Somehow, impressively, the Browns are again 4-11 and on the verge of a top eight draft pick. It’s maddening how consistent this franchise is at being among the bottom-fourth worst teams in the NFL. And it’s time to look briefly at the quarterbacks that might be around at the top of the draft.
Today, the Browns can knock the Steelers out of the playoff race for good. That’d be fun. Winning is generally ideal. But in the Cleveland world we live in, winning might not be the preferred option for many fans as we dive into the quarterback rankings.
For the third straight season, the Browns ranked among the five worst teams in passing, per Pro Football Focus. It’s also gotten worse, from No. 28 in 2011 to No. 29 last season and No. 31 this year. That’s an issue and it’s not that surprising anymore when Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell throw 85% of the team’s pass attempts through 15 games. The quarterback position is in shambles. Is a better draft position the most important goal right now?
As Jared Mueller broke down at Factory of Sadness, there are a number of games to watch this afternoon for draft positioning. Based on a possible win and the strength of schedule tiebreaker, the Browns could end up in a number of different spots from No. 3 to No. 8. Most likely, with a loss, it’s No. 3 or No. 4. With a win, and nobody else winning, they could fall from their current spot of No. 5 to No. 7 or worse.
Those other teams that could end up higher than the Browns in the draft: Houston, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Oakland, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Conceivably, almost all of those teams could use a well-established future quarterback. St. Louis could be OK with a healthy Sam Bradford. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan isn’t going anywhere. But the others could be desperate, just like the Browns.
Per established rankings, here are the consensus top seven quarterbacks in the 2014 draft:
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville*
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M*
Blake Bortles, Central Florida*
Brett Hundley, UCLA*
Derek Carr, Fresno State
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Thus far, some fans have been skeptical of the future prospects of those quarterbacks. Their shine has waned over the past few weeks with many struggling under the spotlight. Teddy Bridgewater had a final possible last game with Louisville, yet Derek Carr struggled for Fresno State in their bowl game. Notably, all four of the top players all are underclassmen, which could hamper the Browns’ decision set even further.
Would I be thoroughly disappointed with McCarron or Mettenberger? Maybe. It’s perhaps too early to tell. But realistically, the Browns could get blocked out of the elite QBs with a win and some misfortune today. It’s possible that three quarterbacks could be among the first four picks in the draft, and with Brett Hundley being the most doubtful player of going to the pros, that would take away the top half of this list.
Deservingly, Terry Pluto called out the Browns defense in his Sunday notes column today. It’s fair to say that the Browns organization needs a lot more talent across the board as opposed to only quarterback. Skill positions like cornerback, inside linebacker and running back still are not strengths. They could be boosted with a mid-round pick, perhaps a non-quarterback with that first selection or with Indianapolis’ slot later in the first round.
Something I much prefer: Having a young quarterback to again rely upon for the future. For example, Ryan Tannehill went No. 8 to Miami in that dreaded 2012 draft. He hasn’t been spectacular, but at only 25 years old and in keeping the Dolphins in the playoff race, his future looks just fine. The Browns only had 30-year-old Weeden, 31-year-old Campbell and 28-year-old Brian Hoyer around this season. A young QB presents hope and a plan for the future.
As we look at one final regular season game, the draft positioning and the ramifications of a win relate to the team’s ability to draft that enchanted future quarterback. At No. 3 or No. 4, the Browns should be able to have a choice of at least one of the top three players. Anywhere else and the options might be slim. That’s where my mind will be during today’s game in Pittsburgh.
Photo: John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer