Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ever since the Cleveland Browns returned to
the NFL for the 1999 season, they've been unable to find a long-term answer at
the quarterback position.
They've tried several times to draft their franchise quarterback, but Tim
Couch, Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy were all mediocre at best as the Cleveland
Browns' starter. Veteran acquisitions like Jeff Garcia and Jake Delhomme
brought even worse results.
In fact, the new Cleveland Browns have played in only one playoff game during
their 13 seasons (Trivia question: Who was the Browns' starting QB in that
2002 postseason game? It was journeyman Kelly Holcomb.).
At the recent NFL Draft, the Browns took another stab at finding that elusive
franchise quarterback. With the 22nd overall pick, Cleveland selected Oklahoma
State's Brandon Weeden, and he figures to be one of the NFL's most intriguing
players in 2012.
Weeden is not your typical NFL rookie. He's going to turn 29 on Oct. 14, which
makes him three years older than McCoy, the man he's expected to replace. At
28 years and 195 days on draft day, Weeden became the oldest first-round draft
choice in NFL history.
It's hard to say how this is going to work out. In two seasons as Oklahoma
State's starter, Weeden was tremendously productive, throwing for 71
touchdowns. He engineered 2011 wins over all three of the quarterbacks selected
ahead of him in the draft - Stanford's Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts),
Baylor's Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins) and RyanTannehill (Miami
On the other hand, Weeden played in a spread offense. There's going to be a
learning curve as he tries to master the Browns' West Coast attack.
The optimist would point out that since Weeden is more mature than the average
NFL rookie, that he should more easily adjust to being a professional. Heck, he
already was a professional athlete for five years, having spent 2002-06 as a
minor-league pitcher in the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Kansas
City Royals organizations.
The pessimist would argue that, despite his age, Weeden has no more
quarterbacking experience than other typical rookies. Being a baseball player
for five years basically took away the potential for five more years of
development as a quarterback.
Weeden made 26 college starts. By comparison, Griffin made 41 starts at Baylor
and Andrew Luck 38 at Stanford. And Luck made those starts in a pro-style
offense. Weeden did not.
When comparing Weeden to the incumbent McCoy, though, the rookie is bigger,
stronger and possesses superior arm strength. On the flip side, a major reason
why Weeden gave up baseball in favor of football was that shoulder injuries - a
torn labrum and rotator cuff tendinitis - had stunted his development as a
pitcher. It's hard to imagine those injuries didn't raise some red flags for
teams that were considering drafting a quarterback.
Weeden has drawn comparisons to former Florida State Heisman Trophy winner
Chris Weinke, since Weinke was an ex-minor-league baseball player who was 29
when he began his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers in 2001. Weinke
didn't have much success in his pro career, but Weeden has much more physical
talent and will undoubtedly be a superior NFL quarterback.
But the big questions are these: How much can Weeden improve the Browns, and
will he finally end Cleveland's search for a franchise quarterback?
The Browns stumbled to a 4-12 record last season with McCoy as their primary
starter, so there's plenty of room for improvement. The team is much better
positioned to be successful now, thanks to the addition of top draft pick Trent
Richardson, the elite running back from Alabama. Chosen at No. 3 overall, he
should instantly become a top-five NFL running back.
Cleveland also will be bringing back the key components from a defensive unit
that ranked 10th overall last season. The upgrade at running back will allow
the Browns to play a more effective ball-control offense, which should only
help an already solid defense.
It's not all good news for Weeden, though. McCoy's biggest obstacle to success
in Cleveland was a lack of skill position talent. The team's usual starting
wide receivers last year were Mohamed Massaquoi and rookie Greg Little, neither
of which is likely to ever be a true No. 1 target.
Although wide receiver was considered by many to be the deepest position in the
2012 draft, the Browns didn't pick one until taking Miami's Travis Benjamin in
the fourth round. Their lack of elite receiving talent is probably going to
limit the rookie production of Weeden, who threw to Justin Blackmon (who went
No. 5 overall to Jacksonville) at Oklahoma State. There's no receiver as
good as Blackmon on the Browns' roster.
Although the Browns' interest in Weeden was widely reported during the week
leading up to the draft, they were supposedly leaning toward taking Baylor wide
receiver Kendall Wright with the No. 22 pick. The Tennessee Titans, however,
surprisingly picked Wright at No. 20. Instead of taking the next wide receiver
on their draft board, the Browns picked Weeden at 22.
I wasn't a fan of the move on the first night of the draft because I thought
the Browns could have taken a wide receiver at No. 22, such as Georgia Tech
speedster Stephen Hill (who went to the New York Jets at No. 44), and still
come back at No. 37 to pick Weeden.
It became obvious on Day 2 of the draft, though, that Cleveland didn't really
like many of the consensus top-rated wide receivers. A.J. Jenkins (San
Francisco 49ers) and Brian Quick (St. Louis Rams) were the only wide receivers
who went off the board in between the Browns' 22nd and 37th picks, and they
still did not pick one at 37. The Browns instead drafted California's Mitchell
Schwartz, who is expected to start at right tackle.
Since the Browns' biggest needs were at the skill positions, I believe taking
Richardson, Weeden and Hill would have been a better way to go than Richardson,
Weeden and Schwartz, but Schwartz also filled a need at right tackle. And, with
Richardson looking like a can't-miss prospect, this draft will probably always
be judged by what Weeden becomes anyway.
So, what will he become? I suspect he'll be an upgrade over McCoy, based on arm
strength. His transition to the NFL will be aided by the fact that Cleveland
can lean on a solid ground attack and defense to lead the way, putting less
pressure on Weeden to have to carry the load. The 2012 result will be probably
be something like Mark Sanchez's 2009 rookie season with the Jets (albeit with
fewer wins, most likely).
I suspect that Weeden will have the ability to get Cleveland to the playoffs
once or twice during his career, but two things will probably prevent him from
becoming the Browns' first consistent winner at quarterback since Bernie Kosar.
First, the AFC North is possibly the best division in the NFL, and Cleveland is
clearly last in the pecking order right now (with no signs that Pittsburgh,
Baltimore or Cincinnati will tumble out of contention for the next few
seasons). Those three teams have particularly tough defenses. Secondly, it's
going to take a couple of years for Weeden to master the offense. When he does,
he could, unfortunately, be simultaneously entering his phase of physical
Then again, who knows for sure? There's never been an NFL rookie quarterback
quite like Weeden, and how his career plays out is going to make the Browns an
interesting team to watch during the next few seasons.
Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a
professional sportswriter since 1985.
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