Two Cleveland Browns players have been nominated for the latest NFL Rookie of the Week award – quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward. Both players have already won the honor once this season. In fact, there’s only been one week this year where the Rookie of the Week wasn’t a Brown.
Let that sink in for a minute. Cleveland, a team which has spent the past two decades teaching a master class on how not to draft, has had a rookie receive national recognition in three of the past four weeks.
Guys, I think it happened. I think the Browns finally figured out how to build your team through the draft.
If you think this sounds insulting, clearly you haven’t followed Cleveland football very long. If you had, you’d realize just how amazingly terrible the Browns have been at drafting quality players.
For the better part of two decades, Cleveland has been known less for who it drafted and more for who it passed over. Go back and look at any draft since 1999 and you’ll likely find an impact player the Browns decided against taking, instead choosing a soon-to-be bust. The result of these annual misfires led to the team getting stuck in the mud for years, constantly watching players it hoped would become franchise cornerstones instead get added to a growing list of epic failures the rest of the league laughs at.
This year, the Browns are trending in the right direction. While some credit is due to the offseason acquisitions made by new GM John Dorsey, it’s how he approached the draft which is having the biggest impact on the turnaround.
In Mayfield, Dorsey gave Browns fans something they haven’t been able to experience since the Ronald Reagan administration – a franchise quarterback. While growing pains are still to be expected with the rookie QB, what he’s shown so far has convinced Cleveland fans they might be able to enjoy an offseason without having to play a rousing game of “who’s the quarterback next year?”
Ward, a player many panned when Cleveland selected him with the fourth overall pick, has been the team’s primary shutdown corner since Day 1. In just five weeks, he’s notched three interceptions, a forced fumble and a key field goal block. Those who were clamoring for Cleveland to draft defensive end Bradley Chubb instead have suddenly gone quiet or pretended they wanted Ward in the first place.
These two aren’t alone in highlighting the Browns’ newfound ability to draft well. Running back Nick Chubb took home Rookie of the Week honors in Week 4. Linebacker Genard Avery is quickly looking like a fifth-round steal. Wideout Antonio Callaway has shown promise, proving Dorsey may have been smart to select him despite a significantly checkered past.
It may seem like this praise is a bit heavy-handed, but consider the source here. Not only has Cleveland been beyond terrible at drafting since 1999, the past few years feature some of the worst picks in franchise history.
We’re only four years removed from the Browns taking a raging alcoholic at quarterback (Johnny Manziel) and a cornerback who excused his inability to show up to practice on time by saying “I’m kind of a heavy sleeper” (Justin Gilbert). The next year, Cleveland selected Danny Shelton — a nose tackle known solely for an ability to jump on the pile at the end of plays — and Cam Erving, a lineman who’s admittedly holding his own with the Kansas City Chiefs, but who’s time with the Browns made many wonder if he actually knew how to play football.
One year later, the Browns passed up on quarterback Carson Wentz, trading down and taking wideout Corey Coleman, who’s currently unemployed after being disposed of by three separate teams this season.
So, yeah, the Browns have gone a long way towards convincing everyone they didn’t know how the draft works.
Hell, just look at how the pre-draft rumors of Cleveland favoring Wyoming QB Josh Allen were received. Fan reaction was a mix of frustration (from the idea of taking a project QB with the first overall pick) and an overall lack of surprise (it’s the Browns, after all).
However, instead of keeping up their trend of bumbling away pick after pick, the Browns selected players who already look like potential cornerstones.
Cleveland has gone from 0-16 to having national pundits discuss the possibility of a playoff berth, all in the span of one offseason. A sizable portion of this success is thanks to Dorsey drafting rookies who can make an immediate impact, a concept which has escaped this franchise for decades.