David Richard/Associated Press
Maybe you’ve heard this one before, but the Cleveland Browns are awful.
Sitting at 0-5, the Browns are one of the NFL‘s three winless teams, joining the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants. However, the difference in these three franchises is staggering.
Over the course of the last two seasons, the leadership in Cleveland has proven inept.
As a Browns fan, you may feel like you’re stuck in the movie Groundhog Day. No matter what Bill Murray did, he woke up to the same depressing, cold day over and over again until he finally redeemed himself.
Only in this movie, the person responsible for your redemption is clueless. Good luck.
The first red flag was when the Browns fired general manager Ray Farmer (a good move) only to replace him with the team’s general counsel, Sashi Brown. Sometimes hiring from within can work—like in the case of Brett Veach replacing John Dorsey in Kansas City—but in Cleveland, there was no reason to promote Brown to general manager given his limited football background and lack of scouting and team-building experience. He isn’t a scout and has never been a scout, but Cleveland handed him the responsibility for its entire football operation. That’s mistake No. 1.
Mistake No. 2 was hiring Paul DePodesta as chief strategy officer. DePodesta, made famous by Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball, also has no experience in football scouting or cap management, but he played a little college football at Harvard and successfully implemented a statistics-based approach to free agency in baseball. Sounds like a great football guy, right?
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Mistake No. 3 was thinking they could out-think the NFL. This isn’t a knock on analytical-based drafting, but it is a knock on drafting without knowing how to evaluate or value talent. With a need at quarterback since 1999, the Browns traded out of the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft (Carson Wentz) and drafted a player in the third round (Cody Kessler) who projected as nothing more than a career backup. For the record, Kessler is now third on the depth chart behind Kevin Hogan, a player who Cleveland signed after the Kansas City Chiefs cut him, and DeShone Kizer. We’ll get to Kizer later.
Ron Schwane/Associated Press/Associated Press
In the 2017 draft, the Browns held the first pick, and they made a selection anyone who had ever watched football would have made in selecting Myles Garrett. Many NFL teams I’ve spoken to before and since the draft had Garrett as their top-rated player since Andrew Luck. He’s the definition of a no-brainer.
But rather than select a quarterback with the No. 12 overall pick they acquired from trading down in the 2016 draft, the Browns instead traded back to select a safety, Jabrill Peppers, who isn’t a fit in Gregg Williams’ defense.
The No. 12 pick, by the way, became Deshaun Watson.
You could look at every team in the NFL and point out draft misses, but none are so systematically problematic as the Browns’ misses. Drafting Kizer in the second round wasn’t bad value, but there is no visible plan in place to develop him or the roster around him.
When head coach Hue Jackson named Kizer the regular-season starter, he said the Browns would “ride this with DeShone, you know the good, the bad or whatever comes.” That lasted four weeks before Jackson benched him in favor of Hogan, who has now been named the starting quarterback for Week 6.
It’s easy to pick on the Browns, but the only fix to this problem is starting over again. This time, with a general manager who can properly develop and execute a plan to save the team.
Here’s what else is going on this week:
- Top five matchups to watch in Week 7
- A top running back out for the year
- Updated NFL draft order
- Stick to Football Episode 27 with Denver Broncos CB Chris Harris and fixing the 49ers
—Miami running back Mark Walton, a player I touted as a potential first-rounder last week, is out for the season with an ankle injury, per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald. It remains to be seen whether Walton will declare for the 2018 draft or rehab his injury and return to school for his senior year.
—Ross Dellenger of the Advocate had a great note on LSU defensive end Arden Key this week that should interest scouts and fans. After being listed at 235 pounds last season, Key bulked up to 270 this year. The added weight was seen as a good thing until he looked sluggish on the field. According to Dellenger, Key is now back down to 255, which sounds like an ideal weight for his speed and length.
—Dellenger also reports that running back Derrius Guice is still limited following a knee injury.
—The Florida State defense is full of talent, but the name NFL area scouts keep sending back to me is defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. Said one scout, “Get him in your first round and keep him there.” My next big board update is Monday, Oct. 16.
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
—Notre Dame has been sneaky good this season, and one reason is the offensive line. Tackle Mike McGlinchey is expected to be one of the top players drafted at his position, but scouts say guard Quenton Nelson is a lock for Round 1.
—Scouts looking for running backs can get a lot of work done at the University of Alabama. One such area scout told me Bo Scarbrough would be in his top 50 players, but Damien Harris also looks like a first-rounder.
—Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown is a massive man (6’8″, 345 lbs), and over the summer, one area scout told me he might be too big to effectively handle NFL speed-rushers. Brown vs. Texas defensive end Charles Omenihu this weekend is a test worth watching. There has been buzz from scouts and directors that Brown could go Round 1.
—Big board teaser: Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver have moved into my first round.
—Name to Know: TCU defensive end Ben Banogu. I haven’t had the chance to study him yet, but I will be this weekend after hearing his name pop up in several conversations with agents and scouts.
5. Baker Mayfield (Quarterback, Oklahoma) vs. Malik Jefferson (Linebacker, Texas)
This is just one of the many matchups to watch when Texas and Oklahoma meet in the Red River Showdown. I’ll be in Dallas for the game and plan to focus on the quarterback-linebacker chess match between two great athletes. Mayfield is the most exciting quarterback in college football, but the jury is still out on how his skills will translate to the NFL. Being able to see his arm strength and pocket presence in person this weekend is key for my evaluation of him. On the other side, Jefferson is a Jaylon Smith-level athlete, but his instincts are a question mark. How well he handles Mayfield and the Oklahoma offensive scheme will affect his grade.
4. Bradley Chubb (Edge-Rusher, North Carolina State) vs. Brian O’Neill (Tackle, Pitt)
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
Marquee matchups are the best way to evaluate the traits and production of a player. This weekend’s game will give Bradley Chubb an NFL-level test from Pitt tackle Brian O’Neill. Chubb has been unstoppable in the passing game this year, but he’ll get a true test from the Panther left tackle given his length and size. The run game has been an area where Chubb struggles, so keep an eye on him during rushing downs as well.
3. Simmie Cobbs (Wide Receiver, Indiana) vs. Michigan Secondary
Given the five or six guys all similarly ranked together, the 2018 wide receiver class is still looking for a breakout player. Cobbs has the size (6’4″, 220 lbs) and has shown against teams like Ohio State that he can win on physical routes and by out-jumping defenders. The Michigan secondary isn’t what it was last year, but this is still an athletic and well-coached group. If Cobbs has another big day and continues to show top traits, his stock could rise to a point that he’s on par with Calvin Ridley, Deon Cain, Courtland Sutton and Christian Kirk.
2. Rashaad Penny (Running Back, San Diego State) vs. Boise State Defense
Rashaad Penny is one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. Perhaps it’s all the late kickoffs on Saturday nights, but for whatever reason, fans and analysts seem to be sleeping on him. That needs to change. Penny has top-50 talent and has shown the speed and power teams love at the position. The Boise State defense will be a great test for the physical running style of Penny.
1. Kalen Ballage (Running Back, Arizona State) vs. Washington Defense
The Washington defense has NFL talent at every level, which makes the Huskies a great test for Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage. NFL scouts I talk to are torn on Ballage, but his size (6’3″, 230 lbs) and receiving ability have a place in the NFL. Every evaluator will want to see how he does against pro-level speed and strength in this one.
9. Back in 2012, Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Washington, and the team had just traded up to select quarterback Robert Griffin III from Baylor with the second pick in the draft. With its third pick in that draft, Washington selected quarterback Kirk Cousins from Michigan State at No. 102 overall. What did Shanahan tell Cousins?
On the Grant and Danny Show in Washington D.C., Cousins reflected Tuesday, “He was just introducing himself. I remember the first thing he said was, ‘My goal is to develop you and help you play well enough that someday we can trade you.'”
The entire interview is telling of how Shanahan planned to develop Cousins into an NFL quarterback and make him an asset. Shanahan’s new team, the San Francisco 49ers, travel to play Cousins in Washington this weekend. Many, myself included, believe the two will reunite this offseason when Cousins is a free agent.
8. Must-Read of the Week: B/R’s Matt Hayes on Joel Lanning, the Iowa State quarterback-turned-linebacker-turned-dual-threat who was tasked with spying Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield last week. He did well enough in that role to help the Cyclones upset the Sooners.
Lanning’s impact on all three phases of the game is incredible to watch, and Hayes does a great job telling his story in this week’s must-read.
7. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is exceeding every expectation for his rookie season, and he’s already playing at the level I expected he’d reach in year three or four. Here’s my pre-draft report on Watson:
A two-year starter at Clemson—and a two-time Heisman finalist—Deshaun Watson has been one of the best players in college football during that time. He led Clemson to a national title game victory over Alabama in his junior season after losing to the Crimson Tide in a jaw-dropping performance the year before. On the field, Watson is a very good athlete. He excelled as a runner in 2015 (1,105 yards, 12 TDs) before developing into more of a pocket thrower in his final year. He has a quick, smooth release and an over-the-top motion. He’s able to move his legs to set up passing windows and has enough arm to push the ball outside the hashes and down the field. Watson is an excellent leader and a high-character player. His teammates rallied around his toughness and poise throughout the last two years. Among the 2017 quarterback class, Watson is the most pro-ready. He’s a proven winner and playmaker.
When viewing Watson, his total of 30 interceptions in the last two seasons has to be discussed. Too often he struggled to identify zone coverage (see the Pitt, Troy, Florida State and Ohio State games) that led to poor interceptions or near-misses. Often, Watson throws the ball up and bets on his big receivers to make plays on the ball. His deep-ball accuracy is inconsistent. No quarterback in college football had more skill-position talent around him. Watson also had 13 passes batted down in 2016, most of all draft-eligible quarterbacks. If Watson intends to be a runner in the NFL, he’ll need to bulk up to add the power (especially in his lower body) to make plays. Overall, his accuracy is too inconsistent to be considered top-end. He’ll have to speed up his decision-making and improve his spot-accuracy to be a top-tier NFL quarterback.
What I find most impressive with Watson is that his positives are all showing up on a weekly basis. His poise and penchant for making big plays is there whether he’s playing the Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots. The negatives do still pop up from time to time, but Watson is overcoming poor throws or missed reads and not letting himself get into a slump as a passer. Credit the Texans’ coaching staff for putting Watson in a system that isn’t asking him to do too much too soon.
6. Every NFL team has now played four games, and with much of my work focusing on the NFL draft and rookies, I wanted to give you my quarter-season All-Rookie Team.
|NFL All-Rookie Team|
|Quarterback||Deshaun Watson, Texans|
|Running Back||Kareem Hunt, Chiefs|
|Running Back||Leonard Fournette, Jaguars|
|Wide Receiver||Cooper Kupp, Rams|
|Wide Receiver||JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers|
|Tight End||David Njoku, Steelers|
|Offensive Line||Cam Robinson, Jaguars|
|Offensive Line||Garrett Bolles, Broncos|
|Offensive Line||Ryan Ramczyk, Saints|
|Offensive Line||Dion Dawkins, Bills|
|Offensive Line||Pat Elflein, Vikings|
|Defensive End||Myles Garrett, Browns|
|Defensive End||Carl Lawson, Bengals|
|Defensive Tackle||Jonathan Allen, Washington|
|Defensive Tackle||Dalvin Tomlinson, Giants|
|Linebacker||Dylan Cole, Texans|
|Linebacker||Kendell Beckwith, Buccaneers|
|Linebacker||T.J. Watt, Steelers|
|Cornerback||Tre’Davious White, Bills|
|Cornerback||Jourdan Lewis, Cowboys|
|Safety||Jamal Adams, Jets|
|Safety||Malik Hooker, Colts|
5. It’s far too early to be talking about busts from the 2016 NFL draft, but it’s important for evaluators to continually track players to see where hits and misses happened and learn why. Looking back at my 2016 big board, Andrew Billings stands out.
Billings, ranked No. 21 overall, fell to the fourth round of the draft. After the draft, I learned from multiple NFL executives and scouts that he was red-flagged due to a knee injury he suffered in college. Combined with some believing he wasn’t an effective pass-rusher, that pushed him three rounds lower than I had him ranked.
After spending his rookie season on injured reserve due to that knee injury, Billings competed for the nose tackle job in training camp, but he has been a rotational player so far this year.
Is it too soon to call him a bust? Yes. But it’s not too soon to point out Billings as a player trending toward a miss on my board.
4. Quick-hit NFL thoughts:
- The Jaguars would be a Super Bowl contender with a quarterback like Alex Smith who won’t commit turnovers. Smith might be on the trade block after this season. That defense is special.
- The Giants need to fire Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo and start over with Josh Rosen as the quarterback of the future.
- The New England Patriots should trade for Kenny Vaccaro and try to sign him to a contract extension before he hits free agency this summer.
- Christian McCaffrey is going to have more receiving yards than rushing yards this season.
- Adrian Peterson is washed up…just like the rest of the Cardinals offense.
3. Let me expand on the above thought about Reese and the Giants. I don’t think Reese is particularly good at his job, and the proof is in his drafting. Sure, he hit on Odell Beckham, Jr. and Landon Collins. Who else has Reese landed recently? My belief is that much of his success since taking over as general manager in 2007 is due to having Eli Manning in place.
Reese is a good judge of defensive talent and has landed guys like Johnathan Hankins (2013), Landon Collins (2015) and Dalvin Tomlinson (2017), but he was handed the hardest position to scout (quarterback) and the team has regressed on his watch. Despite spending big money in free agency last season to land Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, the team remains winless. You can’t blame all of that on injuries at wide receiver.
Reese’s inability to properly evaluate offensive linemen—misses like Ereck Flowers are killing the line—or valuate linebackers has put the team in a desperate situation. Missing on Flowers, who I had a late third-round grade on, and what appears like a serious reach for Eli Apple at pick No. 10 overall in the 2016 draft (he was ranked No. 35 on my board) is why the Giants are 0-5 right now.
2. Putting a button on the lede: The Browns won seven games during the 2014 season. Since then? Four.
1. Stick to Football Episode 27 is ready to download—and if you haven’t already, go ahead and subscribe with a five-star review!
This week, Connor and I are joined by Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. to talk about Peyton Manning, how good this year’s defense can be and his Madden rating. We also start a new segment called “Fixing Your Team,” and up first are the San Francisco 49ers.
To close it all out, we take your fan questions in our Draft on Draft segment with our intern, Kennedy.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.