Steven King

Question Isn't If The Browns Take A QB, But When

Created on Apr. 05, 2014 12:00 AM EST

This draft thing for the Cleveland Browns is pretty easy…and it’s also pretty hard.

On one hand, it’s pretty easy to predict the Browns will take a quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft. After all, that’s the position that has bedeviled Cleveland in the expansion era. More than anything else, the lack of a franchise passer – or even just a decent one consistently over a three-year period – is  the reason the club has struggled so mightily, with just two winning records and one playoff appearance in the 15 seasons since it returned to the field in 1999.

Somewhere, Browns Pro Football Hall of Famer Otto Graham – who led the first Browns’ teams to 10 straight league championship games, including seven titles, en route to becoming the most successful quarterback ever at any level of play – must be turning over in his grave.

The Browns seem to be comfortable – at least they say they are – going forward with home-grown Brian Hoyer, a former Cleveland St. Ignatius High School star, as their No. 1 quarterback heading into the 2014 season. Hoyer was impressive in his three starts early last season before being lost to a torn ACL.

That’s all well and good, but no matter how much they think of Hoyer, the Browns also realize – appropriately so – they need a young quarterback to groom for the future, whether that future is sometime in 2014 or in future seasons.

OK, so it’s a no-brainer that the Browns are going to draft a quarterback. Now comes the hard part, trying to figure which one they will take. Making the situation even harder to decipher – and a whole lot more interesting – is that Cleveland has two first-round picks (Nos. 4 and 26), three selections in the top 35, five in the first three rounds and 10 overall.

If the Browns do a good job in this draft – and that would be defined, basically, as hitting on those two first-rounders and finding a promising quarterback wherever – then they could turn themselves around in a veritable blink of an eye. And if they don’t – if they mess this up royally – then it could set the franchise back five years or more.

You think that botching it can’t happen? That the math – the numbers, all those picks, especially early – are so overwhelmingly in Cleveland’s favor that it can’t do anything but succeed?

If you do, then think again.

It can happen, and has – not too long ago, actually. It was in 2009 when Eric Mangini – whom we found out later was acting as both coach and general manager even though he had a general manager in George Kokinis – kamikazed the Browns to their worst draft in history. It was a disaster. It would have been better had he taken aim at a dartboard and let ’er fly or picked names out of a hat.

So Cleveland fans need to keep their fingers crossed and pray that current GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine do not resemble Mangini in any way, shape or form. And they also need to keep their fingers crossed that Farmer and Pettine don’t get as close to Mangini as did Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi in their former roles of Browns CEO and general manager, respectively, in 2013. Whew! That was too close for comfort.

But back to the quarterbacks. The guess – and it’s just that, for they have been so secretive in this process that you’d have a better chance of sleuthing out Russian nuclear secrets than figuring out what they plan on doing or who they like, and anyone who says they do know is just feeding you a line – is that the Browns aren’t interested enough in any of the quarterbacks to take one at No. 4. The quarterbacks all seem have to have potentially fatal flaws – Johnny Manziel may be too small to survive in the rugged AFC North, Teddy Bridgewater is slight as well (and like the late Michael Jackson, he has proven he can’t perform as well without wearing at least one glove) while Blake Bortles could merely be a clone of Brandon Weeden.

Plus there are players at other areas of need who are rated much higher, such as South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, Auburn OT Greg Robinson and Buffalo LB Khalil Mack. Considering all that, it just doesn’t make sense to take a quarterback with such a top-of-the-draft, change-the-entire-franchise type of pick when there aren’t any who are capable of doing such.

But, at No. 26 or even later in the draft, taking a quarterback may be a good value pick in the eyes of the Browns. If that’s true, then could that selection be Alabama QB A.J. McCarron?

Again, who knows?

Or it could be that Cleveland will stand pat at No. 4 and take a player – Watkins or whomever -- and then, if they see the quarterback they like falling in the draft, they’ll use some of those plethora of picks to put together a package deal to move back up to get him? Farmer has said all along there’s a quarterback he likes – one he rates above all others – but there’s just no way of telling who that is.

Farmer and Pettine have been successful thus far in that they’ve left everybody guessing as to what they’re going to do at quarterback in the draft. Good for them. Score one for the Browns. Because if other teams can’t get a good read on Cleveland’s intentions, then at least Farmer and Pettine may have a clearer path to accomplish what they’ve set out to do, whatever that is.

But the bigger – much bigger – victory for Farmer and Pettine will be to find a good quarterback somewhere in the draft, for if they can’t do that, then they won’t on the job for long.

And that’s not a hard thing at all to figure out.

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