The middle of July is rarely a time many think of football, especially when there is a baseball team as good as the Cleveland Indians in town, but Training Camp starts in a week in Berea for the Cleveland Browns. As we get into football season (and truly, is there ever a time in Cleveland where it isn’t football season?), we here at WFNY will be starting our season positional previews. Running in conjunction with those seasonal previews will be a Top 5 All-Time list in concordance with those positions, and where better to start than at quarterback?
There is no position more highly scrutinized than quarterback and the Browns legacy at the position is both rich in history with icons and well-documented failures. We are all well versed in “The Jersey”, but that is not why we are here. We are here to talk about the best quarterbacks to ever put on a Browns uniform. This list, and those in the future weeks, will be compiled of the best to ever adorn the brown and orange, but will also take into consideration those players that are noteworthy that may have missed the cut.
No. 5 Tim Couch
from 1999 to 2003
W-L record: 22-37-0
Passing stats: 62 games played in, 11,131 yards, 59.8 completion %, 64 TDs, 67 INTs, 75.1 QB rating
Where else would our list lead off than the guy who brought the team back? Ok, while he was definitely not the All Pro many foresaw when he came out of Kentucky, the relative longevity ofhis career in Cleveland lands him at No. 5 in our All Time Positional Preview. I say longevity somewhat tongue in cheek, as he only played in Cleveland for four years, but considering the majority of the quarterbacks on the “new” Browns barely lasted longer than a year, Couch seems to be the elder statesmen of the group. Throwing for the 5th most yards in franchise history, along with a respectable 75.1 QB rating (remember 1999 was the first year of the Greatest Show On Turf Rams, so passing offenses weren’t what they are now), Couch did enough to get his way onto the list. He also holds the distinction of being the only quarterback in NFL history to throw two game-winning passes of 50 yards or more with 0:00 left on the clock, so he gets some “clutch” points as well. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.
No. 4 Frank Ryan- QB
from 1962 to 1968
W-L-T record: 52-22-2, 1 championship (1964), 3x Pro Bowl QB (1964-1966)
Passing stats: 84 games played, 13,361 yards, 51.7 completion %, 134 TDs, 88 INTs, 81.4 QB rating
Acquired in a trade after being benched as a member of the Los Angeles Rams (yes, they were in LA before going to St. Louis to later return), Frank Ryan has the distinction of being the last Browns quarterback to win a championship in Cleveland. Ryan was the general on teams that were loaded with talented players such as Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Paul Warfield and Lou Groza, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he was able to make three consecutive Pro Bowls in 1964 to 1966. Ryan threw for 13,361 yards and 134 TDs, the 3rd most in franchise history.
No. 3 Bernie Kosar
from 1985 to 1993
W-L-T record: 53-51-1, 3 AFC Championship games (1986, 1987, 1989), 2 Pro Bowls (1987, 1989)
Passing stats: 108 games played, 21,904 yards, 58.8 completion %, 116 TDs, 81 INTs, 81.6 QB rating
We all are familiar with “The Fumble” and “The Drive”. We know what happens, and many of us have those images seared in our brains, especially since they are replayed as soon as any Cleveland team gets close to a championship. However, none of those would have happened with Bernie Kosar. Kosar was the local kid come home, playing his high school ball at Boardman High School, and was seen by many to be the prodigal son, the one to get that championship that alluded Cleveland since 1964. Despite his best efforts, Kosar was unable to get the ring, but he was a great in season quarterback, getting to the Pro Bowl in 1987 and 1989 and one of only 3 Browns quarterbacks to throw for more than 20,000 yards over his Browns career. Kosar had the second highest completion percentage by a Browns quarterback with more than 1000 attempts. Bernie was eventually cut by none other than the “this isn’t even my final form” Bill Belichick in 1993.
No. 2 Brian Sipe
W-L-T record: 57-55-0, NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, and Pro Bowl (1980)
Passing stats: 125 games played, 23,713 yards, 56.5 completion %, 154 TDs, 149 INTs, 74.8 QB rating
It was a harder decision on who should be No. 1 than I thought it would be, looking objectively at the numbers, but ultimately, Brian Sipe is our No. 2 quarterback on the list, and it’s well deserved. With nine years as quarterback, Sipe was able to amass numbers that put him near the top, also not to be outshadowed was his 1980 Most Valuable Player award, as well as Offensive Player of the Year award and Pro Bowl appearance the same year. If you thought Couch was clutch, Sipe was the originator. He and the “Kardiac Kids” engineered eight comebacks and 11 game winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in two years from 1979-1980. Unfortunately, Sipe is probably best known for being the quarterback during the “Red Right 88” play that ended the Browns chances in the playoffs in 1981.
No. 1 Otto Graham
W-L-T record: 57-13-1, 3x MVP (1951, 1953, 1955), 3x NFL champion (1950, 1954, 1955), 5x Pro Bowl (1950-1954), 4x All Pro (1951, 1953-1955)
Passing stats: 126 games played, 23,584 yards, 55.8 completion %, 174 TDs, 135 INTs, 86.6 QB rating
Are you that surprised Otto Graham is No. 1, really? When it comes to Browns quarterbacks, and perhaps ALL quarterbacks, Graham is the GOAT, (apologies to Jose Ramirez, but he was first). Graham has the most touchdowns thrown at 174, along with being second in yards thrown, beaten by a measly 200, he dominates the win percentage debate hands down, winning 80% of the games he played in. Otto also was the model of quarterback during the leagues formative years. He won three MVPs, three championships and set records that stand to this day. When considering this list, he was the only quarterback I knew where I was going to rank heading in.
Honorable mentions: Derek Anderson had a few good seasons, including making a Pro Bowl appearance in 2007. Anderson threw for over 7,000 yards as a Brown and 46 TD passes in four years with the Browns, being one of the best of quarterbacks the Browns have had since returning to the league. Milt Plum has the distinction as being the player with the highest quarterback rating amongst Browns quarterbacks at 89.9. Plum quarterbacked the Browns from 1957 until 1961, throwing for 8,914 yards and 66 TDs and only 39 INTs.