By Bob Evans
The closer the Cleveland Browns come to the 2013 NFL Draft and the beginning of free agency, the more and more the rumor mills have heated up regarding the team’s starting quarterback situation. From Alex Smith (now on his way to Kansas City) to Geno Smith, pick any of the quarterbacks out there and chances are they have been connected to the Cleveland Browns in some way.
Earlier this week the Ryan Mallett rumors resurfaced, and while the Michael Lombardi connection with the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick will always be out there, that is a move this writer just doesn’t see happening. While my preference is for the Browns to give Brandon Weeden another year in a system better suited for his skill-set, the team may have a difficult decision to make when it is their turn to step to the podium at No. 6 at the end of April.
The assumption since the end of the season was that the highly touted quarterback from West Virginia would go No. 1 overall to the quarterback-needy Kansas City Chiefs. Now that they have agreed to a deal with the San Francisco 49ers for their former No. 1 overall pick, it seems they will go a different direction.
With the Chiefs suddenly out of the picture, the big question is which team will be the first to select a quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Usually there is a logical answer to this question, as there are a number of teams that could use an upgrade at the quarterback position. However, the only team picking ahead of the Browns with a major need at quarterback is the Jacksonville Jaguars—and they have been rumored to be more inclined to go defense at No. 2, according to reports.
The Oakland Raiders own the No. 3 pick, but they just gave up a lot for Carson Palmer—which means he will likely get another shot (although Pro Football Talk says differently). The Eagles are picking No. 4 (Michael Vick) and Lions picking No. 5 (Matthew Stafford) and the chances of either of them selecting Smith are very slim.
This means that if the Cleveland Browns truly believe Smith is better than Weeden—barring a trade—the highly cerebral quarterback could be Cleveland’s for the taking. With this all in mind, what should the Browns do if this scenario happens?
First off, hopefully the Browns’ brain trust has already realized the potential situation they will be in leading up to draft day. Sitting at No. 6, they will have the opportunity to answer the question of will Weeden be the team’s opening day starter—but they better not let the cat out of the bag until they step to the podium because this could also be a major trade opportunity for the Browns’ brass.
Teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are currently sitting right behind the Browns in the draft; and enough smoke screens could force one of these teams to call up the Browns to secure Smith if he is the player they desire. But if the Browns let it known they covet Smith too much, any one of those teams siting Nos. 1-5 could end up being a potential trade candidate for a quarterback-needy team.
Now that we have the potential scenarios in mind, let’s discuss whether or not the Browns should select Smith if he falls to No. 6.
Standing 6’2” and 218 pounds, despite running a 4.59 40-yard dash at the combine, Smith is far from a scrambling quarterback. His eyes are always down the field, scanning and going through progressions in order to locate the first available open receiver. At West Virginia, this player was often Tavon Austin—which means any team drafting him better have a major safety net for Smith underneath.
Like Weeden, Smith comes from a pass-happy, spread offense under head coach Dana Holgorsen. This means Smith could likely have similar issues when translating his game from taking all of his snaps from the shotgun—something that plagued Weeden last year, causing a number of passes to be batted down thanks to throwing from an unfamiliar position closer to the line of scrimmage.
There is no doubt Smith put up some eye-popping numbers while starting for West Virginia. At the beginning of the 2012 season he seemed to be a Heisman Trophy lock, as he completed 81.4 percent of his passes, threw 24 touchdowns and zero interceptions though his first five games of the season. He also shredded Clemson in the Orange Bowl to the tune of 400-plus yards and six touchdowns.
During his junior and senior seasons, Smith accumulated over 8,500 yards passing, 73 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. His senior campaign he finished with a 71.2 completion percentage.
With numbers like those, one has to wonder why teams aren’t lining up to land Smith early in the first round of the draft. Well, his game does not come without faults, that’s why.
After starting out 5-0 against lesser opponents, Smith and the Mountaineers looked lost during a five-game losing streak. For the first three games of the losing streak, Smith completed less than 60 percent of his passes twice, did not throw for more than 280 yards in a game and also threw three interceptions. His mechanics seemed to change during this span, and he struggled doing the things he did well early in the season.
While he did not look great during this spans, he looked like an improved man toward the end of the season and in the offseason—but not enough to make people believe he is worthy of a Top 10 selection. Herein lies my problem with Smith to the Browns at No. 6.
Without a second-round selection in the draft, the Cleveland Browns need an absolute grand slam of a pick if they stand pat at No. 6. This player—no matter which side of the ball he is on—has to be good enough to justify not upgrading a starter at another position of need since they team will not be able to add another starting caliber player in the second round. And while Smith (since he is much younger than Weeden) will likely be the better quarterback down the road, he does not pose enough of an upgrade next year for this writer to not land one of a number of impact defensive players in this draft.
Could this situation change if the Browns swing all of their salary cap into two impact, starting outside linebackers and a starting cornerback in free agency? Absolutely, but as the roster is composed right now this writer has to just say no on Geno.
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