HISTORICAL BROWNS DRAFT TIDBITS & HISTORY By STEVE KING
The 1957 draft might have been the greatest in NFL history. The names of players taken by teams throughout the league that year read like a “Who’s Who” of the era.
The Cleveland Browns certainly were one of those clubs that benefited from that draft in that they selected three players now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including running back Jim Brown, who was taken in the first round at No. 6 overall, and right guard Gene Hickerson (seventh round, No. 78). But what’s never really gotten much play – but becomes increasingly significant considering all the problems that have occurred in the expansion era in that regard – is the fact that 1957 is the only time the Browns have taken a quarterback high in the draft and had it work out for them.
They used the No. 17 overall pick, which was in the second round in a much smaller NFL then, to choose Milt Plum from Penn State. Though he saw a lot of action as a rookie in 1957, he was not the full-time starter, playing behind Tommy O’Connell. But O’Connell’s abysmal performance in the 1957 NFL Championship Game – he was 4-of-8 passing for 61 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions, giving him a 35.9 quarterback rating, in a 57-14 blowout loss to the Detroit Lions – convinced Cleveland head coach Paul Brown that he needed to make a change.
Brown inserted Plum as the full-time starter the following season, and just two years later, in 1960, he had one of the best campaigns in Browns history, throwing for an NFL-leading 2,297 yards with 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions for a team-record 110.4 quarterback rating.
Plum had another good season in 1961, topping the league again with 2,416 yards passing to go along with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 90.3 rating, sixth-highest in Browns history.
But Plum then committed a cardinal sin, getting into a disagreement with Brown over play-calling, the part of the job the coach valued most passionately, and was summarily traded to the Lions in the ensuing offseason. Plum’s career crashed and burned and he never recovered.
For all the quarterbacks the expansion Browns have drafted, including Tim Couch, Charlie Frye and Brady Quinn, saying their careers crashed and burned would actually be a compliment. Here are some other interesting Browns draft facts, figures and stories:
*No staying power – The other Hall of Famer the Browns drafted in 1957 was defensive tackle Henry Jordan (fifth round, No. 52 overall). But he stayed in Cleveland for just two seasons before being dealt in 1959 to the Green Bay Packers, with whom he blossomed and carved out a path to Canton. Jordan, though, was not the only HOF defensive player the Browns let get away in the 1950s. End Doug Atkins, taken in the first round, at No. 11, in 1953, also played for the team for only two years. He went on to the Chicago Bears and became a legend.
In 1959, the Browns selected two Ohio natives from Ohio State who went on to become great players. The first was left tackle Dick Schafrath from Wooster (second round, No. 23), a six-time Pro Bowler for Cleveland, and the other was cornerback Dick LeBeau from London (fifth round, No. 58), who never played a down for the Browns but went on to the Lions and developed into a Hall of Famer. The Browns of that era were so good overall, including defensively (for which they have never gotten their due), that there was no room for these budding young stars. But just think how much better the Browns might have been had they kept LeBeau, Atkins and Jordan? … As an aside to that, the Browns drafted another great defensive player in that time period, only to see him also go elsewhere and star. An Ohio Stater as well, end Jim Marshall, who played his high school ball in Columbus, was drafted in the fourth round, at No. 44, in 1960. He played just that rookie year for the Browns before going to the Minnesota Vikings and becoming a key member of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. While in Minnesota, he played twice a year, every year, in conference and division games against Jordan’s Packers and LeBeau’s Lions. Wonder if the three of them ever got together and talked about how they got to their teams?
*Actually, there is one: There are many who think that wide receiver Gary Collins, taken by the Browns in the first round, at No. 4 overall, in 1962, should be in the Hall of Fame. At a time when the rules allowed defenders to practically mug pass-catchers as they ran their routes, and passing attacks weren’t anywhere as prolific as they are today, Collins still managed to catch 331 passes for a team-record 70 touchdowns in his 10-year career. Not included in that scoring total are the three touchdown passes he caught from Frank Ryan in the 27-0 rout of the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 title game. Despite all that, it appears as if Collins may never make it to Canton. Nonetheless, the Browns did draft a Hall of Famer in 1962, in the ninth round (No. 95), when Cleveland took an end from Ohio State. He had been All-Ohio in football – and in basketball and baseball, too – at Bridgeport High School, but never played football or baseball for the Buckeyes. It was in basketball where he helped lead them to their only national championship in 1960. Thinking he might still have some good football left in him, the Browns took a chance on him as a wide receiver. He did pretty well in the short time he was with them, but at the end of the preseason, assistant coach Blanton Collier told him he ought to stick with basketball. It was a wise decision by a wise man. It was so wise, in fact, that it changed sports history. Forward John Havlicek went on to help lead the Boston Celtics to NBA championship after NBA championship en route to making it to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
*More football/basketball stuff -- The Browns drafted another Ohio college basketball star – and another forward to boot who they also tried to convert to wide receiver – in the 16th, or next-to-last, round in 1967 in Don Williams from the University of Akron. Williams had played some football at Canton (Ohio) Central High School. … Although Williams never played a down for the Browns, Mike St. Clair did. In fact, he played a lot of them as a defensive end for four seasons, 1976-79, after being taken in the fourth round in 1976. St. Clair did not play basketball in college at Grambling, but starred in that sport at Cleveland East Tech High School, helping lead the Scarabs to the Class AAA (big-school) state championship in 1972. … And did we mention that Jim Brown also dabbled in basketball at Syracuse? … This question begs to be asked: What if LeBron James had opted to play football and was in a Browns uniform now? With the way he played at Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary High School as a wide receiver, he projected as a big-time college recruit.
*And finally …: Here’s a good trivia question: Who was the Browns’ first-ever draft pick? It’s not running back Ken Carpenter, who was taken in the first round, at No. 13 overall, in the team’s initial NFL draft in 1950. Rather, it was Iowa running back Dick Hoerner, who was the first of their two pre-bonus selections in the inaugural All-America Football Conference draft in 1947. Hoerner never played for the Browns, but did play – and star – for the Los Angeles Rams and, as fate would have it, had two short touchdown runs in Cleveland’s 30-28 victory in the 1950 NFL Championship Game.