that certainly becomes more compelling with a multitude of plausible options available. If the Browns are intent on remedying their quarterback conundrum, Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, and Patrick Mahomes are all available. However, none of the quarterbacks this year are viewed as a certain franchise player, in the vein of Andrew Luck in 2012 or Jameis Winston in 2015.
The 2017 Draft is considered the richest defensive pool since the loaded 2014 cohort and the Browns, who are in the midst of an extensive rebuild, could wait until the second day of the draft – or more drastically, next year- to get their quarterback. With a host of top-tier cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers that will surely be available at No. 12, the Browns could take a low-risk approach to fortify their defense, while Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown, and Paul DePodesta represent the most competent front office the team’s had in a decade.
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