Even With Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns Must Draft a Quarterback

Oct 9, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler (6) walks back to the locker room after in injury during the first quarter against the New England Patriots at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler (6) walks back to the locker room after in injury during the first quarter against the New England Patriots at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

Cody Kessler has played well for the Cleveland Browns as a rookie, but nobody should believe the Browns don’t need to draft a quarterback

Don’t get hooked. That is more than merely a line made popular by ESPN Cleveland radio host and Cleveland sports personality Tony Rizzo. It’s a mantra fans of the Cleveland Browns should embrace each time they watch rookie quarterback Cody Kessler perform against NFL defenses this fall.

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Kessler has been much better than advertised, though admittedly, the advertisements weren’t great. However, he looks like a different player than the wide-eyed first-year pro who seemingly didn’t belong on the field during preseason games in August. The 23-year-old has battled while playing behind a patchwork offensive line and while lacking a variety of playmakers minus quarterback-turned-wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.

The rookie has taken beatings during games. He’s gotten up from the ground each time. Even injuries to his chest and ribs could not stop him from taking the field last Sunday. Kessler appears to be a true leader respected by others within the Cleveland offense, and his numbers are impressive when compared to those posted by other young starting quarterbacks around the league.

Don’t get hooked.

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Passionate Cleveland football fans have suffered watching the Browns start over 20 quarterbacks since the club returned to the NFL in 1999. Those customers are parched and desperate for anything they can get. It’s no wonder they yearn for Kessler to be the answer at quarterback the Browns have needed for 17 years and counting.

There are multiple questions Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson and his staff must answer regarding Kessler come the afternoon of Jan. 1, 2017 and the end of the current campaign. What they, you or anybody else thinks of Kessler as of Oct. 23 is meaningless. With that said, it has to be asked:

Do you, right now, believe Kessler can win a Super Bowl for the Browns or for any NFL team? Deep within the soul of your football intelligence, can you envision Kessler guiding an offense down the field against some of the better defenses in the league with division, conference and Super Bowl championships on the line?

You can’t, and you are lying to yourself if you believe otherwise.

It’s understandable fans of the Browns are a sensitive bunch these days. Their favorite team has lost way more than it has won since 2007. These individuals, thus, call into sports talk radio and flock to comment sections and to social media websites to lash out whenever somebody criticizes Jackson, Kessler, Pryor or anybody else who is a bright spot on a football team that may fail to win a single game this year if it cannot notch victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and/or the New York Jets before the end of October.

Kessler’s physical limitations are real, and you don’t have to be a scout to see them. Kessler’s noticeable lack of arm strength is a burden that isn’t going away. He’s not magically waking up one morning to find he possesses a cannon of a right arm. Every other quarterback who had a spot on the Cleveland roster since September 2015 had or has superior arm strength. His arm is what it is.

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This does not, of course, mean Kessler is a sure flop who deserves no further examinations. In fact, Kessler should be cemented as the team’s starter moving forward so long as he is fully healthy and able to throw the ball accurately and without pain. The rookie has earned the right to have a spot on the roster of the Browns in 2017. That, however, is all he’s earned.

The Browns have one trustworthy quarterback on the roster seven weeks into the season. Veteran Josh McCown, as gritty and scrappy as they come, turns 38 years old next summer, and no reasonable person can rely on McCown remaining healthy for a significant amount of time during a campaign. Robert Griffin III lasted four quarters this September before he suffered a shoulder injury that cost him no less than half of the season.

Yes, Virginia, Cleveland must select a quarterback in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. It’s not negotiable, even if Kessler continues to improve with each start.

Realistically speaking, what is Kessler’s ceiling? What is the best Kessler will become over the next decade? He probably isn’t Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger or any other top-tier quarterback. Kessler, most likely will, at his best, be more like Chad Pennington and Alex Smith.

Pennington and Smith, in their primes, are fine options at the position. Both can win you games. Would you take either over a Manning, a Brady or a Rodgers? You certainly would not.

2016 is actually going better for the Browns than the team could’ve expected back in early September. The club is not only headed toward earning the first overall pick in next year’s draft, but Cleveland may have found some gold in Kessler. A franchise known for having zero quality quarterbacks since the early 1990s may, if the Browns draft correctly next spring, have two potential starters come next August. Great!

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Selecting a quarterback with the highest possible draft pick in 2017 gives the Browns options for next season and for the next several years to come. Cleveland taking a quarterback with the first pick next April doesn’t automatically mean the club has to immediately move on from Kessler. Failing to draft a quarterback, however, could be disastrous for the Jackson era.

Fans of the Browns should hope Kessler plays well between now and the end of the year. Maybe he’ll even win a game or two. Whatever you do, though, do not sell yourselves on Kessler being the long-term answer for the Browns.

Don’t get hooked.