We spent seventeen weeks—nearly four full months—attempting to come up with something to say about a football team that produced zero wins. Worse, as many rush to point out how much different things would have been in Week X or Game Y if the team would have only done Z, they covered the spread only four times—a league low. Whether you partake in any sort of season-long events where the spread matters or not, the goal of this exercise, if you’re Las Vegas, is to have every team finish 8-8. The majority of teams (20 to be exact) finished between 9-7 and 7-9. The Vikings and Patriots were exceptions on the high end, both going 11-5, but it was your Cleveland Browns who were the only team to have a ” 12″ and a “4” in their end-of-season total, proving to be the ultimate exception.1
Those 2008 Detroit Lions who the Browns now join in futility? They were 7-9 against the spread. The Browns were a new level of bad. Everything about them was bad. They didn’t have a Calvin Johnson. They didn’t have a Kevin Smith. No Paris Lenon. No Ernie Sims. The Cleveland Browns have an owner whose name is synonymous with a federal investigation, a head coach who displayed zero redeeming qualities, and a wide receiver named “Hollywood.”
Here’s your final Winners and Losers of 2017, a season where the only people who won were those who bet against the Browns.
LOSER: DeShone Kizer
The hopes were high. The pedigree was there. The head was in the right place. To many, he was a first-rounder who fell to the Browns in the early goings of Day 2. He owned training camp and looked like a legit NFL quarterback in the preseason. Granted, he had little in the way of competition, but Kizer looked capable. When you’re a fan of the Browns, or are at least tasked with analyzing them for a profession, “capable” is a huge win. But if anything became evident, it is what appears capable during training camp (which says a lot about the Browns’ defense) and the preseason does not translate to such when the games matter.
There were so many instances that made you hope Kizer was putting it all together, but then he would moments—if not full games—of complete absurdity. Out of the 40 quarterbacks in the NFL to amass enough snaps to be ranked by Pro Football Focus, Kizer slots in 38th, trailed by only Brock Osweiler (which is incredible), and Arizona Cardinals’ third-string quarterback Blaine Gabbert. To that point, Kizer’s legs were ranked among the best in the NFL. For this to be the case and Kizer to still be in the dregs of the league says an awful lot. It’s tough to envision a worse rookie season. For the kid’s sake, you hope there’s an NFL quarterback in there. He dealt with a ton, from being pulled out of games to his head coach stomping on every ounce of his confidence. Given that the Browns have the first-overall pick once again, it’s safe to assume we may never find out.
LOSER: Hue Jackson
A winless 2017 followed a one-win 2016. Despite a better offensive line, a rookie tight end, Josh Gordon’s return, and more comfort within the system, it was another year of false promises, questionable pass routes, abandoned run games, pulled quarterbacks, and bullshit press conferences. When players did poorly, it was on them. When players played well, anyone could have played well. Receivers either ran go routes or stopped short of the sticks. Players showed a mindbogglingly low level of discipline when it came to penalties. And as of this publication, he still hasn’t jumped in that damn “lake over there.”
When all of football is baffled by how you still have a job, you know it was one hell of a season.
LOSER: Gregg Williams
Much like Kizer, the hopes for Gregg Williams were high. Given him the weapons and watch this baby go. The issues, of course, manifested themselves over the course of the season, ranging from a complete inability to guard the tight end to the stubbornness of putting a strong safety in at free safety and having him play 40 yards off the line of scrimmage. Throughout the entire season, Williams made excuses for his unit’s ineptness and challenged anyone who dare question his logic. Never forget this was a man who thought it would be wise to drop Danny Shelton into pass coverage, a move that ended the defensive tackle’s season.
Here’s a screen play to send you into the offseason:
LOSER: Sashi Brown
This story by Jake Burns said it all. You can’t continue to kick the quarterback can down the road the way Sashi Brown did and believe you’re going to succeed in the NFL. Botching his first free agency was bad enough. Cutting Joe Haden iced the cake. All the filling, however, was made of quarterbacks who led their respective teams to week-to-week glory (until succumbing to respective injuiries) while the Browns had the worst starter at the game’s most important position. Blame Hue Jackson’s in-game work for 0-16, but Sashi Brown did this team zero favors as it pertained to Year 2 of his reign. There’s a laundry list of reasons why there will not be a Year 3, but the first two lines will forever read “Wentz” and “Watson.”
WINNER: Jason McCourty
McCourty came into the season as an underrated signing, having produced an an OK level in 2016, but two abysmal years the two prior seasons. What resulted was the Browns otherwise abysmal pass defense having one of its most consistent options throughout the entire season. While he missed two weeks in the middle of the year, and was beaten up pretty good in Weeks 5 and 17, McCourty was a leader on the field as well as the locker room, being one of the first players to clap back at Hue Jackson for his
WINNER: Duke Johnson Jr.
Johnson had a better overall season than backs like Ty Montgomery and Lamar Miller, and a better season in the passing game than all but Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara. He was as shifty as ever, missing tackles, and providing a safety net for a rookie quarterback. And for a team that struggled to put points on the board, No. 29 was a pleasant surprise.
It’s a shame Johnson was not used more than he was. Yes, “change of pace” backs are supposed to be the changes, and not the pace, but every time Johnson had the ball in the open field, it produced. A good head coach would find more ways to get said player in the open field, but Jackson decided to go away from his play makers all too often.
LOSERS: Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman
If not for Dwayne Bowe two seasons earlier, Kenny Britt would be the poster boy for horribly bad free agent decisions. Then there’s Coleman, having all the talent to make things work, but falls victim to yet another hand injury and tap dances his way into the play that will forever depict the 2017 season for the Cleveland Browns.2
WINNERS: Most of the (starting) offensive line
Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler were straight-up elite. To have a left tackle be among the best players in all of football while playing alongside two guards who both fall in the top 10 at their position is a luxury. While JC Tretter was not Alex Mack, only few players are, and the free agent center was a high-end pass blocker. Shon Coleman was clearly the weak link, but it’s one part his inexperience, and another part him playing with four other studs. His run blocking was abysmal, but one has to hope the team can find a way to shore up that side, be it through growth in the player himself or an offseason upgrade.
The fact that Thomas saw his consecutive snap streak end and it may barely rank in the top 10 things that went wrong in 2017 tells you all you need to know.
WINNER: Joe Schobert
An square peg-round hole EDGE under Ray Horton, Joe Schobert may win the award for Most Improved Brown if such a thing existed. (It probably does in some internal bullshit rah-rah kind of way.) While the second-year kid still struggled in any form of pass rushing, he was solid against the run and earned himself an alternate spot on the AFC Pro Bowl roster. For as much as Gregg Williams completely destroyed the rookie season of Jabrill Peppers, he may have saved Schobert’s career, at least as it pertains to the chapter in Cleveland.
LOSER: Chris Tabor
There is nothing that can be typed in this space that will accurately depict my disbelief in Chris Tabor still being a coach of the Cleveland Browns. If the Teflon Don somehow comes back for 2018, it will be under his fifth general manager under.3 This is incredible for a variety of reasons (as in—it’s unheard of in the NFL), but plays like the one below are merely the tip of the iceberg.
WINNERS: Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, and Emmanuel Ogbah
If anyone tries to tell you Myles Garrett didn’t have a solid rookie season, feel free to laugh directly in their face. While avoiding injuries at the beginning of the season would have been nice, Garrett finished his rookie season as one of the top 15 edge rushers in football. He was better than Jadaveon Clowney. He was better than Chandler Jones. He was better than Terrell Suggs. Getting The Quarterback would have been an added bonus, but finally landing a top pick is a step in the right direction after years of swinging and missing with epic amounts of failure. Bonus: We’ll always have the J.R. Smith celebration.
Emmanuel Ogbah won’t remind anyone of the next Cameron Wake when it comes to pass rushing, but his run defense and ability to cause a stir opposite Garrett looks like it could work at the NFL level. Ogunjobi may have had one of the most underrated seasons of the young Browns (who can fault us for focusing on Kizer et al?), but he was night and day better against the the pass than former first-round pick Danny Shelton, and was in the top quarter of the league when it came to defending the run as an interior lineman.
Sure, the Browns pass rush teetered on horrible, but it’s hard to pin it on any of these three.
LOSER: Zane Gonzalez
WINNER: Josh Gordon
It would be easy to blame Gordon for all of the missed time. The details that came out this year about his attitude toward the game were shocking. He did, however, take all the necessary steps to eventually get back on the field with the Cleveland Browns and his impact was immediate. It would have been easy to fold up shop and give zero effs about the Week 17 game against the Steelers, yet there Gordon was, tallying 115 yards in what was a season to be forgotten. None of this, of course, is a sign that things will stay this way through the offseason into next fall, but Gordon’s journey back to the field and what he did on it is worth of a win for 2017.
LOSER: Jimmy Haslam III
Perpetual season of embarrassment have a common denominator. Candidly.
Honorable Mention Winners: David Njoku, Isaiah Crowell, Trevon Coley, Kai Nacua, Carl Nassib, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Derrrick Kindred
Honorable Mention Losers: Jabrill Peppers, Cody Kessler, Jamar Taylor, Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango, Seth Devalve, Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, Kevin Hogan, Mike Jordan, Jamie Collins Sr.