The NFL commissioned “Draft Day” in 2014. In the film, a beleaguered Cleveland Browns GM follows his heart and outfoxes the rest of the league during the first round of the draft. Like the cynical politician finding his/her courage, it’s a plot so fanciful it could only happen in Hollywood.
Cleveland has the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks in the 2017 NFL Draft and five picks among the first 65 overall. No fanbase could be less enthused about that.
The Browns have drafted early often in the first round. Cleveland has failed in almost every way conceivable, multiple times. The malignant miasma has been ever present. Even rebooting the entire franchise in 1999 only made matters worse.
Cleveland is infamous for its failed quarterbacks. The expansion franchise led off by whiffing on the No. 1 pick with Tim Couch (1999) who, one could still argue, has been the best starting quarterback the current version of the team has had. That says a lot more about who came afterward.
The Browns have grabbed a falling first round quarterback with the No. 22 overall pick twice with Brady Quinn (2007) and Johnny Manziel (2014). Cleveland also burned a No. 22 overall pick on Brandon Weeden (2012). That would be the Brandon Weeden who turned 29 during his rookie season.
We can move down the roster order. Running backs? Cleveland spent a No. 3 overall pick on Trent Richardson (2012). They were so impressed they traded him two games into the 2013 season. The Browns missed on William Green at No. 16 overall (2002). In 1992, the team spent a Top 10 pick on a fullback, Tommy Vardell, who did not live up to his “touchdown” moniker.
Wide receivers? Braylon Edwards at No. 3 overall (2005) only managed one thousand-yard season. Corey Coleman at No. 15 overall (2016) still has time to pan out but was a let down during his first year. Derrick Alexander at No. 29 overall (1994) turned out to be a solid pick out of Michigan. Though he did his best work after the initial Browns left for Baltimore.
Offensive line? It’s where the Browns have done their best job drafting. Joe Thomas is a lock for the Hall of Fame at tackle. Insert your favorite blind squirrel analogy. Though the Browns, on the ever present hunt for balance and stability, have drafted three centers with picks No. 21 or higher since 2003.
Defensive line? Yikes. Courtney Brown (2000) and Gerard Warren (2001) were consecutive top 3 picks. Intended to be cornerstones of their Super Bowl defense, neither panned out as expected. There’s also No. 21 overall pick Phil Taylor (2011) who has been out of the league since 2014.
About the worst thing Cleveland can do is draft a linebacker. The team traded a Pro Bowler to trade up and draft Mike Junkin No. 5 overall (1987), after knowing he tested positive for steroids. One of the biggest draft busts ever, Junkin is best known for being a jerk to Joe Posnanski. Junkin was out of the league in 1989, the same season as the Browns’ next first round pick, linebacker Clifford Charlton No. 21 overall.
The Browns selected Craig Powell No. 30 overall (1995). He had three seasons in the NFL, recording one tackle. The tackle came after the team moved to Baltimore. We can also throw in Barkevious Mingo at No. 6 overall (2014) who lost his starting place and left the team after three seasons.
There have been highs at defensive back. The team spent two Top 40 picks in 2010 on Joe Haden (No. 7) and T.J. Ward (No. 38) who have each gone to two Pro Bowls. That shrewdness, however, is countered by drafting Justin Gilbert in 2014. The Browns ended up trading Gilbert for a sixth round pick to a division rival in 2016.
Gilbert may have been the worst first round pick, in a first round where the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel. About the only thing the Browns have not done is blow a first round pick on a kicker.
Cleveland seems to be under sound leadership now. They used their cap space well, rebuilding the offensive line and getting a free draft pick from Houston. Many will bill the 2017 as a potential franchise-redefiner for the Browns. But, Cleveland has had many of those. The Browns have drafted 12 players with Top 40 picks since 2011. Combined, they have produced zero Pro Bowl appearances.
Perhaps fans should get excited to add Myles Garrett, Mitch “Mitchell” Trubisky, and another contributor at the top of the second round. But, it’s hard to get fooled by a false dawn when you can’t even bear to look up.