As you’re probably aware, the 2017 Browns are just the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. Because of their incompetency, new general manager John Dorsey has the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. What will the Browns do with that pick?
The Browns Will Draft a Quarterback
The Browns might choose not to draft a quarterback No. 1 overall. As a first-year GM for the passer-needy Chiefs in 2013, Dorsey inherited the first pick from the previous regime. What did he do? Dorsey immediately traded a second-rounder to the 49ers for Alex Smith, and then he used the No. 1 pick on a left tackle. It just so happens that Smith is reportedly available via trade, as the Chiefs have 2017 first-rounder Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings: It’s not inconceivable for the Browns to acquire a veteran quarterback and address another position with the first pick.
Regardless of whether the Browns add an experienced NFL passer via trade or free agency, if they draft at another position with the first pick they can always look to select a quarterback with the fourth pick, which they acquired last year from the Texans. It’s possible that one of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen could fall to No. 4. All of them are young and hyped underclassmen with the potential to invigorate a franchise.
Or the Browns could trade back into the second half of the first round and select Baker Mayfield or Lamar Jackson. The Browns have three second-rounders — their own plus two from the Texans and Eagles. Those picks should be more than sufficient to enable the Browns to acquire a third first-rounder, which they could use on a passer.
So it’s possible the Browns won’t use the No. 1 pick on a quarterback — but they’re going to use that pick on a quarterback.
Dorsey has stated that the team’s top priority this offseason is finding a quarterback. The Browns have started 28 different players at the position since returning to Cleveland in 1999, and in the past two drafts they opted to trade for future picks instead of selecting Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson. It will be hard for Dorsey to say quarterback is his top priority if he doesn’t address the position with the No. 1 overall pick.
Who Is John Dorsey?
A linebacker with the Packers in the 1980s, Dorsey has been a professional evaluator of player talent since 1991.
- 1991-96: Scout, Packers
- 1997-98: Director of College Scouting, Packers
- 1999: Director of Player Personnel, Seahawks
- 2000-11: Director of College Scouting, Packers
- 2012: Director of Football Operations, Packers
- 2013-16/17: General Manager, Chiefs
During all of these years, Dorsey’s team has had the No. 1 pick just once, so we’ve never seen him be a part of the scouting process for a top quarterback. We have though, seen his teams draft 16 quarterbacks since 1991, and we can analyze those players as prospects to get a sense for the type of quarterback Dorsey (potentially) tends to like.
But before that . . .
The Gunslinger Who Started It All
We should look at the quarterback who preceded all of those draft picks: Brett Favre.
Drafted in 1991 in the second round with the 33rd overall pick, Favre was a classic boom/bust selection by the Falcons. Head coach Jerry Glanville publicly disapproved of the pick, saying that it would take a plane crash for him to give Favre playing time. Although Favre was a four-year starter in college, he played at lowly Southern Mississippi, where he completed just 52.4 percent of his career passes for a horrid 6.2 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A). On top of that, he was a sack machine, ‘rushing’ for -0.5 yards per carry (including sacks). As a prospect, Favre was statistically irredeemable.
As a rookie he was even worse. In 1991, Favre played five snaps. On one of those plays he took an 11-yard sack. On two of them he threw incomplete passes. And on the other two he threw interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He was basically what we’d expect to see if Christian Hackenberg ever saw regular season snaps.
And then in the 1992 offseason the Packers acquired him — by trading their first-round pick! By Week 4 he was the starter. Imagine that. A physically impressive but statistically horrible prospect bombs in limited action as a rookie and a team decides to trade away a premium pick so they can make him their starter — and then he turns into one of the best quarterbacks of all time!
Did the Packers get lucky? — like someone who gets a 21 after hitting on 17 — or did the Packers somehow know they were getting a four? Either way, it’s arguable that the success the Packers had with the Favre trade encouraged them (and Dorsey) to continue to scout boom/bust (and/or out-of-favor) quarterbacks like Favre and also to stick with the numbers-ignoring evaluation methodology that led to Favre in the first place.
The Quarterbacks Dorsey’s Teams Have Scouted & Drafted
We can’t know for sure how involved Dorsey was in the scouting and drafting of these players, but many of them tend to be of the same boom/bust high-leverage ilk.
- 1992: 9.230 (Packers) – Ty Detmer, Brigham Young
- 1993: 5.118 (Packers) – Mark Brunell, Washington
- 1995: 5.160 (Packers) – Jay Barker, Alabama
- 1996: 7.240 (Packers) – Kyle Wachholtz, Southern California
- 1997: 7.240 (Packers) – Ron McAda, Army
- 1998: 6.187 (Packers) – Matt Hasselbeck, Boston College
- 1999: 3.77 (Seahawks) – Brock Huard, Washington
- 2002: 5.164 (Packers) – Craig Nall, Northwestern State
- 2005: 1.24 (Packers) – Aaron Rodgers, California
- 2006: 5.148 (Packers) – Ingle Martin, Furman
- 2008: 2.56 (Packers) – Brian Brohm, Louisville
- 2008: 7.209 (Packers) – Matt Flynn, Louisiana State
- 2012: 7.243 (Packers) – B.J. Coleman, Tennessee-Chattanooga
- 2014: 5.163 (Chiefs) – Aaron Murray, Georgia
- 2016: 5.162 (Chiefs) – Kevin Hogan, Stanford
- 2017: 1.10 (Chiefs) – Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech
As a cohort of quarterbacks, this group is fascinating.
Detmer was a highly productive Heisman-winning All-American passer who fell in the draft because of concerns about his size (6’0″ and 189 pounds). The Packers developed him and used him as a backup behind Favre for four years, after which he left Green Bay via free agency. He had an 11-year career, mostly as a backup. He was 25 years old as a rookie.
Brunell was a dual-threat college quarterback who was better as a runner (3.6 yards per carry) than as a passer (52.0 percent completion rate). Brunell fell in the draft because he suffered a severe knee injury before his junior year, and then as a senior he was in a timeshare with his replacement. The Packers developed Brunell on the bench for two years and then traded him to the Jags for third- and fifth-round picks.
Barker was a national championship-winning Southeastern Conference player of the year, but he was inaccurate with a 56.9 percent career completion rate. The Packers cut him out of training camp and he never played an NFL snap.
Wachholtz was a backup for most of college, carving out playing time via a timeshare only as a senior. The Packers drafted him as a speculative player and converted him to tight end on their practice squad. He never played an NFL snap.
McAda was a military academy dual-threat quarterback who was better as a runner (5.0 yards per carry) than a passer (54.5 percent completion rate). The Mr. Irrelevant of 1997, McAda never played a down of NFL football and was the last military academy draft pick until linebacker Caleb Campbell was selected in 2008.
Hasselbeck was a run-of-the-mill Big East passer with accuracy issues (55.6 percent completion rate) and an unfortunate touchdown-to-interception ratio (22:26). After being drafted, Hasselbeck ‘redshirted’ a year on the practice squad and then backed up Favre for two seasons before the Packers traded him and their No. 17 pick to former head coach Mike Holmgren for Seattle’s No. 10 pick and a third-rounder.
Huard was a highly recruited high-schooler who followed in his brother Damon’s footsteps and played for the hometown Huskies. Although Huard had flashes of greatness, making his first start as a redshirt freshman, he had poor accuracy (54.4 percent completion rate) and poor mobility (-0.3 yards per carry including sacks). Drafted in the third round by the local Seahawks, Huard was a third-string rookie who went 0-4 as a second-year backup. He lost his ‘potential quarterback of the future’ hype when the Seahawks traded for Hasselbeck in 2001. He was out of the league by 2004.
Nall was a physically impressive backup quarterback at Louisiana State, where he completed just 44.3 percent of his passes before transferring as a senior to NSU, where he had the first 2,000-yard passing season in school history. The Packers developed him on the bench for four years, but he left a year after the team drafted their quarterback of the future, bouncing around the league for a few more seasons and returning to the team in 2007 for a second stint as the third-stringer.
Rodgers was an ignored high school recruit who played his first season of college ball at Butte Community College before transferring to California, where he quickly became the starter and had a strong career with an 8.6 AY/A. A little rough around the edges, Rodgers was still in the running to be the No. 1 overall pick, but he fell to the Packers at No. 24. After backing up Favre for three years, Rodgers became the starter in 2008 and has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league for the last decade.
Martin was a highly recruited player who spent three years at Florida (one as a redshirt and two primarily as a backup) before transferring to Furman, where he was a two-year starter and Football Championship Series first-team All-American. For his college career, Martin completed 61.4 percent of his passes and rushed for 3.6 yards per carry. He lasted on the Packers for just a season and was out of the league after a few years. He never attempted an NFL pass.
Brohm was a highly recruited multi-sport Kentucky kid who played for the Louisville Cardinals and flourished in HC Bobby Petrino’s system. A three-year starter, Brohm was selected as the third quarterback in his draft class with the intention of being developed behind Rodgers, but he immensely disappointed. After serving as the third-stringer as a rookie, he was cut from the team and put on the practice squad. Eventually Brohm made two late-season starts for the Bills, losing both. He was out of the league by 2011.
Flynn was a national championship-winning passer who spent most of his college career backing up eventual No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell before finally starting as a fifth-year senior. Primarily a game manager, Flynn completed just 56.1 percent of his passes in college. Selected behind Brohm, Flynn beat out the second-rounder and became the long-term backup in Green Bay, where he was developed on the bench and had massive success in two starts as a third- and fourth-year pro (731 yards passing and nine touchdowns with a 67.9 percent completion rate). As a free agent he signed with the Seahawks for $9 million guaranteed but lost the quarterback competition to rookie Russell Wilson, eventually returning to Green Bay to finish out his career as a backup.
Coleman was a redshirt and backup for two years at Tennessee before transferring to Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he started for three years. A speculative prospect, Coleman was relatively inaccurate (57.4 percent completion rate) and immobile (-0.6 yards per carry) in college. He never played an NFL snap.
Murray was a high school All-American who had a fantastic career at Georgia as a four-year starter before tearing his ACL near the end of his senior campaign. With good accuracy (62.3 percent completion rate) and great efficiency (9.3 AY/A), Murray was a good collegiate player, but he fell in the draft because of his injury and size (6’1″ and 207 pounds). After spending two years on the bench in Kansas City, Murray has floated around the league as a practice squad and preseason player. While he’s yet to attempt a regular season pass, it speaks well of him that he’s at least gotten a shot over the past two years with quarterback gurus in Bruce Arians (Cardinals), Doug Pederson (Eagles), and Sean McVay (Rams).
Hogan was a four-year starter at Stanford with a good record (36-10) and nice size (6’3″ and 218 pounds), but his high completion rate (65.9 percent) and strong rushing production (4.0 yards per carry) were accompanied with poor throwing mechanics and sustained bouts of inconsistency. Hogan was drafted by the Chiefs as a developmental prospect, but he was cut as a rookie before the regular season. He landed with the Browns, where he’s been a backup for two years.
Mahomes was a two-sport star at Texas Tech, where he started 29 games as a rocket-armed dual-threat spread-system quarterback. Basically he was Colin Kaepernick except smaller and slower but more accurate and natural as a passer. Billed as a high-ceiling, low-floor project player, Mahomes was something of a late riser in the evaluation process, but by the time the draft came around NFL Media’s Mike Mayock was comparing Mahomes to Favre. Even though the Chiefs had Smith as the starter and no immediate need at the position they decided to trade the Nos. 27 and 91 picks plus a future first-rounder to the Bills for the No. 10 pick to use on Mahomes, whom they planned to develop for at least a year behind Smith. In the preseason Mahomes completed 63.0 percent of his passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns, and in Week 17 on the road in Denver he completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 284 yards. He seems likely to be the Chiefs starter in 2018.
What Have We Learned?
Dorsey is old school. When evaluating passers, he doesn’t care what the numbers say: He wants guys who can play. If a quarterback has a massive arm but struggles with accuracy or consistency, that doesn’t matter. If a guy is a proven producer but smaller than average, that doesn’t matter. If a talented passer didn’t get much playing time in college, that doesn’t matter. If a guy had to transfer schools for some reason, that doesn’t matter. If a guy played for a non-Power Five institution, that doesn’t matter. If a guy is raw and needs time to develop on the sideline, that doesn’t matter.
Dorsey seems to be almost single-mindedly focused on upside: Potential value guides his quarterback decisions much more than positive expected value — or at least that’s the conclusion I’d reach if not for his ridiculous record of success.
Dorsey drafts quarterbacks basically the way Jason Blum produces movies: He knows that he’s going to have some winners and some losers, so he regularly invests small amounts of draft capital in high-upside prospects. He shotguns the position to an extent and moves on from non-developing quarterbacks quickly.
So many of Dorsey’s drafted quarterbacks have amounted to nothing, but that’s to be expected since only two of them are first-rounders. Given that the vast majority of passers selected after the first round fail, it’s amazing that Dorsey found success with Detmer, Brunell, Hasselbeck, and Flynn. And whenever Dorsey’s team has invested a first-rounder (via trade or draft) into a quarterback the results have been unfathomably good.
The examples of Rodgers and Mahomes are particularly instructive. Although both were first-rounders, neither one was a pro-ready prospect. If there’s a quarterback Dorsey thinks could eventually be great enough to warrant the No. 1 pick, it probably won’t matter to him if the player is able to start as a rookie. In fact, Dorsey might prefer not to start him.
The 2018 Quarterbacks
I’m going to look at this particular prop in more detail in another piece, but right now Rosen is a -120 favorite to be the first quarterback drafted. I get why Rosen is favored — he’s a young, supposedly pro-ready prospect — but he looks nothing like anyone Dorsey has ever drafted. Allen, though, is notable at +500. He’s big (6’5″ and 240 pounds) and inaccurate (54.2 percent completion rate) with a junior college background. He’s raw and a total project. If selected No. 1 overall, he could turn into one of the biggest busts of all time: This sounds weird to say, but that’s why Dorsey might draft him.
I mean, what’s the point of having a ‘quarterback developer’ like Hue Jackson as your coach if you’re not going to draft a passer who absolutely needs to be developed?
Photo Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports