Quarterback is the single most important position in sports. LeBron James might be able to provide a nice counter-example in basketball, but the statement is not far off. Quarterback is decidedly the most important position in football. The difficulty level of catching passes, time needed to be spent pass-blocking, and defenders in the box to stop the run are all significantly affected by the respect- or lack thereof- the opposing team has for your quarterback.1
On Monday, WFNY’s Josh Poloha made the attempt to argue that the Cleveland Browns do not need to even consider investing in the quarterback position during the 2017 NFL Draft despite the current rostered players only consisting of Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, and Kevin Hogan.
While there are points of virtue littered throughout his post, the over-riding ethos of the argument is entrenched in an incorrect premise that none of the Top 4 quarterbacks are worth a Round 1 or Round 2 selection for the Browns.2 In fact, the opposite is true. Any of these quarterbacks would be a worthy gamble for the team during the draft’s first 52 picks. Especially since, as Poloha properly notes, head coach Hue Jackson has already intimated that he doesn’t believe the long-time starter is currently on the roster.
Argument 1: Time
There are two arguments directly tied to time during his argument. The first is that the current crop of shotgun spread quarterbacks are going to take time to develop. That they will not and can not be ready to start in Week 1. The second argument is that Hue Jackson and his staff can ill-afford another miserable one or two loss year, so the Browns must draft as many plug-n-play starters as possible.
These issues are somewhat tied together. If the Harvard Brain Trust w/ Hue Jackson regime is going to be successful, then they must find their quarterback. Upon drafting a quarterback, it will take some time in order to develop that player no matter what year he is drafted because the shotgun spread systems are not leaving college football anytime soon (and even traditional offense players take time to adapt). Therefore, the most sensible solution is to draft the quarterback as soon as one worth taking is made available at their draft slot based on their evaluations.
It does not make sense for the Browns to worry about their tenure with the team. Playing to win an extra game or two in 2017 does not help the long-term vision which the HBT has assured us ownership has signed on to see through. The front office went out and added players to the offensive line (center J.C Tretter and guard Kevin Zeitler), so anyone lining up behind center should be better protected this upcoming season too.
As for improving upon the lone win, supplementing veterans in addition to the growth of youthful players (the Browns had by far the most snaps by rookies in 2016) should account for a few more wins, which should be enough to buy the regime more time. If not, then owner Jimmy Haslam’s impatience is a far bigger issue for the team. As for fan angst, sorry. A well-run team does not worry about the feelings of the fans knowing that creating a consistent winning culture will bring them back.
The other reason not to wait for a future draft is that it is a complete unknown. If there is a player worth taking in 2017, then you take that player. Inside the Pylon’s Mark Schofield described in great detail how “the next quarterback draft” is always deemed better… until it comes around. Here’s a snippet:
Every draft cycle follows the same pattern when it comes to the quarterback position. Around the start of the college football season there are quarterbacks that many assume will be surefire first-round selections, who are destined for greatness in the NFL. But as they progress through their season, they make mistakes. They show flaws and the evaluation process begins to chip away at their armor. What does that lead to? Around the time the draft rolls around, the stories are written: “Wait until next year. Next year’s class is better. Really.”
Argument 2: Value
The next set of arguments against drafting a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft center around value. The depth of defensive talent, the worry about not having an elite quarterback prospect, and the growth of the quarterbacks already rostered.
This upcoming selection setting is deep on valuable defensive talent. The Browns own four of the Top 52 picks, and it makes some sense to dive in on the draft’s strength to bolster Gregg Williams’ side of the ball. Having a draft of Myles Garrett, Gareon Conley, Raekwon McMillan, and Marcus Williams would excite anyone who enjoys stopping the opponent. The issue is that quarterback is more valuable and would only take one of these selections. The Browns can still go defense with their other three picks should they believe those are the best players for their slot. Is any defender at pick No. 12 going to make the difference between the Browns being a long-term success or failure? Doubtful.
Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler could also develop. However, despite a nice rookie season from Kessler and some promise shown in 2015 from Osweiler, it seems prudent to supplement the roster with a higher ceiling player. If somehow Hue Jackson works his magic on one of these quarterbacks and turns them into a useful starter, then fantastic. But, why should the Browns stake their future to such an occurrence?
Of course, the Browns could trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, but obtaining the player with less than 100 career NFL pass attempts is going to cost as much or more in draft assets as taking any of the players from the draft. Plus, Garoppolo will require a new contract at a high premium, while any first-round rookie will be controlled for five years at a reasonable price.
Argument 3: Rookie QBs starting games
A great point was made about the Browns having always started a high-round drafted quarterback in their rookie year throughout their franchise history. Rookie quarterbacks might not be fully ready and will make some dumb mistakes that could even cost the team a game or two.
However, once the player knows the playbook, why not start the timetable on that player learning what it means to play in the NFL? There are only so many lessons that can be learned in the video room. There is only so much good scout team repetitions at half-speed for preparing a player for the rigors of an actual NFL game.
The Browns are not the 1999 version that will get a quarterback killed. Heck, they are not even the 2016 version anymore after their free agent spending spree on offensive line. There are weapons in Gary Barnidge, Kenny Britt, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, and Corey Coleman. While the rookie would not be walking into a situation as great as Dak Prescott did with the Dallas Cowboys last year, it is good enough to provide a positive learning experience.
Sometimes, you just need to hand the player the ball and tell them to get out on the field.
Argument 4: 2017 NFL Draft
Another correct assertion is that there is not a consensus top overall prospect in the upcoming draft. Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and DeShone Kizer can be arranged in nearly any order depending on the particular team and the needs that they have out of the position. None of these players are considered to be a Tier 1 quarterback in the realm of a Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota.
Do not take those statements to mean that this is a weak quarterback draft or that none of these quarterbacks is worth an early round selection. Far from it. No player is worth the Browns passing up Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick, but any of them would be worth taking at No. 12. Each of these players is in the Tier 2 category for quarterbacks, which means they are all worth first-round picks.
If somehow all of the players drop (won’t happen), then taking the quarterback Jackson wants most should happen within the first 30 seconds the Browns are on the clock. As long as the front office and coaching staff are in agreement though, then here is why each of the quarterbacks could be taken.
Argument 4-A: Why not Mahomes?
his bad habits and inconsistencies may be too tough a hurdle to get over. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback possesses plenty of good attributes, but his weaknesses can cost him long-term. He’s a high risk, high reward-type quarterback. Can the Browns afford that in their current situation?
Patrick Mahomes is the most athletic quarterback in a class that has some amazing athletes. His pocket mobility, arm talent, accuracy, anticipation, leadership, and understanding of the game are all top notch. He is an aggressive player who will be willing to throw receivers open rather than wait for them to have space. Mahomes is as competitive as they come and has been working to break the stigma of being from the Air Raid system.
As a rookie, one might expect him to have issues with interceptions as he learns when to gamble against NFL defenses. His footwork and arm slots can be sloppy as he attempts to force plays that are not there. He has the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft though and his arm talent, experience, and work ethic make him the most likely of these players to be ready to start from Day 1.
Here are draft experts Mark Schofield and Matt Waldman breaking down Mahome’s film.
Argument 4-B: Why not Trubisky?
Whether it’s the fact that he was in shotgun in almost 98 percent of his dropbacks in his spread offense, didn’t throw in many tight windows in traffic, didn’t see blitzes well, or floated balls to open wide receivers downfield and allowed the defense to catch up, Trubisky has plenty of flaws. Keep in mind, he became a full-time starter in his final season at North Carolina. If he was that good, shouldn’t he have started ahead of Marquise Williams prior to Williams graduating in 2015?
Mitchell Trubisky not beating out Marquise Williams is unsurprising. Williams was an entrenched starter who went 11-3 in his senior year and had great success in college despite not possessing the required toolset to be a NFL quarterback (signed onto Green Bay Packers practice squad in 2016). College coaches can be risk adverse and passing up on a quarterback they know will win them games for one that might have more talent but is not proven on the field is a tall order.
In Trubisky’s favor is that he is capable of making every NFL throw and had several WOW plays in each game. His 66.7% adjusted completion percentage (per PFF) when pressured demonstrates that recognizing and beating the blitz was among his greatest strengths. Trubisky also seems to have spent his time as a backup polishing his mechanics. He has the cleanest release and footwork of any prospect in this draft (Miami’s Brady Kaaya might have a slightly quicker release, but it is close). Don’t sleep on Trubisky as an athlete either, the Mentor graduate has great wheels and quickness in the pocket.
He does need to work on his consistency and his lack of experience could be a factor in his ramp time to the NFL. So, while he might be less likely to be ready for Week 1, if Jackson prefers a quarterback with more polish on mechanics, then Trubisky is the choice.
Argument 4-C: Why not Watson?
His biggest weakness is his arm strength—or lack thereof. During the NFL Combine, his fastest throw was just 49 miles per hour. For those keeping track at home, Kessler, who isn’t known for his arm strength, threw 55 miles per hour. The lowest standard deemed acceptable by most scouts is 53 mile per hour. Whether it’s his up-and-down play, arm strength, or the fact that it will take him some time to transition from the spread offense to pro-style, the 6-foot-2, 221-pound quarterback has the potential to be a good NFL quarterback, but there is considerable risk too.
Deshaun Watson is perhaps the most controversial quarterback discussed in this upcoming draft. He received the National Championship bump after leading the Clemson Tigers to a comeback over the Alabama Crimson Tide. He has a ton of experience and has proven that he can make the adjustments to overcome college defenses designed to limit him. His leadership is unquestioned as his knowledge of the game (he was given audible responsibilities that grew with the Tigers).
His inconsistencies in accuracy were worrisome at times, but the only pause people have had with drafting Watson in the first round is the slow velocity of his throws. The 49 mile per hour number is so slow and does not match with some of the perceived tape on him that there is an open question to whether Watson might be dealing with a small injury. If so, the worry could depress his stock to a point in the draft where the Browns obtain an amazing value. Otherwise, Watson might be limited to a West Coast offense with longer throws being less contested, but Hue Jackson works within the confines of such a system already and is capable of making the skillset shine.
ITP’s Mark Schofield went a step further and dissected each of Watson’s 17 interceptions from the 2016 season to see if the velocity issue was at fault.
But as is the case with any throw in football, there is more than one way to complete a pass. Quarterbacks can rely more on anticipation and play speed, to get the ball out before breaks and get the ball to the target quicker. Teams can add a scheme component, whether by moving the quarterback around in the pocket or running a West Coast offense with quicker throws where the velocity can be maintained over a shorter distance.
Argument 4-D: Why not Kizer?
The Notre Dame product by far has the most questions about the kind of quarterback he can be in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound gunslinger has the arm strength, accuracy, and pocket awareness, but his mechanics are inconsistent when relying on his arm strength. The fourth dual-threat quarterback of these four signal-callers took a sack at times even though he had receivers open, while also throwing an interception in 15 of his 23 starts at Notre Dame.
DeShone Kizer started the season off as the No. 1 quarterback prospect, but the failings of Notre Dame football as a whole helped dull the shine of his play. As far as how a NFL quarterback should look, Kizer checks all the boxes. He is the potential Ben Roethlisburger of this draft as a big, athletic player who has the power to withstand hits and mobility to extend plays. His arm strength is unquestioned (though not as good as Mahomes – none are). He has some mechanical issues to fix, and he needs to learn when to give up on a play (takes too many sacks). Still, he has a higher floor than perhaps any of the other quarterbacks in this class.
The Browns will not be taking a quarterback with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. However, there are four quarterbacks worth taking in the first round of the draft. With Tony Romo deciding to call games for CBS rather than play football, there will be another team at the backend of the round who might take one. The time for playing games is over. Pick No. 12 is a prime spot to grab a quarterback.
Some believe that the Browns cannot afford to take a quarterback when they have so many other needs on the football team, but the reality is that they cannot afford to pass up on a quarterback who can finally make them consistent winners.