Browns, NFL Draft

Browns Quarterback (P)review: How we got here, and where we go next

I am frustrated, you are frustrated, we are all frustrated. The Browns quarterback group has thrown 17 interceptions in just seven games in 2017 (that is not a misprint). We have seen some quarterback lows in this city, there is no denying that. I would put this current situation up against any of them. The position has been misguided, mishandled, and misused throughout the entire season, and things just keep getting worse.

To accurately answer the question of how we arrived “here”, we have to take a look at the past few off-seasons. When Hue was hired by Sashi, the thought was that Hue was a “Quarterback whisper.” He has the ability to help produce the type of production from that spot to take the worst position in sports, and somehow make it a positive. The collective group decided to pass on Wentz, coming to this conclusion echoed in Paul DePodesta’s comments to Tony Grossi: “Even though you have a desperate need for one, you have to resist the temptation of taking that guy just because you have a need if you don’t believe he’s one of those 20 guys at the end of the day,” DePodesta told Tony Grossi of WKNR-850 AM. “I think that’s the hardest part, just maintaining your discipline because you have the need. That’s what we did this year.” The Browns front office, including heavy input from Hue Jackson, didn’t think Carson Wentz was capable of being a top 20 quarterback. That much we know to be a downright infamous misread on their part. Yet, in 2016 they showed some promise at the position because they came into the year with two NFL caliber quarterbacks: Josh McCown and Robert Griffin III. Now, Griffin’s abilities are certainly debatable but 2016 was handled by at least average NFL quarterback play. Injuries happened and we saw the group roatate bodies in and out, that is something that can’t always be controlled, but I at least felt the front office had some kind of “plan” at the position.

That brings us to 2017, where we have seen a futile plan emerge. The Browns decided to let McCown and RGIII walk, and brought in just one veteran quarterback: Brock Osweiler. They passed on Deshaun Watson (whose results don’t look favorable for the Browns, although it is still too early to judge) to accumulate more draft picks in the future, and settled on second round pick DeShone Kizer. This left the Browns with Kizer, Osweiler, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan. Osweiler was unable to show any worthwhile traits while taking snaps from others, and was cut prior to the beginning of the 2017 season. That left the Browns with three quarterbacks, all of uncertain abilities, in Kizer, Kessler, and Hogan. The whole season hinged on the ability to ride with seeing what Kizer could do. He began the season performing well enough, but has seen a serious regression in understanding and performance, which led to the decision to start Kevin Hogan. Hogan’s performance in Houston meant a return to Kizer apparently, and then another subsequent benching for Cody Kessler in the second half last week against the Titans. Now Hue is penciling Kizer back in as the starter for Week 8 against the Vikings in London. I can’t keep up with this rotation of brash decisions, regression, and general mistrust. The asinine handling of this position is burying Hue Jackson, and rightfully so.

I don’t want to waste anymore of your time on how we got here, that much is well known. Everyone has an opinion on the Wentz and Watson trades.The entire plan of the front office, the Harvard Brain Trust, correlated to picking the right quarterback when “the team is ready for it.” To me, this is a laughable notion but save that a topic for another day. Quality quarterbacks are never a year to year guarantee, there aren’t many available who can alter a franchise, and when you pass on that quarterback when you need one desperately as the Browns do, there is no excuse. You take the talent when the talent is there.

So here we are, again looking to find the quarterback, and the front office has to get it right this year, especially when you consider how poorly the group has played in 2017. The Browns are in line for the 1st pick and something around the middle of the 1st round for the Texans pick currently. Here are the best answers through the draft only, according to my understanding in watching film of the prospects – this won’t entertain free agents or trades (Andrew Luck). This will look at who I believe is the best available quarterbacks through the draft based on evaluation.

**Subject to change**

  1. Baker MayfieldPFF Rank: #1 – 95.8 grade| 2017: 149-202 73.8%, 2,347 yards, 19TD/2INT

Look, everyone has an opinion on Baker Mayfield. His off-field issues, cockiness, and his height all correlate to the comparison to Johnny Manziel. That comparison doesn’t miss me and I’m not sure he will be able to get far enough away from it. But his size/stature, and on-field play does not look the same. Mayfield is the best player on the field each week in 2017. He has an NFL arm, and perhaps one of the best in this draft. This ball is thrown 60+ yards in the air, on the money, all after flipping his hips quickly with little momentum.

Mayfield is a wizard in the pocket and is constantly extending the life of plays from within it. He can make multiple defenders miss and come out with something positive more often than not.

He also makes those anticipation throws, and he does it at the drop of a dime. The ball is always out quick, and he can push it down the field with the best of them.

He can also run the simple read option to perfection. We are seeing this more and more in the NFL each week.

The only minor knock we can tag on Mayfield is that his excellent skill of anticipation can sometimes bite him when he plays too fast. He ran into trouble against Texas against the zone blitz first…

Then against a fake delayed blitz that he thought he could beat over the top.

Those are two of his biggest mistakes ALL SEASON. Mayfield has been nearly flawless on the field, and rarely makes turnover worthy throws. Mayfield has his own share of red flags, and they may turn most NFL teams away from him. On-field, though, he has a chance to be really good and is really demolishing his current competition level. His tape shows the best overall quarterback in this class so far.

Best case scenario: Russell Wilson

Worst case scenario: Chase Daniel

2. Lamar JacksonPFF Rank: #3 – 91.0 Grade | 2017: 170-282 60.3%, 2,478 yards, 17TD/5INT (868 Rush yards)

Lamar Jackson produces, flat out. There are some preconceived notions of what he is as a quarterback based off his stats and highlights, but Jackson can do many things we are seeing in the NFL today. He stands very tall in the pocket and has the ability to make the throws with plus accuracy, and excels on the short quick passing accuracy. His deep ball is steadily improving and will only get better in the NFL when his wide receivers can track the deep ball at a higher percentage. Jackson is limiting mistakes much better this year as well, with only 2.7% of throws deemed turnover worthy by PFF. The arm strength is real. He has a quick motion, although from a low arm slot, that can travel without much momentum. Note on both of these throws that Jackson get’s little forward momentum and both travel near 50 yards on the money.

He is also showing the ability to perform under center and via play-action when called upon. He is patient in his fakes, and is really getting the defense to commit to the run. This skill translates.

Don’t forget he has this natural ability as well. Jackson may be the most effortless and gifted quarterback runner since Michael Vick – he has a way of gliding around and through defenses with ease. He also has the ability to make defenders miss in a tight window with quick twitch hip movement. This skill alone is worth big time NFL yards.

The slight negative with Jackson is his propensity to push throws without his lower body accurately following. He has shown some misses on throws where he gets lazy.

Overall, if you are drafting Jackson you need a solid game plan for his usage. Like Deshaun Watson he needs an offense tailored to his skill set and where he is most comfortable. Are the Browns willing to do that? I don’t know. It will all depend on who is here as the head coach during the draft. I do know one thing, if the situation is right, Lamar Jackson can be as dynamic as Vick once was in the NFL. Especially if he can keep doing this….

Best Case Scenario: Michael Vick

Worst Case Scenario: Vince Young

3. Josh Rosen – PFF Rank: #8 – 84.6 Grade | 2017: 200-315 63.5%, 2,620 yards, 19TD/8INT

Josh Rosen is an enigma. One series he can look like a legit potential NFL starter, the next he can look like a guy destined to interception his way to the CFL. He has all the traits NFL scouts will drool over: a plus arm, prototypical size, the college offensive style, pocket passer. He screams first pick, but I have serious hesitations over this. Rosen is very limited athletically, he is wildly inaccurate and mechanically flawed at times, and his decision making is head scratching to say the least. Again, if you watch his tape you will see some nice throws, and they will make you think he is bound for NFL stardom, but the more you watch the more you will see a prospect who is very flawed. So much so that I have concerns that he will make it long-term in the NFL when the athletes get faster and stronger. Rosen loves the middle of the field, and favors his tight ends and slots. I don’t see this changing in the NFL. He makes some really nice tight window throws.

The problem Rosen runs into often on film is that he is holding the ball too long and forcing throws, or he is blatantly misreading the coverage. These are happening far too often for a top prospect.

He flat gets lucky here. There is no reason to throw this ball.

Lastly, there are just some horrible mechanical misses from Rosen as well. He often doesn’t bring his lower half with him to his desired target and it leads to inaccuracy. He has some really ugly misses.

Rosen will be the name most associated with the first pick in the 2017 draft. He has major upside, there is not denying that. But there is also no denying the major flaws he has shown on tape for years. I personally think we all want Rosen to be more than what he is. He’s a figment of a perfect quarterback specimen all Browns fans will want to be the savior. The Harvard Brain Trust has aligned themselves with the need to hit on their quarterback in 2017, and the best bet is they land on Rosen. The problem is, he’s clearly not the best quarterback in this draft.

Best Case Scenario: Eli Manning

Worst Case Scenario: Blaine Gabbert

4. Mason RudolphPFF Rank: #4 – 89.7 Grade | 2017: 161-242 66.5%, 2,650 yards, 19TD/4INT

Mason Rudolph is a big quarterback, with a big frame and a big arm. This is a kid you know can make all the throws on the field, and he can do them with plus accuracy. Preseason articles mention a lack of a big arm, and some inaccuracy troubles, but I fail to see it appear with concern on film. His 2017 has been full of remarkable throws. Rudolph has a great feel for Oklahoma State’s offense – the pacing, structure, and communication. That offense under Mike Gundy is without a doubt quarterback friendly, and he is playing with a great cast of receivers – including top wide receiver prospect James Washington. Those things aside, the film shows a quarterback who is having a fantastic year driving the ball all over the field displaying his arm for NFL scouts. Here’s a collection of impressive throws ranging from hash to sideline ropes, downfield bombs, and up the hash NFL seam routes.

But the problem, and main concern, with Rudolph is his extremely limited mobility. He is unable to remove himself from the pocket with much success, and when he feels pressure around him, he has the tendency to get sloppy both mechanically and in decisions. All quarterbacks struggle against pressure, it’s the hardest thing to withstand, but it’s the frequency in mistakes that scare me with Rudolph.
Here he is feeling pressure on his right and he throws his entire body open fading away from the deep ball and it is inaccurate.

He gets sloppy with a screen pass when forced to move off his spot.

Lastly, he is moving out of the pocket and it too slow in process and movement. Leads to a careless fumble.

Rudolph has some very positive NFL quarterback traits that will make scouts want to take a closer look at him. The problem with Rudolph will be his limited pocket mobility in an NFL game that needs some movement to see success. Rudolph has to keep making better anticipation throws and improving on his decisions when things around him break down. There’s more here than the preseason reports are sharing. System quarterbacks will always scare NFL scouts, but he seems like more than that. Rudolph could really shoot up draft boards.

Best Case Scenario: Poor man’s Ben Roethlisberger

Worst Case Scenario: Brandon Weeden

5. Will Grier – PFF Rank: #2 – 92.3 Grade | 2017: 177-267 66.3%, 2,467 yards, 26TD/5INT

I’ll admit, I’m not sure one way or the other on Will Grier. He has some really nice traits as a quarterback – traits that will work in his favor in the NFL. Grier’ has been one of the nation’s best downfield passers in 2017, ranking 11th in adjusted completion percentage on 20-plus yard passes at 46.4 percent. He is thriving in Dana Holgerson’s West Coast system and for that reason I have some reason to pause. Holgerson’s system is very friendly for quick inward working routes that really benefit the quarterback and open serious opportunities in the deep passing game. What makes Grier special is his mobility within the pocket. He regularly makes the first guy miss and keeps his eyes downfield to run or dump a pass off:

Grier has also shown some solid anticipation in reading defenses. He does a nice job recognizing the corner blitz here and letting his receiver work his route past the rotating safety.

Here he recoginzes the approaching saftey with his eyes on WR#1 (outside WR) and darting a rocket to David Sills (WR prospect to keep an eye on) for a TD on the skinny post.

Grier does do some predetermining which makes me nervous against constantly moving NFL defenses.

Overall I think a larger sample size will aid in seeing just how good Grier is. He fits perfectly in Holgerson’s system and he’s developed a special bond with David Sills that is catching scout’s eye. Grier may benefit from another year in school and some opportunities he can perform in an NFL based system. But, man, there’s plenty to like here with Grier.

Best Case Scenario: Matthew Stafford

Worst Case Scenario: Bryce Petty

Outside Looking in:

Sam Darnold, USC: All the hype has been proven wrong thus far. Darnold is even more erratic than Rosen in 2017 and he is ranked 12 out of 13 draft eligable quarterbacks on PFF with an overall grade of 72.1. Too many mistakes (10 INTs , 11th in turnover worthy throw %) to feel comfortable just yet. Darnold is best served back at USC with another year to develop.

Josh Allen, Wyoming: This one is all hype. Allen is touted for his protypical size (6’5, 233) and plus mobility and arm. He was receiving rave reviews in preseason about being a potential #1 pick in the upcoming draft. Allen has proven to be all hype as he has limped to a dead last ranking in PFF’s evaluation and an overall 55.3 grade. Granted Allen lost several skill players to gradation and the NFL, he is still struggling to find any consistency on film. How he closes his season will push him to either enter the draft or go down the grad transfer route.

Luke Falk, Washinton State: Falk is the essence of a system quarterback. Not many Mike Leach Q’s find success at the next level. Falk is a product of a great pace and space system at WSU that allows him to make throws against weak defenses where they are most vulnerable. Falk ranks #9 in PFF’s quarterback rankings with an 80.2 overall grade, and really struggles making any big time throws (12th ranked at 3.2%). Falk takes advantage of quick screens and constant crossing routes to rack up stats.

Others to keep an eye on:

Ryan Finley, NC State

Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

Mike White, Western Kentucky