One of the more intriguing comments to come out of Browns' headquarters over the past few weeks was this confession of sorts offered by team president Mike Holmgren.
"Oh, yeah, we will draft a quarterback. You can almost count on it."
In past years, such a declaration would be considered welcome news, at least considering the tortured history the Browns have experienced at quarterback since their expansion return in 1999. No less than 16 quarterbacks have taken a turn at the starting job during this time with only four actually being drafted by the Browns.
On that latter note alone, Holmgren's statement makes perfect sense. However, as the Browns prepare to enter April's draft, quarterback does not seem to be at the top of the team's list of needs. For the first time in relative ages, the Browns feature a young quarterback who appears to be capable of growing into a legitimate NFL starter. Or at the least, McCoy has the support of all three tenants of power in Cleveland, including Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and new head coach Pat Shurmur. Showing a nearly unprecedented expansion-age unity, the Browns' organizational leaders appear to have their quarterback question answered months before the season begins.
As to the relevance of McCoy actually justifying such sentiments, this is a question better left answered on the field. In this sense, McCoy's potential ranges from becoming the team's franchise quarterback to simply being the best available option, or he's possibly just the next in line to assume the position.
Behind McCoy sits veteran Seneca Wallace, who was just re-signed to a three-year contract. Wallace proved himself a capable backup by leading the Browns' offense over three and a half games last season. In most regards, Wallace is the ideal sort of backup quarterback, as he is familiar with the many variations of the West Coast offense and possesses some great agility and decent accuracy. Filling out the current depth chart is veteran Jake Delhomme, whose future in Cleveland has been clouded by a big free-agent contract and an uncertain labor environment.
With the quarterback position seemingly less dire than in past seasons, and with multiple other roster positions in a state of emergency, the question now becomes:
So why draft another quarterback?
The answer can simply be found in McCoy's existence as a Cleveland Brown.
One of the now more famous stories to come out of Berea was Holmgren's decision to pull rank on Heckert and former head coach Eric Mangini during last year's draft. As the legend goes, Heckert and Mangini were zeroing on a defensive tackle late in the third round, before Holmgren swept in to grab a free-falling McCoy with the 85th pick in the draft. Of course, such a move by Holmgren sounds sinister, but in reality it simply reflects the ex-coach's greatest love.
Simply put, Holmgren loves quarterbacks.
Although it's hard to put this argument into perspective a year later, at the time it appeared that the Browns were set at quarterback after the additions of Wallace and Delhomme. With multiple other roster needs to fill, McCoy was characterized as a luxury pick for Holmgren, a project to occupy his idle hands as he transitioned into the Browns' front office. After all, one of the first comments Holmgren made regarding McCoy pointed to the idea that he would serve as nothing more than a "redshirt" rookie.
Heading into this year's draft, the Browns are experiencing a similar situation. Again, the depth chart at quarterback appears set, while multiple positions, including right tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker and safety, need some attention.
Of course, all this means is that Holmgren is probably busy scouting quarterbacks. If recent history has taught us anything about Holmgren, it is almost a certainty that the Browns' team president is looking for his next McCoy. Or, if we reach further into Holmgren's history, maybe another Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Seneca Wallace or David Greene is bound for the lakefront.
Taking Holmgren's words and history to heart, there are some intriguing quarterback prospects found in this year's draft. While the 2011 draft lacks the type of consensus franchise QB found in the past, Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbard could find themselves taken early in the first round. Assuming that Holmgren's desire for a new quarterback does not result in a first-round mandate, several names could emerge from the second round on.
But then again, none of us should be making any assumptions. Or even projections -- as I've done -- with what appear to be the other viable quarterback options. After all, quarterbacks are always overvalued come draft weekend. What today appears to be a third-round selection can easily become a first-round pick.
Idle Hands – Tier A
Again, because the value of quarterbacks tends to be inflated during the draft, which is completely related to the staggering number of teams who currently lack a viable option at the position, it's possible that none of these three prospects make it out of the first round. Of the three, Washington's Locker appears to be the most physically gifted. However, Locker is prone to inaccuracy and hasn't shown the type of polish to warrant such a high selection. Upon first look, Florida State's Ponder appears to have an NFL-style game, but lingering injuries throughout his college career have raised some concerns. As for Mallett, he possesses the best arm of any quarterback prospect entering April's draft, but remains a mystery coming out of Arkansas' spread offense.
As these three prospects relate to the Browns, it is likely that Holmgren won't get a chance to satisfy his drafting desires. More than likely, these three quarterbacks will be off the board by the time the Browns make their second-round selection.
But as for the next group …
Idle Hands – Tier B
Here's where things could get interesting in the Browns' war room.
In some regards, TCU's Dalton could be considered a poor man's McCoy. While not an overwhelming physical presence, Dalton boasts a sterling college resume and winning percentage. He's an accurate passer, can move around the pocket and never appeared overmatched during TCU's recent run of BCS bowl games. However, like so many other college quarterbacks, Dalton ran a conservative, almost simple offense at TCU – something that he won't experience at the NFL level. Like Dalton, Iowa's Stanzi enjoyed a solid college career and benefitted from leading an overall solid team. Physically, Stanzi looks the part and has a decent arm. However, he remains more of a pocket passer and exhibits a looping kind of overhand throwing motion, something that could spell disaster within the frenzied pace of the NFL. Perhaps the same could be said for Kaepernick, who while athletic, features a windup reminiscent of Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich.
Like all things draft-related, it's impossible to predict where this tier of quarterback talent will be taken come April. Assuming that there is a first-round run on quarterbacks, it's possible that all three passers could fall into the middle rounds of the draft, a place that could become very familiar to the likes of Holmgren.
Idle Hands – Tier C
Of course, there are several more quarterbacks worth at least a look, but the final tier offers Holmgren the chance to tutor another "redshirt" quarterback. Heading the list is Alabama's McElroy, a former national champion and current Wonderlic champion. Based on his size and a relatively weak arm, McElroy should drop to the latter stages of the draft. However, his college pedigree, awareness and ability to take a pounding are intriguing. In terms of a true project, Portis, who finished his career at California PA, could give Holmgren a real challenge. A physically gifted athlete with a big arm, Portis is the type of raw prospect who could be cultivated into a future prospect.
But again, it's worth remembering just what the NFL draft is all about. Simply put, the draft is a huge gamble. Despite the volumes of research that goes into the process, NFL teams are basically guessing which 21-year old prospect can actually transition – physically, mentally and emotionally – into one of the most cutthroat industries in the world. Projecting a quarterback's success is even more of an extreme proposition and something that Holmgren loves to do this time of year.