By Kevin Drozin
As many Cleveland Browns fans already know, both new owner Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner have said they plan on bringing in competition for Brandon Weeden at quarterback in 2013.
With that said, it is obvious Colt McCoy does not have the arm strength or pocket presence necessary for the offense that will be installed by head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Weeden, on the other hand, has the physical tools to run the offense, but questions about his decision making and field vision have put his starting job in jeopardy.
With that being said, the Browns have two options: sign or trade for a veteran quarterback during the offseason/free agency period, or draft a rookie with one of their picks in April.
Of the NFL quarterbacks available on the market, many Cleveland media outlets and NFL analysts anticipate the Browns to target Matt Moore, Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallett or Chase Daniel. Besides Moore, this writer does not see the intrigue for any of the other three. Plus, acquiring either Flynn or Mallett would require the Browns to part with at least one of their draft picks.
Another unique problem the Browns have is that Weeden is 29-years old, and is entering only his second year in the NFL. With his age, he won’t be a 15-year starter, but could have as many as 7-8 years left in his career. Most of the available veteran quarterbacks are about Weeden’s age, so they would be lateral upgrades, if upgrades at all.
The more likely scenario is that the Browns use one of their six draft picks to select a rookie during the NFL Draft. Because of Kansas City’s decision to trade for Alex Smith, they will no longer be considering Geno Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in April. This has prompted draft experts to discuss which team in the Top 10 will draft him–including the Cleveland Browns.
With Smith now joining the conversation, the highest profile QBs being considered for the Browns are Smith, Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel and Ryan Nassib. Also rumored to be of interest to the Browns are projected middle-round signal callers Tyler Bray, Zac Dysert and Landry Jones.
Knowing the history of the Browns and the passion of their fan base, the most popular player on the roster is the backup quarterback. Because Weeden didn’t take the team to the playoffs in 2012, fans want someone who can. It doesn’t matter if Moore, Glennon or even Daniel is on the roster next season, the fans will want them under center. Cleveland fans love the unknown, and the unknown every season is that the quarterback sitting on the bench could be leading them to a playoff berth.
If the Browns select one of the higher profile quarterbacks in the Draft, fans will be clamoring from Day 1 for him to be their starter. This leads me to believe the Browns will stick with Weeden as their starter for 2013, and will draft a lesser-known quarterback to provide him with some competition.
On paper, the talent currently on the Browns’ offense is well-suited for the style of offense Turner and Chudzinski want to run, but holes remain on the other side of the ball. I think the Browns will use their first four selections on defensive players in an attempt to provide Ray Horton with the players he needs to operate his 3-4 zone blitzing scheme. Rounds six and seven, however, are wide open.
In the late rounds of Day 3, teams typically take gambles on players that may have slipped due to off-field concerns, or players that show athleticism but may need some technical fine-tuning. This is where I believe the Browns will select a quarterback to compete with Weeden. In this situation, the Browns coaching staff will have the opportunity to develop a young quarterback, but without the pressure of the fans and the media insisting on Weeden being unseated as the starter.
The three potential targets for the Browns on Day 3 are Matt Scott, Nathan Stanley and Jordan Rodgers.
Scott, out of the University of Arizona, is the type of player cast as the “future of the NFL”. Able to operate the read-option, he would be an intriguing selection for the Browns if Chudzinski would eventually like to take his offense in a direction similar to that which he installed for Cam Newton in Carolina. Scott played behind Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles) in his junior season at Arizona, but earned the starting job this past season.
Completing 60 percent of his passes for over 3,600 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, Scott also rushed for over 600 yards and six touchdowns in his final year as a Wildcat. Standing at 6’3” and 196 pounds, he has the size to be an NFL quarterback, and his speed allows him to outrun defenders when evading the pass rush. He keeps his eyes down the field and looks to throw before he runs; making him a perfect fit for a Newton-style offense.
Nathan Stanley is probably the least known of the three quarterbacks mentioned, hailing from the smallest school of the bunch–Southeastern Louisiana. Stanley started his career at Ole Miss before transferring to SELU between his sophomore and junior seasons. He stands tall at 6’5” and 215 pounds, and has the big arm many NFL teams look for in a developmental project.
His stats are very average, throwing for 1,952 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions his senior year, but watching his film he has good pocket presence and a nice touch on downfield throws. The quick release and rocket arm he possesses cannot be taught. Selecting Stanley in the 6th or 7th round would be the ultimate sign that the Browns coaching staff has visions of a complete vertical offense rather than a read-option style so popular in today’s NFL.
The third prospect, Rodgers, is the senior from Vanderbilt better known as the brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is of shorter stature at 6’1”, but has decent arm strength and above average accuracy with short to immediate passes. If the Browns are looking for their version of Russell Wilson, this is their guy to gamble on in this year’s draft class.
In his senior season, Rodgers completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,500 yards, 15 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He also has the ability to rush out of the pocket, gaining 500-plus yards and six TDs in two seasons as starter. He led the 2012 Commodores to a 7-4 season in the difficult SEC, and improved greatly from his junior to senior season. Likely to be a 7th round pick or undrafted free agent, Rodgers has the potential to be a lightning-in-a-bottle pick, and he obviously has NFL talent in his blood.
The Cleveland media is constantly looking for a quarterback controversy to debate and ask questions about, so if the coaching staff wants to provide Weeden with competition without the distraction of the media, these late-round prospects should be on the Browns radar, because 2013 is likely going to be Weeden’s year to prove himself.
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