Where have we heard this before. The Cleveland Browns may have unearthed a hidden gem in the 2016 NFL Draft in third-round pick Cody Kessler.
Yes. The QB-starved franchise that drafted the likes of Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden and most recently Johnny Manziel may have finally gotten things right in nabbing one of the draft’s sleepers in Kessler.
Yes, the Browns–and their long-suffering fans, thanks Believeland! –have endured a laughable carousel under center since returning to the league in 1999, but forgive me for saying this, there is just something different about the rookie QB out of USC.
At 6’1 and 220 pounds, the slight-framed and small-ish Kessler doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the rugged and brutal AFC North that has the likes of past Super Bowl champion QB ‘s in Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Pro Bowler Andy Dalton, Kessler wasn’t exactly the QB that many in the Dawg Pound foresaw Cleveland selecting.
Going into the draft, many projected Cleveland to select either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz, when they held the second overall pick. After trading down with Philadelphia at No.8 –and eventually Tennessee at No.15– in finally addressing the sorely-depleted wide receiver position by selecting former Baylor wideout Corey Coleman.
With notable local products such as former Walsh Jesuit standout Connor Cook of Hinckley Township and Glenville alum and Ohio State national title hero in Cleveland native Cardale Jones still on the board, many were expecting Cleveland to take either QB, with the chance of developing him into that ever-elusive “guy”.
Instead, it was Kessler taken with the 93rd overall pick in the third round, that really roiled a lot of Cleveland sports fan’s ire. There were the crass quips and comments about his lack of stature and arm strength. As much as I’m a long-suffering member of Dawg Pound Nation, such comments and criticism show the ignorance and blind passion of Cleveland sports fans.
Personally, I feel that a lot of the criticism aimed at Kessler is due to the fact that hometown kids such as Cook or Jones are donning the storied brown and orange, and are instead with the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills respectively.
In terms of what Kessler does bring to the table on the field, he brings better mobility than both Cook and Jones, is more accurate and makes quicker decisions, which is more than likely why new Browns head coach Hue Jackson asked fans to trust the selection of Kessler.
And in all honesty, that type of statement and endorsement from such a respected offensive-minded player’s coach as Jackson speaks volumes. In reviewing some of his game tape from USC, I honestly can say that he reminds one of a combination of Drew Brees* and the aforementioned Dalton in terms of both ball placement, poise in the pocket, and most importantly decision-making.
(*As a Ohio State fan and family alum, I consider Brees to be the best quarterback I’ve ever seen play Ohio State, followed by Vince Young, Russell Wilson and Jim Harbaugh.)
For the record, I personally feel that next to QB rating, arm strength is the most over-rated analytic in all of the NFL.
Other than the aforementioned Big Ben, name me the last big-armed QB to win a Super Bowl?
Not Brees, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Russell Wilson, Peyton and Eli Manning or even Aaron Rodgers–to a degree–are universally revered for their arm strength. The NFL has changed from the days of big boy gunslingers such as Jim Kelly, Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino to more mobile and accurate QB’s such as Wilson, Brees and Rodgers.
Kessler is nowhere in their league right now, but if the Browns are actually patient and give him time to develop behind Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown, he could blossom into quite a pleasant surprise. I find it funny that the same fans who nit-picked at the quality of competition that Wentz faced at North Dakota State and the win-loss record of Goff are now suddenly whining about Kessler’s height and lack of arm strength.
It takes a special kind of Trojan quarterback to set a single-game passing touchdown record with seven vs. Colorado or drop six touchdowns against the arch-rival Notre Dame Fighting Irish, complete 67.5 percent of his passes and pass for over 10,000 yards at such a high-profile program such as USC. It also takes a really thick-skinned individual to chose to stay at USC following the recent off-the-field scandal involving former head coaches Steve Sarkisian and Ed Odgeron.
To me, those qualities of perseverance, mental toughness and fortitude in leaving it all out on the field, will endear him to Cleveland fans, who also a long time ago, were not quite sold on another 6’1 195-pound West Coast kid who many also called small and supposedly weak-armed named Brian Sipe, who only went on to win the 1980 NFL MVP and become a beloved folk hero in Cleveland sports lore.
I’m not old enough to remember Sipe’s exploits during the Kardiac Kid era, but in watching past game footage of him, I cannot help be see a touch of Sipe in Kessler in being called small, weak-armed and wanting to prove critics wrong. And nothing is more deadly than a QB feeling slighted playing with a chip on his shoulder. Just ask the Miami Dolphins how things are working out in passing on the-then free agent Brees, who was coming off of shoulder surgery, and taking the perennially under-achieving Ryan Tannehill instead?
All college football fans know that USC is perennially loaded with blue-chip talent and that some critics will say that Kessler didn’t do enough of his own except throw to the likes of current NFL standouts such as Philadelphia Eagles wideout Nelson Agholor and future top-five pick in the 2017 NFL Draft in WR Juju Smith- Schuster et al, but when the lights came on, Kessler shined in going 2-1 in bowl games and a respectable 4-6 mark vs. Trojan rivals such as the aforementioned Irish, crosstown rival UCLA and long-time nemesis, Stanford.
And also, just a nice juicy tidbit here is that he went 3-0 vs. Goff
If the early returns from rookie minicamp are true in that Kessler has shown adequate arm strength with an already comfortable feel for Jackson’s version of the West Coast Offense, then perhaps Jackson may be right and that Kessler may end up being “the guy” in Cleveland in the end.