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Moneyball Quarterbacks will guide the Browns 2017 NFL Draft

Browns coaching and analytics drive the quarterback choice for the 2017 NFL Draft

Moneyball Quarterbacks

The newest Browns regime has a lot on the line in this year’s draft with 11 picks, all in the first 6 rounds, including 5 of the first 65.

The pressure to find the ever-elusive franchise quarterback for the Cleveland Browns grows by the season... actually, it grows by the day, if you listen to most of the locals. But the only pressure that matters is that which comes from the top, Jimmy and Dee Haslam. The Haslams must be continually telling Sashi Brown, Hue Jackson and company the following: Their jobs are not at stake during or after the upcoming season, so be patient. 2018? Well, that’s a different story.

This current Browns reconstruction is not just another rebuild. This is a complete do-over. Oh we’ve seen teams this bad, but those were expansion teams. The 1999 Browns were far worse than the 2016 Browns, because they lacked playmakers, offensive line, and didn’t have the patience or wherewithal to allow their franchise QB to sit as planned for the majority, if not all of the season. If Sashi, Hue and company have the full trust of the organization from the top, this will permeate every decision in free agency and the draft.

The quarterback options are a bit different this offseason than previous ones. Free agency brought a few different options to the table for quarterback hungry teams like the Bears, 49ers, Jets and Browns. The Bears filled their immediate need with what basically amounts to a 1-year prove-it deal for Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon, in his brief time as a starter for the Bucs looked good on paper statistically, but not so good in the win-loss column, 5-13. The Browns, passed up on this opportunity. Wise decision. Brian Hoyer signed with the 49ers, reuniting with former Browns OC, Mike Shanahan, who has taken over the struggling San Francisco franchise with former Fox Analyst John Lynch as a first-time general manager. I don’t think the Browns and Hoyer were going to reunite, like an old relationship gone bad.

The other free agent quarterbacks of note still available (Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Colin Kaepernick) each bring different challenges to the table. Cutler has chemistry issues, according to many, Fitzpatrick has quarterbacking issues, Kaepernick has issues that are longer than a short column on the Browns QB situation (which is long, if you include the 27 different starters since 99 on that now infamous fan jersey),

This leaves the Browns. Do they look at trading for Kirk Cousins? Do they try to pry away Jimmy Garoppolo? Arguments can be made for and against both of those quarterbacks, but the coach in me thinks Hue will want his own guy, and the front office wants their own guy too. The hope is this guy is the same guy.

Coaches always think they can get the best out of any individual player, and particularly a coach like Hue Jackson, who is the alleged quarterback guru or whisperer, whichever cliche you prefer. The front office gave Jackson and his staff Cody Kessler in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft. Jackson was enamored with Robert Griffin III, neither set the world on fire, but Kessler stood out, comparing favorably in most analytics categories to Carson Wentz, the Eagles selection with the Browns #2 pick acquired last season a few weeks before the draft. While old school scouts favor a guy like Wentz, he reminds me very much of Billy Beane in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Looks the part, for sure, but Wentz’s season dropped off dramatically as tape got out on him.

Now, the Browns are heavily invested in their analytics operations, which led to the Wentz trade and the selection of Kessler out of Cal. Kessler proved one thing last year: he belongs in the league. He didn’t prove he is a franchise QB, or even a starting QB, but he definitely belongs in the NFL. If the Browns FO and coaches learned anything from last season, they clearly learned their offensive line must be good to support Kessler, or any quarterback in order to be successful. Yes, there is a symbiotic relationship between the QB and the O-line. Good ones make each other markedly better. Bad ones, well, you know how that works. A great O-line doesn’t make a quarterback, but it sure gives a decent quarterback (Kessler) the opportunity to grow into a good to great quarterback.

The Browns may or may not draft a quarterback in this year’s draft; nothing out of this front office would surprise. But whether it’s Kessler, an unsigned Vet, a trade, or a rookie, I’m putting good money they’ll be much more successful next season after this offseason’s line upgrade.

Upgrades:

LT - Joe Thomas- All-Pro

LG - Joel Bitonio - Signed 5-yr, $51 million extension (fully healthy)

C  - J.C. Tretter - Signed 3-yr, $16.75 million away from GB

RG - Kevin Zeitler - signed 5-yr, $60 million away from division rival, Cincinnati

RT - Shon Coleman - young, athletic and full year from knee surgery and further from leukemia

Backups: Cameron Erving, John Greco, Marcus Martin (claimed off waivers from SF)

With 11 picks in this upcoming draft, the Browns are putting whoever their future franchise QB is  in a great position to succeed. If not this year, hey the Browns have 11 more picks in the 2018 draft. “Patience is the best for every trouble” according to ancient Roman playwright Plautus. I’d say trouble in this case is 27 starting quarterbacks in 18 seasons. Now it’s time for this Browns empire to have patience, for once.

QBs, Coaches, and Harvard Analytics

Hue Jackson wants to develop his own quarterback. Every coach wants to develop players in the mold they perceive to be the most successful. Head coaches in the NFL don’t rise to the top of the ranks without a firm belief or confidence in their ability to develop football players. Coaches at every level believe in their ability to pull out the best in athletes.

The problem with quarterbacks already in the league that were or are options this offseason? Cousins, Garoppolo, Glennon, Kaepernick, Cutler, Fitzpatrick, et al, they all have someone else’s fingerprints all over them. It’s hard to unlearn years of teaching, especially for the complicated nature of a quarterback’s education. Kirk Cousins could be argued for, certainly, as he spent the last few seasons in Jay Gruden’s offense in Washington, a similar system to Hue Jackson’s in Cleveland. Even Cousins, though, would have to adapt a great deal to the personality, ego, and input of a different coordinator and head coach. Is he elite? Worth giving up multiple high picks and a huge contract? He’s an analytic anomaly, but we’ll get to that later.

The transition of a college quarterback to a professional system, while having some similar challenges to the aforementioned, is quite different. First, the male brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25 (according to various studies including this one from MIT (http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html). I always wondered why it was so expensive to rent a car until I was 25!

The head coach wants a guy he can mold, and if the brain is still much more moldable from ages 20 to 25 than 25 to 30, it’s just one more reason for the Browns to look at the draft as their best option for their franchise quarterback. The sheer volume of picks, 11, 5 in the first 65, give them a much higher statistical probability of finding their guy or guys. While there may not be enough reps in the preseason and practices, the Browns should still take 2.

You’ll see why the Browns are loading up on first and second round picks if you look at now Browns Director of Research and strategy article from May 2011 on quarterback probability success rates. (https://harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/drafting-an-nfl-QB/). 39 percent of first round quarterbacks become elite, 19 percent in the second round, before a precipitous decline in probability to 6 percent in the third round.

The front office and coaching staff must work together knowing, with the rebuilt offensive line, they’re giving their hand-picked quarterbacks the best opportunity for success, but they’ve got to do it in the first two rounds, maybe the third, if you’re talking about the 65th pick, which is the first pick of the third round in this year’s draft. Take a look at the QBs available this offseason and their draft position.

Cousins - 4th rd (elite? Over 9,000 yards in last 2 seasons, 54 td, 23 int) elite enough for me

Cutler - 1st rd (not elite, but not a bust)

Garoppolo - 2nd rd (not necessarily available, first of all, and jury is out b/c limited sample size)

Glennon - 3rd rd (mixed results with TB, 5-13 overall record - not elite)

Kaepernick - 2nd rd (Elite briefly! Not a bust)

Fitzpatrick - 7th rd (excellent career for a 7th round pick, journeyman)

The issues from a coaching standpoint of taking a college quarterback lie more in being able to read the young man. Will he handle the responsibilities of being a team leader? Can he handle being extremely wealthy at age 20 to 23 years old? Does he love football or does he love what football brings to him? The coach must be a psychologist, a counselor, a mentor, a teacher, a father figure or big brother all wrapped up in one for this rookie quarterback to develop correctly. If Hue Jackson is the quarterback guru or whisperer his reputation is staked on, then it’s time to bring in a 1st or 2nd round quarterback, analytically speaking of course.


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