DraftBrowns.com Contributor, Ryan Alton
The NFL off-season is aptly nicknamed “the silly season” due to the amount of misinformation and rumors that exist from teams constantly in pursuit of a competitive advantage. For those in the game, it’s considered silly because you can’t truly put faith in anything you see or hear. For those on the outside, it’s because it seems downright ridiculous that teams go to such lengths to conceal even the most inane details about what they’re doing and why. All of this is never more true than during the two-week lead up to the NFL Draft. The smoke is awfully thick out there and it’s only getting worse. In fact, with the draft being pushed back to May this year, it seems we’ve long by-passed silly and gone straight to ludicrous season. So take that for what it’s worth as you follow along with my thoughts here…
Earlier in the off-season, I noticed a disturbing trend forming amongst Browns fans when it came to the prospect of drafting a Quarterback with the 4th overall pick. It seemed to derive from a fear that no matter which QB the Browns chose, he would be a colossal bust and in turn set the franchise back another five years. Again. Besides, there are much “safer” players to take. Players like all-everything Clemson WR Sammy Watkins. *sigh*
I believe Browns fans have become overly risk averse thanks to a decade and a half of misses like Tim Couch, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, and um, that last guy. The stigma that exists due to these giant whiffs from regimes past has created this idea that any QB not named Andrew Luck is unsafe and that is a risk a team like the Browns, with their history of ineptitude, cannot afford to take. The problem I have with this ideology is that people assume because QBs have failed here in the past, it will surely happen again. Never mind that this is an entirely different set of quarterbacks coming into an entirely different situation with different surrounding talent and a different front office. Hell, even the scoreboards will be different. Nevertheless, the fear is real. I jokingly refer to it as “QB Draftaphobia”. It just rolls off the tongue, eh?
Unfortunately, as time has gone on, I’ve found that even the most resolute are not immune to the affliction. A few weeks ago, I detailed here how I felt the Browns would opt out of taking a Quarterback with the #4 overall pick and choose to go with a player that could make a more immediate impact on the field. I still believe that. In fact, the more time goes on, the more cemented this belief becomes. This is a two-fold premise…
1) It is widely believed that the Browns are a team that is ready and able to take major steps forward in 2014. With five returning Pro Bowlers, almost everyone in the NFL world believes they are a team that is ready to win sooner rather than later. More importantly, the players, the coaches and the front office personnel in Berea seem to believe this. No more playing for the future. That’s good. 2) It is also widely believed that the Quarterbacks in this draft class all have certain flaws in their game that are going to require time and coaching to fix and should not be counted on to start right away.
Now, you can argue that the Browns are ready to win BUT they need a QB to do so. The problem in saying that, however, is you are not only assuming that Brian Hoyer is incapable of getting the job done but that a rookie with zero NFL experience and having no time to develop IS. That’s awfully bold. And though it may be true, there’s no way for any one to know that with any certainty. Not even Ray Farmer.
In my opinion, that line of thinking seems flawed. I understand Hoyer is coming off injury and has only started a handful games in the NFL, but that’s still a handful more than any rookie and there something to be said for sitting and learning behind the likes of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. (Before I go on, I must disclose that I do not feel Hoyer presents a long-term answer. I am merely talking about the short-term and how it pertains to the 4th overall pick.)
Also, if the team is ready to win now and all is dependent on the QB position, it seems to me you would want a guy who has spent the off-season in the facility and with the players he’s going to lead on the field to victory in the fall. Besides, I think everyone understands Hoyer is going to enter training camp as the incumbent starter and it would take some monumental play by a rookie to beat him out for the right to open the season in September. So I must ask… Are you comfortable taking a player who likely will not be a starter when the season opens with the 4th overall pick in the draft? On a team that’s supposedly ready to win now? Hmmm.
So if not Quarterback, then who? As I wrote previously, if we’re talking about players who can make a plug and play-type, immediate impact, there are the two pass rushers (Mack and Clowney) and the two tackles (Matthews and Robinson). We can argue about the need for such players until we’re blue in the face, but I’m always going to come back to the philosophy that, when you’re drafting that high, you can’t afford to place NEED over TALENT. Ideally, you’d like to get the most talented player at their position who also fills a need.
There’s little question that each of the aforementioned players are deserving of the title ‘Most Talented’ at their respective positions. Now, it just comes down to how much of a need do the Browns have at each position? If you’re like me and would like to see the right side of the offensive line solidified for the next decade, or at least until Joe Thomas retires, you can justify taking Matthews or Robinson. Or maybe, while a pass rusher is not necessarily a need, but a versatile missile who can also play inside, outside, or anywhere the imaginative Mike Pettine wants to have him line up, you have to like Khalil Mack. And man, if Jadeveon Clowney falls to #4, even though you don’t need a pure pass rusher, how do you pass on him? Maybe you trade down in that case. Enticing.
Regardless, if I’m a rookie GM with a rookie Head Coach, I think I’d have to entertain all of those options before I entertain playing for 2015 and spending my top draft pick on a guy who may have to hold a clipboard for a year. Short-sighted? Perhaps. Ask Rob Chudzinski, Mike Lombardi, and Joe Banner how playing for the future worked out.
Helping to take the “QB Draftaphobia” airborne is the latest installment of Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column in which he quotes Vikings GM Rick Spielman, who describes the decision to take a quarterback in this draft as ‘torturous’.
“The torture part of it,’’ said Spielman, “is you see a player sitting there when you pick who you know can help you right away, a significant player at another position, an impact player as a rookie. Then you ask yourself, ‘How do we feel about our options at quarterback in the second or third round? Is it close? Is there a big separation? Or is it close?’ We’ve broken them down in all the ways we could think of. Analytically—measuring them against their five toughest opponents, indoor-versus-outdoor, by psychological testing, and it is such a mixed bag.
“That’s a big reason why we made it a high priority to sign Matt Cassel back. Every one of these quarterbacks … nothing is a sure thing. There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player—every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feeling, why don’t you just wait till later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?”
There’s that Andrew Luck line again. Sounds familiar Rick. Awfully familiar.
Unfortunately, the Browns didn’t re-sign a Matt Cassel, or trade for Matt Schaub (Oakland) or sign a Ryan Fitzpatrick (Houston). They have Hoyer and Alex Tanney. So, despite the hesitation to do so, the Browns best bet may be to bite the bullet and take the highest rated QB available at 4. And, if you believe King, it sounds like they may have their pick of the litter.
Houston, at No. 1, isn’t set on Jadeveon Clowney. In fact, one FORS (Friend of Rick Smith) told me the Texans general manager likes Khalil Mack over Clowney, and we still don’t know which quarterback Houston would choose if it chooses one first overall. I still think the Texans would go with a more sure thing with the first overall pick than a quarterback—and that sure thing could also be tackle Greg Robinson. But imagine Mack, the outside linebacker from the University of Buffalo, being the first pick in a stacked draft. Wouldn’t that be something—a second straight Mid-American Conference player (Eric Fisher, Central Michigan, by Kansas City) as the top pick in the NFL draft?
Jacksonville is the most logical spot for the loser of the No. 1 pick derby between Clowney and Mack. GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley want a pass-rusher, badly.
So if Mack and Clowney are gone, and the Rams take one of the tackles like everyone suspects they will, that leaves Cleveland with enticing options. Or does it? QB or no QB? Can you imagine the carnage among the fan base and the media if the Browns have their pick of QBs and decided to pass on one for… A TACKLE!?! Or what if they take a QB, but it’s not the one named Johnny? How about Blake?
Oh man. If I’m the Browns, I love the idea of hosting a Draft Party at First Energy Stadium until that party turns into a protest rally because Ray Farmer didn’t go with the people’s choice… Whoever that is.
Heh. I’ve always subscribed to the theory that a GM who thinks like the fans will soon end up sitting with the fans, but there’s little wonder why the word ‘torture’ has been invoked when thinking about the decision Farmer and other QB-needy GMs will have to make two weeks from Thursday. One thing is for sure… I sure am glad it’s not up to me.