Friday, April 29, 2016

Quarterback surprise

He was sitting there waiting to be selected when the Browns were called on the clock for the 93rd pick in the National Football League’s college draft Friday night.

They had already drafted wide receiver Corey Coleman in the opening round Thursday night, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah in round two and defensive end Carl Nassib offensive tackle Shon Coleman in round three.

All the speculation leading up to the lottery centered on the Browns drafting a quarterback. After passing on the opportunity to grab one with the second overall pick, it was only a matter of time before they leaped.

And so they did, but the name uttered was not Connor Cook, the local kid many pundits believed was a natural fit for his hometown team. The kid from Hinckley was sitting there just waiting to be taken.

Only one problem. The Browns did not love him nearly enough to spend a selection on him. They liked Southern California’s Cody Kessler a whole lot better and proved it by taking him with a pick gained in a trade with Carolina.

Coach Hue Jackson, who knows something about quarterbacks, practically gushed about Kessler following the extremely surprising selection. “You have to trust me on this one,” he assured the Cleveland media.

“He’s everything you look for in a quarterback. We’re bringing him for a reason. He has the characteristics we’re looking for. Let’s give him an opportunity to compete.”

The hallmark for Kessler – small for an NFL quarterback at 6-1, 220 pounds, but he has huge hands (nearly 11 inches) – is his stunning throwing accuracy. He completed 67.5% of his passes in three seasons, throwing for 88 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions.

Jackson cited Kessler’s “pinpoint accuracy. He can throw the ball straight to the guy he’s throwing to. If you can’t, you can’t play in the NFL.” The Browns have given him the opportunity to prove it.

Where Kessler fails to wow scouts is his lack of arm strength. He is more of a short- to medium-range passer (kind of like ex-Browns great Brian Sipe), whereas the 6-4, 220-pound Cook, on the other hand, can stretch the field.

Cook and Kessler operated out of a pro-style offense in college, but it was the latter who caught the eye of the most important man in the Cleveland war room when selection No. 93 was placed on the clock.

The fact Cook is still on the board is puzzling with Saturday’s four-round conclusion to the draft up next. After all, he was 34-5 as a starter at Michigan State. However, his 57.5% accuracy and 71-22 touchdowns/interceptions ratio most likely were warning signs.

As for the rest of day two, the Browns made a pair of moves to help shore up one of the club’s biggest weaknesses – the pass rush – by taking Ogbah and Nassib, a pair of pass-rushing ends who got up close and very personal with opposing quarterbacks last season, and Shon Coleman to help shore up the offensive line.

Ogbah is listed at 6-4, 275 pounds and Nassib at 6-7, 277 pounds, kind of light for a defensive end in a 3-4 front. It wouldn’t surprise if defensive coordinator Ray Horton utilizes both young men in a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role in certain formations.

Ogbah, grabbed with the first pick of the second round, is more of a run stopper than pass rusher, but he did have 17½ tackles for loss last season at Oklahoma State and figures to see lots of playing time.

Nassib, one of the nice draft stories, is more of a project and might be used strictly as a situational pass rusher. He went from walk-on to special teams ace (for two seasons) to the nation’s sack leader with 15½ as a senior with Penn State last season.

He is a classic overachiever who might be the one player in this class who outperforms his draft slot. All he needs to do is prove to those who believe he’s a one-year wonder that he’s much more.

Shon Coleman arrives with the opportunity to slip into the right tackle slot along the offensive line that became vacant when Mitchell Schwartz opted to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. He played a lot at both tackles for Auburn.

Unless the Browns deal veteran left tackle Joe Thomas, the right side is where the versatile Coleman will begin. But if the Browns do Thomas a favor and ship him to a team good enough to compete for a championship, Coleman will feel just as comfortable at left tackle.

He’ll also bring a few smarts to whatever position he lands at, having secured his master’s degree in Adult Education last year.

Entering Saturday’s final four rounds, the Browns have yet to address roster holes at both safeties, cornerback, inside linebacker, at least one more offensive lineman and wide receiver, not to mention depth at several other positions.

There is still a lot of work to be done to fill in the many gaps that exist and they’ll have plenty of opportunity to mine for talent right off the bat with the first two picks of the fourth round.

They have seven total selections in rounds four and five, will be a spectator in the sixth round unless they trade into it and their final pick is at the top of round seven. 

This is the part of the draft territory that separates the men from the boys, the pros from the amateurs. This is where those little nuggets turn into bright, shining stars with intelligent selecting, where the underdog lies in wait for the opportunity to prove to the pro football world they are better than where they are drafted.

It is a place the Browns haven’t profited from for a long, long time. The new regime has a shot to change that and finally give fans the team for which they have longed for way too long.

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