The Cleveland Browns biggest need this offseason is undoubtedly at the quarterback position, because a team without a potential franchise QB automatically has the all-important position as their biggest need. Since Jay Cutler is off the table, the Browns and other teams looking for an upgrade at QB will have to use the draft in order to snag their hopeful franchise quarterback. With two first round picks, including the fourth pick overall, the Browns are in a prime position to take almost any quarterback they wish to pull of the board. The dream scenario has the Browns taking a guy like Teddy Bridgewater with their fourth pick, because Bridgewater is, in my mind, definitely the best QB prospect in the draft. He’s the most accurate, possesses the best vision, and he has a strong arm and great athleticism. But make no mistake, with Bridgewater’s solid play now, he is as ready as it gets as a pro-style, pocket passer, and the “running QB” label is without merit and borderline stereotypical.
Anyway, the Browns are also extremely unlikely to land Bridgewater, because both the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars would have to pass up on him. As it stands right now, UCF’s Blake Bortles, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel are the three quarterbacks with the best chance of being selected by the Browns with the fourth pick. Bortles is the best of those three, but it’s pretty much up to personal preference. Those aren’t the only available options for the Browns, but it would be a surprise for them not to pick those three and go with a second tier QB like Aaron Murray.
Of those three quarterbacks, Carr and Manziel are the two most often selected by the Cleveland Browns in mock draft, and it’s clear that neither of them are pro-ready right now. Some draft analysts also believe that Bortles could afford to sit another year, and the Browns are in the perfect position to draft a quarterback in the first round and spend time developing him.
There are some people who believe that you draft a franchise QB for him to start on day one, but quarterbacks need time to develop. If a QB isn’t polished, then it’s better to rest him and have a stopgap solution starting. Since Teddy Bridgewater is the only truly polished QB among the top-notch guys in this draft class, it makes sense for the Browns to rest a guy like Carr or Manziel (I’ll focus on these two QBs throughout the piece) and use Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell as a stopgap QB. Why is it more ideal to rest a quarterback? I’ll let Tom Brady explain, from a post I wrote in late August, “I wasn’t prepared to play my first year. That’s all that would have happened, I would’ve gone out and get beat and lost a ton of confidence in what I was doing. I was able to sit there, watch, learn, grow, grow into my body a little bit, improve my throwing mechanics and then my second year I went in there really competing for the back-up job and ended up winning it.”
The Browns have two steady veteran quarterbacks who are both under contract through the 2014 season, meaning that they can use Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer as stopgap QBs for one season before letting one of them leave in 2015 and handing the keys over to their next quarterback. Both players had about even statistics (both had a 6.4 yards per attempt average), but I thought Hoyer outplayed Campbell when re-watching the tape; Hoyer’s accuracy and quick release stood out, though I’ve been a fan of Campbell as very good backup for quite some time.
Carr needs work, because his footwork is terrible. He has incredible arm strength, and I think he has the best arm talent of any QB in this draft class (arm talent essentially equates to arm strength). However, Carr could do a better job of getting his feet set, keeping his feet moving, and being more composed in the face of pressure- plus, his decision-making is sometimes a detriment. A guy like Carr’s arm talent could end up being a very good starter in this league, but he pretty much needs to sit out his rookie year and work under the tutelage of good coaching.
Why isn’t Manziel ready? I think this one is obvious. He’s horrendous at reading defenses, and he relies far too much on his improve skills, which are exemplary. However, improv skills don’t work well in the NFL, especially when the QB in question has a slight frame and will be going up against stronger, faster, more athletic, and better-tackling pass rushers in the pros. Manziel takes off running far too often and holds onto the ball instead of throwing it to an easy, open option; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Manziel bypass an easy throw on tape.
While the Browns could try to throw their next starter into the fire, it would be very unwise to do this, especially since they wouldn’t have built up their roster enough. Plus, why should the Browns rush a rookie QB who isn’t ready or polished when they have steady vets in Campbell and Hoyer? The Browns won just four games last season, but they were competitive thanks to a stout defense. They will be better on offense next year- a feature back will hopefully be on its way- and it’s important for the Browns to do things the right way in their rebuild and in their development of a franchise QB. Whether or not you trust Michael Lombardi to make the right decisions, it’s clear that the identification and utilization of a franchise QB in the 2014 draft class is of the utmost importance for Lombardi and will most likely decide his fate in Cleveland. For his sake and the sake of the Browns, let’s hope the front office can get it right, even if their head coaching management has shown farcical dysfunction to this point.