Thinking about what might have been, what could have been and whispering . . .
Two of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League halfway through this season are Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, either of whom could have been – and, some say, should have been – quarterbacking the Browns this season.
The club is taking a beating in the national media for passing on Wentz and Watson in the last two college football drafts. For a team that desperately needed to upgrade the quarterback position, Cleveland said no thanks. Not yet.
And wouldn’t you know it, Wentz and Watson are having fabulous seasons. Wentz, in fact, is being mentioned prominently as a strong candidate for most valuable player honors. Watson is running away with the rookie-of-the-year award.
So why is Wentz in Philadelphia and Watson in Houston? Why did the Browns choose to head in a different direction twice in two years and get burned both times? And what would it be like in Cleveland these days if the Browns had pulled the trigger on one of them?
Wentz, who could have been snagged with the second overall pick in the 2016 lottery, was not deemed a top 20 quarterback by the club. Watson could have been had at No. 12 this past draft, but the draft-till-you-drop Browns were more interested in obtaining Houston’s top choice in next year’s draft.
Wentz was 7-9 in his rookie season and has already matched that victory total this season with the 7-1 Eagles, throwing 19 touchdown passes – he had 16 last season – and only five interceptions (14 last season).
Watson, who took over the Texans’ offense after Tom Savage played awful football in the season opener, has been spectacular in six games as a starter, throwing 19 touchdown passes – he has also run for one – and compiling nearly 1,970 total yards.
The formula for their success is simple, Draft them and build the offense around them. Take their natural talents, blend them with the talents of others and reap the benefits.
The Eagles have surrounded Wentz with a strong offensive line, a terrific set of receivers and a running game that just got better with the acquisition of Jay Ajayi from Miami.
The Texans already had a strong offense. All they needed was someone to come right in and give it a spark. It took coach Bill O’Brien just one game to discover that spark. The reason the Texans are 3-4 right now is not because of an offense that averages 30 points a game. It’s the awful defense.
OK, enough about now. Time to play a game of “Let’s Pretend.” It’s all hypothetical of course.
Would Wentz’s and Watson’s brief NFL careers have had the same outcomes had history landed them anywhere but where they are now? Say in Cleveland?
Let’s pretend the Browns said yes at No. 2 in the 2016 draft and picked Wentz. He would have joined a team that had purged the roster of a half dozen core players who made major contributions.
He would have joined a club that had a terrible offense with an awful receivers corps, an offensive line that was terrible at best and a running game that was iffy. Given that to work with, does anyone really believe Wentz would have gone 7-9 as he did in Philadelphia?
And then there’s the nine – and still counting – draft picks the draft-pick hungry Browns front office gleaned from the trade with the Eagles. Where would the Browns be without them? Does 1-15 last season and 0-8 this season answer that one?
No, Wentz would have been almost as bad as DeShone Kizer has been this season because all the necessary ingredients a quarterback needs to be successful were not there. And they are still not there one year later, although the offensive line is somewhat better.
Now let’s pretend the Browns decided Watson was their man last April and selected him to be their quarterback of the future. If he had not been bypassed, he would have walked into a flaming cauldron of offensive ineptitude in Cleveland.
He would not have had DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller to throw to. (They have 14 touchdown receptions between them halfway through the season.) He would have had Ricardo Louis, Kenny Britt, Sammie Coates, Rashard Higgins, Kasen Williams and injury-prone Corey Coleman. Yikes!!
That right there, not to mention the difference between the two teams in the running games and offensive lines, would have stymied the kind of growth Watson has already experienced in Houston.
So let’s be honest here. Had the Browns selected either of these two quarterbacks instead of going a different route, there is no guarantee they would have enjoyed similar success in Cleveland.
(Full disclosure: In the 2016 daft, I hoped the Browns would choose Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, who went later to San Diego. And in this past draft, I was rooting for the Browns to take another Buckeye, safety Malik Hooker, who went later on to Indianapolis, at No. 12. I thought Watson was Robert Griffin III lite.)
Bottom line: Hypothetically speaking, of course, if Wentz had been drafted by Cleveland, the Browns probably would have been somewhat better than 1-15 last season and certainly better than 0-8 this season. And if Watson had been selected instead of trading down this year, they probably would have won at least one game.
This, in no way, is meant to defend what the Browns’ front office did. Rather, it is an indictment of a bumbling braintrust that has no clue as to how to put together a winning football team on either side of the ball, but most notably on offense.
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As for whispering, Hue Jackson, that noted quarterback whisperer, has been whispering so softly, it has resulted in a 1-23 record in his season and a half as the head coach/offensive coordinator/whisperer of the Browns. So much for that reputation.
Jackson has been fortunate in the past to work with talented quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco in Baltimore, Carson Palmer at USC and Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. He just made them better.
What about his failures like Patrick Ramsey at Washington, Joey Harrington in Atlanta and Jason Campbell in Oakland? Or Griffin, Cody (“Trust Me”) Kessler, Kevin Hogan, Brock Osweiler and Kizer with the Browns? They had talent, too.
The starting quarterbacks he has worked with in Cleveland the last season and a half have been anything but successes. Whispering goes just so far, I guess. Maybe he should turn it up a notch or two.
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One more thought on Tuesday’s Bengals bungle: It smacked of desperation that the Browns would mortgage the future to solve the problems of the present. Kind of flies in the face of their analytics philosophy.
One can only imagine how Kizer, Kessler and Hogan feel right now. Going after AJ McCarron sends them a loud and clear message: We don’t think you’re good enough to help us.
It is a resounding clue as to what they have every intention of doing with what probably will be the first overall selection in the college draft for the second consecutive year.