Amidst the banal existence of another potential winless season, the Cleveland Browns are at an important crossroad. The process by which the Harvard Brain Trust (HBT) has been building pointed toward the desire to finally have a competent team built to surround a rookie quarterback taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. Sure, the Browns hoped to win some games along the way, but the top of the draft position was something they knew was part of The Plan. Tear it down, rebuild, and then you can cap off the rebuild with the quarterback built to have a team around him in place to help him win – help the process go as smoothly as it can for a rookie quarterback. The plan seems solid in nature, and whether some want to admit it or not, the pieces are there for the Browns to be competitive in the near future.
There is just one problem with the HBT’s quarterback plan, though. The Browns, whether through the HBT or Hue Jackson, decided last year that it was necessary to take a flier on a second-round quarterback in Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. Kizer has clear limitations as a 21-year old quarterback who left college early – Brian Kelly made sure to let everyone know, but at the same time Kizer also has plenty of tools and upside that made draft minds think he could be worth the risk. The balance in that risk, and the Browns failure in preparation for the 2017 quarterback position group has left them in a peculiar spot.
Throughout Kizer’s first 10 NFL starts, he has flashed some actual games of promise, and he has shown in others a reminder for why the 21 year old was taken in the second round of the draft. He has looked both parts able and unable and it has often happened within a week to week format. Whatever stat you want to find on DeShone Kizer, whether good or bad, you can find it. Whether this one to help his case:
Per @Cianaf, DeShone Kizer has lost 363 yards due to drops by his receivers. three. hundred. and. sixty. three.
— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) November 17, 2017
Or ones like this that hurts his case:
QB % of catchable passes thrown at the intermediate level (10-19 yards)#InBrotherhood Matt Ryan 84.4%#GoSaints Drew Brees 79.6%#FinsUp Jay Cutler 78.2%
.#GoNiners Brian Hoyer 59.6%#Browns DeShone Kizer 55.2%#Texans Deshaun Watson 50%
— John Kosko (@PFF_JohnKosko) November 28, 2017
These stats can be found all over the place, but they don’t paint the most accurate picture of what Kizer truly is. Kizer is a rookie trying to find his way in a difficult league with a plethora of young guys playing around him. It’s no secret the odds aren’t in Kizer’s favor so far. The Browns are the league’s youngest team, and Kizer is often going into offensive drives without his three best offensive weapons on the field as Duke Johnson, David Njoku and Corey Coleman have either been hurt, benched, or forgotten about entirely. Hue Jackson doesn’t necessarily help his young quarterback out schematically either, and that’s why we see some of the ugly numbers we have seen from Kizer thus far in 2017.
Solely blaming others for Kizer’s issues isn’t fair either. Kizer has more interceptions from a clean pocket (12), than any other quarterback has in the league total. The picture here is muddled, and is something the Browns front office and coaching staff, whoever they may be in 2018, will have to come to a conclusion on.
Rookie quarterbacks struggling to make consistent linear progress is nothing new. Playing quarterback in this league is about as hard as it gets in professional sports, but what the Browns have to do is gauge whether they want to risk their entire plan on the shoulders of this young man, or if they want to use some of their hard-earned draft capital on the top quarterback in the 2018 draft class. The option for a free agent quarterback who can change the course of the franchise is about as meager as it comes, although the possibility is there. Odds are the Browns will have to attack the draft if they seek the long-term solution they don’t deem Kizer can be.
That brings me to the point here. These last five games, with a full slate of weapons, will tell us a clear story about the progress of Kizer, and the future the Browns can have with him at the helm. Kizer has an opportunity to present his case against some quality defenses (Chargers, Ravens) and some who struggle (Bears, Packers, Steelers). The main argument for Kizer supporters has been an utter lack of weapons to help the young kid out. That has been fair, but a fully healthy Corey Coleman, Duke Johnson, David Njoku and now Josh Gordon present the young man with some options to allow others to help him make the necessary plays to show his promise to the front office and coaching staff. Kizer himself stated this week “My consistency at the quarterback position is a big key on how we are going to continue to go out and have success on offense.”
There are so many factors that will play an important role in the future of DeShone Kizer in Cleveland, especially who is in place in the important decision-making roles when the off-season comes around. What we do know is that the odds remain high that the Browns will finally draft a quarterback with the first pick, their first time doing so since 1999, but there alternative and sticking with Kizer can’t be ruled out. If Kizer wants to make sure he is the man of the future in Cleveland, he has to help his cause by being lights out in the final five games of the season – make this decision as hard as possible on the franchise as it tries to desperately figure out a position it hasn’t solved in nearly twenty years. My only hope is they defeat their own history, and make the right decision this time around.