At this point, the opening to every pre-Week 1 Cleveland Browns article can be easily recycled. Take the same sentence, replace the name, and suddenly you have the key question for the entire season.
“Can (fill in name here) finally be the answer at quarterback for Cleveland?”
If you’ve followed this team even slightly over the past few years, you understand why this is always the key takeaway heading into a new season. The Browns haven’t had any semblance of a franchise QB since the Reagan administration. The team had six different people play the position last year alone. The jokes are endless, as is the list of attempted “saviors” Cleveland has relied on since 1999.
Yet, the question remains the same for 2017. Everyone is wondering if rookie DeShone Kizer can finally be the answer at quarterback for Cleveland. As a result, he’s by far the most important player for the team this season.
The former Notre Dame standout isn’t the only key player for the Browns this year. Second-year wideout Corey Coleman badly needs a breakout season. Once healed from his ankle sprain, Myles Garrett will have everyone’s attention. His fellow 2017 first round picks – safety Jabrill Peppers and tight end David Njoku – will be expected to make an impact.
But this is the Browns we’re talking about, and quarterback is always the top priority. For Kizer, the spotlight is even brighter.
For one, he’s the first rookie quarterback to start Week 1 for Cleveland since 2012. Provided he doesn’t throw four interceptions and get stuck under a giant flag like Brandon Weeden did on said fateful day, he’ll be off to a better start.
Still, being a rookie thrust into action from the get-go, expectations for Kizer are going to be high. To actually prove he can be the future in Cleveland – or at the very least merit another season under center – he’ll need to clear more than a few hurdles.
For one, we will need to see continued development throughout the season. It’s safe to say the team will be cautious with Kizer coming out of the gate, as he’s likely going to endure his fair share of growing pains. At the same time, a more improved quarterback has to be on display by the time Week 8 comes around, likewise for Week 17.
Of course, this is under the assumption he’s still playing by that point. This certainly shouldn’t be read as any sort of slight on Kizer. That said, his biggest accomplishment, sadly, would be playing a complete season. Cleveland hasn’t had a quarterback fulfill such a task since Tim Couch did it in 2001.
The Browns need this kind of freak occurrence to take place just as badly as Kizer does. Only then will they know for sure whether or not they have a potential franchise quarterback on their hands.
In the end, this is why the play of Kizer is far more important than that of anyone else on the roster. Cleveland can’t come into next year’s draft – carrying five picks in the first two rounds – without having a conclusive consensus on Kizer. The team either has to feel comfortable enough to build an offense around him, or it has to know for sure it needs to spend a high pick on one of the talented QB’s coming out next season. There can be no grey area.
The opportunity is certainly there for Kizer. Playing for a team in the middle of a rebuild and having no high-priced veteran breathing down his neck, he’ll have a lengthy leash regardless of any struggles he runs into. This will hopefully do wonders when it comes to relieving any pressure he may feel to look like a franchise cornerstone right away.
At the end of the day, though, the Browns don’t need to determine if he’s their savior by season’s end. This would be asking way too much of the 21-year-old. All Cleveland needs to know is whether or not quarterback is a position it needs to address come next offseason.