It's no secret that the Cleveland Browns are one of the most plagued sports franchises in the history of American athletics. At least in the frame of recent history. Since the team returned to the NFL under new ownership for the 1999 season after being inactive for three years, the results have been absolutely abysmal. One single Wild Card Playoff-appearance, which was a loss, and two total winning records out of those 17 seasons. In fact, most of the Super Bowl-era has been a letdown for Cleveland, with four total playoff wins in that time span.
So, what's the culprit for such mediocrity over such a long amount of time? Well, bad NFL teams start with bad drafting habits, and the Browns have showcased plenty of those over the years. Especially since their return in 1999, there hasn't been another team in the league with as many first-round busts, and head-scratching decisions. The Browns just seldom ever seem to get it right, despite the fact that they access to top-ten overall picks more often than not. Making reckless and egregious drafting decisions isn't a recipe for success for an NFL team, and the Browns are the modern-day pin-ups for that kind of incompetence.
Ranked below are the top 15 draft blunders the Cleveland Browns should still be embarrassed about.
15 William Green
Selected 16th overall in 2002, Green was supposed to be the kind of running back that an offense could be built around. The Browns needed a reliable skill player on offense, and taking the Boston College product in the first round was slated to fulfill such a role. Green never even came close. After an alright first season (in which he still averaged well-under 4 yards per carry), he bottomed out entirely, and was only in the league for another three seasons before retiring in 2005. Certainly, injuries had a part to play as well, but Green's trajectory was headed down no matter what ailment he was suffering from. This is one the Browns would like to have back for sure, but it would get much, much worse for them after the Green selection in 2002. When this bad of a pick is a relative draft victory for a franchise, you know they have no idea what they're doing.
14 Braylon Edwards
This one is all about the draft position. Edwards wasn't a bad NFL receiver, but at third overall he should have been much better. He did have one really productive Pro Bowl season, but by and large was a disappointment. A third overall pick should be approaching perennial Pro Bowl or Hall of Fame levels of play, and Edwards didn't come close. It wasn't for a lack of targets or opportunity, just that the production wasn't there. He spent four years in Cleveland before bouncing around to several other teams, then retired in 2012. Besides the one season where he was able to put it all together, Edwards should be considered a misstep for the Browns, and one of the most disappointing offensive skill players they ever drafted.
13 Tommy Vardell
I would venture to say that Vardell is one of the only fullbacks drafted as a top-ten overall pick, past the year 1965 or so. Leave it to the Browns to make a selection like that, which they did when they took Vardell in 1992. Evidently, he was taken at such a high draft position because of his rushing prowess (because a fullback wouldn't be taken at ninth overall just for their blocking ability, right?), which supposedly would transfer over in equal measure to the NFL. Instead, Vardell only rushed for three touchdowns during his four seasons in Cleveland, and then found himself with the Lions and 49ers after that. He proved to be an ineffective rusher at the NFL level, and was another bust for the Browns at a time when they really couldn't afford one.
12 Brandon Weeden
A former professional baseball player, Weeden was highly touted after starting at quarterback for Oklahoma State, but there were some significant red flags from the start. The Browns took him 22nd overall, and Weeden was 28-years-old at the time of the draft in 2012. The move was a complete disaster. As many had predicted, Weeden wasn't cut out to be an NFL quarterback, and he was a bust from the very beginning. In his one and only season as the Browns full-time starter, he threw more interceptions than he did touchdown passes. He would eventually move on to backup jobs with the Cowboys and Texans, and is only hanging on in the league by a thread at this point. An absolutely horrible first round quarterback pick.
11 Lawyer Tillman & Eric Metcalf
In the 1989 draft, the Browns double-dipped on wide receivers in the first and second round. Both Metcalf and Tillman were underachievers, and the Browns weren't aided with any receiving help, despite using their two most premium draft resources on the position. Of the two players, Metcalf was probably the more successful, but that isn't saying much because Tillman only had one season where he tallied more than six receptions, out of his three with the team. On the other hand, Metcalf was used primarily as a running back/wide receiver hybrid player, as well as a kick returner, but produced more like a sixth round pick instead of one that was taken 13th overall. He carved out a decent career for himself, but only played a part of it in Cleveland. Combined, the two were an awful return on a first and second round pick, and didn't provide any spark to the receiving corps.
10 Phil Taylor
Taylor is one of least-terrible first round picks in Browns history, but was still a bust all things considered. The defensive tackle was taken 21st overall in 2011, and should have been an anchor on the defensive line, perhaps giving the Browns an identity on that side of the ball. He contributed minimal production and was off the team by 2014, signaling another weak selection for the Browns. He's still bouncing around the league via practice squads, and futures contracts, but his injury history and increasing age suggest that he'll never live up to his first round draft selection. Another high-round whiff for the Browns, though they would make worse draft decisions in the future.
9 Courtney Brown
The first overall selection in the 2000 draft, Brown was one of the most highly touted pass rusher of his era, coming out of Penn State. His NFL career production would have been adequate for a fourth round player, but for one of the most highly rated prospects and first overall pick, his career was an abject failure. Brown was the transcendent defensive talent that Cleveland suspected he was, and this pick was just one in a long line of first round botches for the franchise. Overall, Brown had several middling seasons in Cleveland, spent six total seasons in the league, and was gone for good by 2005. That's not the kind of output expected from a first overall selection. Cleveland would make worse picks, but Brown was a signifier that they didn't know what they were doing, since this was supposed to be a hallmark pick under the new ownership group.
8 Justin Gilbert
Another top-ten pick, and another massive disappointment; this time in the secondary. Gilbert was a highly ranked cornerback coming out of Oklahoma State, and the Browns took him with the eighth overall selection in the 2014 draft. Since then, and after only starting two games in a Browns uniform, Gilbert is on the fringes of the league right now, and isn't guaranteed a roster spot in the 2017 season. He had gone to the Steelers for 2016, where he contributed briefly on special teams, but as far as being an NFL cornerback, Gilbert is a certified bust at this point. Considering the amount of talent that Cleveland passed over to take Gilbert in the first round is almost unbelievable. A prime example of how the lack of quality scouting has hurt the Browns in recent years.
7 Barkevious Mingo
Yet another awful first round choice on the defensive line, Mingo was taken sixth overall in 2013. It seemed like a relatively safe choice; a defensive end from LSU at least sounds good on paper, considering the prowess of most SEC defenses. However, Mingo never caught any traction in Cleveland. Ho-hum numbers, and only a sporadic starter for the time he was on the team. He's recently caught on in New England as a depth player, potentially adding to the list of careers that Bill Belichick has helped resurrect over the years. Even if he does become a productive player to some degree, it won't be in Cleveland, and he'll just be known as another bust for the Browns, who just couldn't seem to hit on any of the numerous defensive lineman they drafted over the years.
6 Rounds 3-7, 2016 Draft
While the Browns are currently under a new head coach in Hue Jackson, and going through (yet another) well-documented rebuilding period, it may be a bit premature and overly-critical to be analyzing the success of their 2016 draft. Still, after having access to so many picks last year, they barely got a return on any of them. After taking two seemingly pretty good players in rounds one and two (Corey Coleman and Emmanuel Ogbah), the Browns spent the rest of the draft taking 12 players who barely registered a statistic for the 2016 season. Cody Kessler received some playing time at quarterback, and Carl Nassib could develop into a serviceable player one day, but the rest of them are absolutely dreck. Trey Caldwell? Joe Schubert? These guys weren't able to get playing time on a terrible defense. Other picks like Jordan Payton and Ricardo Louis did nothing on a bad receiving corps. When you have 14 total picks, and only two end up being any good, it's a failed draft any way you slice it. The Browns had a chance to get some real mid to late-round winners last season, and squandered yet another opportunity to improve.
5 Mike Junkin
Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987 as a linebacker out of Duke. A selection like that should have results in ten years of solid production and durability. Instead, it resulted in three total NFL seasons, two with Cleveland, and only seven games started. That's a bust any way you cut it, and was actually one of the worst in team history. It wasn't magnified too much because the late-80s were actually one of the few times in the Super Bowl era in which the Browns were actually any good. They were a pretty consistent playoff team in those days, so the pick didn't stand out nearly as badly as it would have otherwise. Junkin was a bad NFL player, but there would be more egregious picks in future drafts. Still, this one was terrible all the same.
4 Mike Phipps
Any quarterback taken third overall is expected to be a franchise player, and dependable year after year. Phipps didn't live up to the hype when he was taken before the 1970 season. While he spent seven years in Cleveland, consider that he never had one season in which he threw more touchdowns than he did interceptions. That almost hard to even try to do on purpose, by any standard in any era of the NFL. Factor in that Phipps was a third overall pick, and it's simply one of the worst quarterback selections of all-time. Of course, it happened to Cleveland, and they spent the entirety of the 1970s in the cellar in large part because of it. For most other teams, Phipps would be the worst pick in team history, but at Cleveland's sub-level standard, it doesn't really stand out so much.
3 Trent Richardson
On the short list for the biggest running backs busts of all-time, Richardson was the third overall selection in 2012. While he had a somewhat respectable rookie season under the assumption that his field vision would improve the following season, Richardson never took the next step and faded into obscurity relatively quickly. After only one more season in Cleveland, he went on to the Colts as a change of pace running back, and is currently out of the league, and has recently undergone some legal trouble. Richardson was the second first round bust the Browns suffered in 2012, and it's a toss-up as to whether he or Weeden was the worst of the two. The 2012 draft may have been the worst in the history of the franchise.
2 Tim Couch
After coming under new ownership in 1999, the Browns selected Couch as the first overall pick. It was supposed to be a hallmark moment in team history; the draft pick that would send the Browns into the new millennium with some momentum, and a franchise player to build the team around. Instead, Couch never materialized into the player that many thought he could have been. While it's accurate to say that Couch wasn't as outright bad as someone like Brandon Weeden, his failure to become a franchise quarterback undoubtedly impacted the Browns for the worse, and at an inopportune time. From then on, and over a dozen attempts later at finding a franchise player at quarterback, Cleveland hasn't been able to establish consistency at the position. A draft failure like Couch at first overall is a big reason why.
1 Johnny Manziel
Make no mistake about it, Manziel is a certified train wreck of a former first round pick, and isn't coming back to the league. Ever. He's the worst draft pick in the history of the franchise, and one of the most anticipated failures in the history of the league. There were red flags all over Manziel from the very beginning, on and off the field. The thought process employed by the Cleveland front office to take "Johnny Football" as a desperation attempt to solidify the quarterback position marked an all-time low in franchise history. This was a shot in the dark; a foolish decision that played into the media hype on Manziel and his style of playing the position. The Browns paid for it on the field. Manuel had one of the worst debut stat lines ever, in 2014 against the Bengals, and looked completely overmatched in most of the games thereafter. Easily the worst pick in franchise history. Manuel is one of the most high-profile disasters the NFL has ever seen, on just about every level.