With the 2016 NFL Draft officially in the books, the much-maligned and mocked analytics-driven Cleveland Browns front office may have gotten the last laugh over critics.
If you’re old enough to remember the 1980’s, surely you remember the classic 1984 classic comedy Revenge of the Nerds, which was about a group of nerds who overcame the harassment of the jock fraternity Alpha Betas. In the current sense those who are ripping the Browns are channeling their inner Alpha Beta here.
Much like in the movie, the Browns new nerd-geek front office were subject of much ire and ridicule nationally among media outlets shortly after firing head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer.
Newly promoted former team chief counsel—turned Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown, lifelong baseball guy turned Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta of “Moneyball” fame and Vice President of Player Personnel Andrew Berry, helped the sad sack Cleveland Browns proverbially outsmart every team in the draft over the weekend in wheeling, dealing and selecting highly productive players, while getting good value for them at the same time.
As a life-long Browns fan for a majority of my soon-to-be 40 years of life on this rock (b-day is June 1), I can attest first hand the number of mediocre to bad drafts that Cleveland has had over the years.
Names such as Mike Junkin, Clifford Charlton, Courtney Brown, Beau Bell, Montario Hardesty and Spergon Wynn have carved themselves in the storied hall of Browns bustdom, and since their return in 1999, Cleveland has never drafted well—or consistently well enough—to actually build a championship-like foundation.
Gerrard Warren over LT? Kellen Winslow II over Big Ben is enough to make any Browns fan’s blood boil.
Naturally, after another dismal and embarrassing season down at the Factory of Sadness, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam decided to try the novel idea of truly going outside the box and getting on board the analytics train that has revolutionized baseball—for better or worse.
While they say that it usually takes three years to properly evaluate a draft class, if early returns are any indication, then Cleveland is on the right track for the first time since being reborn in 1999.
What I think has got so many Browns fans in a tizzy is the new front office passing on Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. While I can understand some fans disappointment in passing on a potential franchise quarterback, neither Goff or Wentz had that Andrew Luck/Cam Newton-type of buzz about them.
Instead of doing what many other front offices have done in the past and reach for a QB and select who the fans wanted, The Harvard Squad picked who the Browns NEEDED in addressing critical areas of need such as wide receiver, defensive line, offensive line, quarterback and and linebacker.
In trading down from No.8 to No.15 with the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland got the playmaker it desperately needed in former Baylor wideout Corey Coleman. In grabbing Coleman, the Browns replaced Travis Benjamin’s speed and suspended WR Josh Gordon’s No.1 playmaking ability.
With Gordon’s appeal for reinstatement still up in the air, and the release of free agent flop Dwayne Bowe, the Browns were wise to address the position in grabbing Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton as well, in turning a one-time weakness into a potential strength.
Some Browns fans have already whined, moaned and ranted over the selection of multiple WR’s, but honestly, would you feel better if Sashi and Co. pulled a Ray Farmer in choosing to arrogantly ignore the NFL’s third-most important offensive position after left tackle and QB?
The Nerd Herd should also be commended in addressing defensive line in grabbing potential gems such as Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib as Paul Kruger has underperformed and the Browns have reportedly decided to decline the player option of another draft bust of Draft Day past in former sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft in Barkevious Mingo.
The infusion of youth should mesh nicely with second-year players such as Danny Shelton, Nate Orchard and Christian Kirksey to form a nice young core on defense.
While I’m talking defense, the selections of former B1G Ten Linebacker of the Year and Jack Lambert Trophy winner in former Wisconsin linebacker Joe Schobert and Scooby Wright III, were late round strokes of genius in replacing the departed Karlos Dansby and Craig Robertson.
I mean with a name like Scooby, you can’t go wrong in playing in the Dawg Pound, right!
Most importantly, Cleveland addressed a sorely depleted offensive line decimated by free agent defections of Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz in the form of tackles Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango and undrafted rookie free agent center Mike Matthews, nephew of former Browns linebacker Clay Matthews.
Overall, what is not to love about a front office, that did the right thing in addressing needs? Sadly for many Browns fans, who have seen so many bad drafts with even-worst bust-level results, seeing a good draft is kind of shocking to the perpetually beaten-down and jaded Cleveland fan base, normally waiting for next year and the proverbial shoe to seeming drop regularly.
Need more proof. Okay.
Analytics-based NFL site, Pro Football Focus recently awarded the new front office with a grade of A, per Dawgs By Nature’s Chris Pokorny. And NBC Sports ProFootballTalk.com’s Evan Silva, a noted Browns critic, gave them a solid B in stating,
“Overview: The Browns were extreme wheelers-and-dealers, emerging with these 14 players in addition to a 2017 first-round pick (Eagles), a 2017 second-round pick (Titans), and a 2018 second-rounder (Eagles). Included in this haul is ex-Dolphins CB Jamar Taylor, who was acquired on day three for very little.
Early on, the analytics-minded Browns keyed in on prospects with high-level production and high-level athleticism. Not every player they picked met those criteria as the draft progressed, but college production was a recurring theme.
In the scouting community, many of the players drafted here were considered underdeveloped “projects” (Ogbah, Nassib, Shon Coleman, Louis, Drango). Cleveland was criticized for drafting Kessler in the third round, but it sounds like he was handpicked by Hue Jackson. I loved the Corey Coleman, Schobert, and Higgins picks.
I also like that the Browns came out of this draft with needed roster supply, while setting themselves up for future advancement with three additional picks in the top two rounds of the next two drafts.
Lastly, while many Browns fans wanted former local products such as Ohio State’s Cardale Jones (Cleveland Glenville) and Michigan State’s Connor Cook (Walsh Jesuit) in a faint hope of either one being the face of the Browns franchise, both QB’s would be selected by the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders.
The QB that was taken instead of both; Cody Kessler of USC.
Kessler a 6’1, 220 pound scrambler who passed for 10,330 yards, 88 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his three years as the quick-triggered point man in the Trojans high-powered offense, was taken 93rd overall in the third round over Cook and Jones.
Such a selection of a smaller less-than-accomplished QB like Kessler has already riled up many Cleveland sports homers who felt that Cook and Jones are better than the Bakersfiled-born West Coast-bred Kessler.
It is both unfair and ignorant to hate on a rookie QB drafted by one’s own team because he didn’t star at a local high school, or lead the state’s storied college football powerhouse to its eighth national title as Cook and Jones did, but make no mistake, Kessler may just be the crown jewel diamond in the rough for the QB-starved Browns.
It is a stretch to say that Kessler may be the guy, or that he could potentially be whom Cleveland has been searching for, but in scouting Kessler’s highlights, you cannot help be see a little Brian Sipe/Drew Brees/Steve Young-like accuracy, moxie, poise and toughness.
People tend to forget that today’s era, QB’s are smaller, more mobile and accurate than in any era in NFL history. Look no further than the forementioned Brees, Seattle’s Russell Wilson as modern-day examples. While many in Cleveland long for a Big Ben-sized like savior under center, it would be wise to not sleep on Kessler.
If things break Cleveland’s way next year—via acquiring the Eagle’s 2017 first round-pick—the Browns could very well be in position to grab Kessler’s teammate in projected 2017 top-five pick in USC’s 6’2 215-pound All Pac-12 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster*, if the troubled Gordon can’t manage to stay clean.
*Youtube Juju, the kid is a beast, and would be a perfect replacement for Josh Gordon
One year after selecting college football’s top wide receiver in Coleman, imagine a high-powered Browns offense featuring Gordon, Coleman and possibly Juju with RGIII, Kessler—or projected top 2017 pick in Clemson’s Deshaun Watson—under center?
The future is bright in Cleveland, and it appeared that the national media’s favorite punching bag in the form of the Browns are finally getting their you-know-what together. They may continue to laugh at the hiring of non-football geeks such as Brown, DePodesta and Berry and try to pick apart and dissect their first draft out of boredom and secret jealousy.
Based on the above, I give this Browns front office a solid A, and commend them for finally addressing the glaring needs at WR, DE and most of all, QB.
Make no mistake, once the wins begin to pile up and another solid Browns draft class begin to come to fruition, Revenge of the Nerds will be more than just another cult classic, but instead refer to the revamped Browns front office getting the last laugh over the critics and naysayers.