For Clevelanders, Draft Day is one of the best days of the year. So much so, in 2014 Kevin Kostner starred in a movie devoted to the Cleveland Browns and their draft.
And although, much of the Browns recent history in the draft is cluttered with failed missteps, fans each year continue to cherish the day and anxiously await its arrival.
And after each failed season, much like the 2016, 1-15, Cleveland Browns, the fans are left hopeful that the front office will get that change-everything player who will bring Cleveland's beloved Browns back into relevancy.
To try and help ease the past, here are the last 15 picks and some of their successes. But unfortunately for the Browns faithful, much more of Cleveland’s decisions were failures. And the Browns history of lackluster seasons could have been drastically avoided if they picked these guys instead.
That takes us all the way back to the 2004 draft. You might notice that leaves just 12 years of first-round picks. Well, the Browns drafted two first rounders in four drafts since 2007. In 2008, the Browns did not have a first-round pick as it was traded in 2007.
15 2004 (sixth overall): QB Ben Roethlisberger
Original Pick: TE Kellen Winslow Jr.
Kellen Winslow Jr. was good at times, but he wasn’t great. He began to show spurts of being the next big star in Cleveland in 2006 (89 receptions, 875 yards) and 2007 (82 receptions, 1,106 yards). Injuries with a mix of off-field issues kept him from succeeding. In 2009, Winslow played in just 10 games before playing with the Buccaneers the next season. Compared to a lot of the Browns’ draft history, Winslow ranks higher than most picks.
But the Browns could have done better.
Yeah, tight ends that have been drafted in the first round have been great contributors since Winslow. In 2005, Heath Miller went to the Steelers; in 2006, Marcades Lewis became a Jaguar and in 2007, Greg Olsen was a first rounder. More recently, Tyler Eifert (2013) and Eric Ebron (2014) earned first-round honors. The list goes on. Tight ends can be considered highly reliable if, and only if, they are deemed worthy to be selected in the first round.
Among those first-round tight ends selected in the first round since Winslow, he clearly ranks near the bottom. Plus, Cleveland could have grabbed Ben Roethlisberger here. It could have saved the Browns a lot of money, and Clevelanders a lot of heartache if the franchise could have found its face early on.
14 2005 (third overall): WR Roddy White
Original Pick: WR Braylon Edwards
It was awful trying to watch this guy try and catch a ball as his career progressed. He sold some jerseys after brief success, but he didn’t do much to give the Browns a chance to win. Edwards did almost what you expect from a wide receiver with his talent coming out of college.
He had relatively good seasons after playing in just 10 games his rookie year, including a promising 2007 season (80 receptions, 1,289 yards, and 16 touchdowns). But then it became increasingly tough to watch Braylon Edwards in Cleveland and he spent just a bit longer with the Browns. He started playing with the Jets in 2009 five weeks into the season.
The Browns could have drafted a few studs here – DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, and even Aaron Rodgers. Well, cross out Rodgers. For as good as he is now, he would have never been that way without the time spent behind Brett Favre. Rodgers didn’t start a game until 2008. In Cleveland, he would have been prematurely started by the end of his rookie season. Or he would have sat behind brief Trent Dilfer stint, then Charlie Frye right before Derek Anderson.
The Browns should have stuck with the game plan, got a wide receiver, but instead of Edwards, they should have picked Roddy White. White didn’t do much until Matt Ryan’s second year in 2009. But he was still a consistent 16-game receiver who maintained a solid career even to this day.
13 2006 (13th overall): RB DeAngelo Williams
Original Pick: OLB Kamerion Wiimbley
Like the Browns pick of Winslow in 2004, Kamerion Wimbley was not a complete fail in terms of his success. He started all but one game during his four years with the Browns, then every game for the next three years with Oakland and Tennessee. That’s part of the issue with Wimbley, with hindsight, we know he’s only helping the Browns for four years.
Instead, the Browns should have maintained an eye on creating a system around a franchise quarterback, or at least given a quarterback tools to work with. For the Browns, they didn’t know it yet, but they needed to get Reuben Droughns some assistance in the backfield. Droughns was coming off of to 1,000-plus yard seasons. But the guy had 275 rushing attempts in 2004 with Denver, then 309 with Cleveland in 2005.
The guy was just getting worn down. The Browns should have taken DeAngelo Williams to help lighten the load. Williams, who was splitting time in Carolina for most of his year’s there, is used to sharing the ball and maybe could have kept Droughns from slowly fading away from NFL rosters.
12 2007 (third overall): OT Joe Thomas
Original Pick: OT Joe Thomas
It’s too bad that Cleveland’s greatest draft pick in this stretch is the guy who gets least recognition for his skill. Joe Thomas has been a staple of Cleveland’s offensive line and more importantly a veteran leader for this squad. There was no one better for the Browns organization this year.
And the fans loved him in 2007. Cleveland fans couldn't get enough of the guy after he spent Draft Day fishing on Lake Michigan. It's not often you see a promising young athlete opting for a day with his dad instead of time in front of the cameras.
Plus, Thomas never missed a start in his career and has been a Pro Bowl selection since 2008. Unfortunately, Thomas’ best option for 2017 will most likely be getting traded to someone who can compete. He's been a great asset for the Browns and now he will hopefully move somewhere that can string together a winning season. Thomas deserves to be part of a playoff-bound squad after years on the losing team.
11 2007 (22nd overall): TE Greg Olsen
Original Pick: QB Brady Quinn
When the Browns traded up to grab Brady Quinn, Clevelanders finally believed that this was their year. Finally, the face of the franchise has arrived and he even has a fellow rookie to look out for him on the O-line. But the skeptics were overwhelmingly right this year. Quinn ended up being another addition to Cleveland's long list of failed quarterback experiments.
The Browns should not have traded back into the first round by giving up their 2008 draft pick. But they did trade away their 2008 draft for another first-rounder here in 2007. So, since the Browns were determined to take two guys up high this year, they should have made a better decision.
At this point in the draft, there were also guys like Dwayne Bowe or Greg Olsen late in the first round. Cleveland should not have traded away its first-round pick for 2008, but since they did, Olsen's contributions to the offensive line and the receiving core would have been greatly appreciated.
10 2009 (21st overall): C Alex Mack
Original Pick: C Alex Mack
This was one of the Browns few good draft picks in this span. It was even better being in a draft that didn’t see a huge number of first-round stars. Except for Clay Mathews, who was drafted after Cleveland’s 21st pick. After the Browns drafted Mack, there offensive line became something to brag about. Matched with Joe Thomas, the offensive line provided a great front in Cleveland.
An injury kept the three-time pro bowler out of all but five games in 2014. In 2016, Mack was a highly sought after free agent who was eventually signed by the Atlanta Falcons. And as much as it hurt Cleveland losing one of its stars, you just couldn’t blame Mack for getting away from the self-destructing Cleveland Browns.
9 2010 (seventh overall): CB Joe Haden
Original Pick: CB Joe Haden
This was another great pick for the city and the team. Things were entertaining for Browns fans getting to watch Joe Haden. Haden was even better off the field as he was always seen around Cleveland at Cavs or Indians games. Even at local recreation centers. And on the field, he was able to stop some of the best receivers out there.
Despite a four-game suspension in 2012 and missing 11 games due to injuries in 2015, Haden has been an integral part of the Cleveland defense. He’s been able to lock down the league’s top talent in a consistent way, and the Browns couldn’t have selected anyone better. Some big names were drafted after the seventh pick this year including Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Tim Tebow.
8 2011 (21st overall): DE Cameron Jordan
Original Pick: DT Phil Taylor
Another injury-ravaged young star. Cameron Taylor had a good first season, now he’s with the Broncos trying to salvage what’s left. Cameron Jordan and Cameron Heyward, both defensive ends and both available here would have been suitable options.
Though the Steelers find Heyward appealing enough to offer a six-year deal in July 2015, the Browns would have been better off taking Jordan, a two-time pro bowler who more importantly, was made an immediate impact.
By 2012, he was a Pro Bowl selection with eight sacks. And Jordan has been a staple of consistency in New Orleans, missing just one game through his first six seasons with the Saints.
7 2012 (third overall): QB Ryan Tannehill
Original Pick: RB Trent Richardson
This year should make Clevelanders want to vomit. The Browns never should have drafted Trent Richardson. Thankfully they found a way to dump him on the Colts offense. By this point, the Browns offensive line was probably one of its best assets, but they were stuck protecting Richardson and soon-to-be drafted Brandon Weeden.
The only thing hurting the running game was Cleveland’s quarterback play. They should have snagged Ryan Tannehill, and could have probably traded down a few spots, too. Tanehill wasn’t a star his first year, and isn’t one going into his sixth. But the guy is still solid. If he can do it with the Dolphins, there’s no reason he couldn’t have made it with the Browns.
6 2012 (22nd overall): RB Doug Martin
Original Pick: QB Brandon Weeden
In continuing the arguably worst Browns first-round draft in history, a 30-year old, minor league pitcher was welcomed to the team. Brandon Weeden was awful, and the worst part was that just about everyone expected him to be awful. Even if he did manage to string together a couple mediocre seasons Weeden would have been looking at a bum arm sooner than his fellow, much younger rookies.
Luckily, in this world the Browns drafted Tanehill in the first round so there’s no need for Weeden. Instead, the Browns are able to fill their running back vacancy with Doug Martin, who now gets to enjoy freezing winters in Cleveland instead of the sunny Florida beaches.
Martin crushed it his first year with nearly 1,500 yards. Now, he only repeated that type of performance in 2015, mixed with some pretty awful years. But in this world, the Browns drafted DeAngelo Williams a while back and he needs someone to take a bit of work away from his aging legs. He’s not completely gone yet, though, and these two make for a solid 1-2 punch out of the backfield.
5 2013 (sixth overall): DE Sheldon Richardson
Original Pick: OLB Barkevious Mingo
Looking at the board this year, there wasn’t much to select from. But Barkevious Mingo never found his NFL-stride and was quickly labeled as a fill-in. After a few years in the league, Cleveland traded Mingo to New England for a fifth-round draft pick.
So, continuing the trend, the Browns dropped the ball with the sixth pick in the 2013 draft. The Browns should have known that Mingo’s oddly length and scrawny body would not be able to cut through NFL O-lines.
Like I said earlier, this year was a rough draft pool out of the first-round selections. So, with the Browns sixth overall pick, they’d be happy to select Sheldon Richardson. Yeah, the defensive tackle is now so mucked up with issues off the field he may never be an asset to a team again. But compared to Mingo’s lackluster success, the Browns would have been lucky to get two amazing seasons out of Richardson, who was selected to the pro bowl in 2014.
4 2014 (eighth overall): WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Original Pick: CB Justin Gilbert
Justin Gilbert hasn’t been able to really string together any type of consistency. With the studs that were drafted later in the round, there’s no one who can call Gilbert a successfully pick. Of course, Gilbert had a great collegiate career and many NFL teams were vying for a chance to snag the defensive talent. But he strung together a couple of below-average seasons before the Browns traded him to Pittsburgh for a sixth-round draft pick.
Instead, the Browns should have selected Odell Beckham Jr., who was drafted just a few picks later. Despite some troubles in this year's playoffs, Beckham is one of the best receivers in the league and beloved by his team. Having this type of offensive talent would have surely put the Browns on the map in terms of talented offenses. Plus, with two picks in the first round this year, this sets up some interesting choices later in the round.
3 2014 (22nd overall): QB Teddy Bridgewater
Original Pick: QB Johnny Manziel
This pick must still make the Browns front office blush every time it’s brought up. Luckily, we still get to see Johnny Manziel as there’s continued coverage of his partying ways.
We watched as Johnny Football took over as the face of college football. Clevelanders wanted to hit it big. They wanted to win the lottery with this pick. It was a risky bet, but the payoff would be huge if it worked. But it failed miserably.
The Browns would have been a fun team to watch if they could have paired Teddy Bridgewater with OBJ this year. Bridgewater could have saved Cleveland a lot of pain, but unfortunately the Browns decided to bet big on Manziel, who is more than ever a really tough guy to root for.
2 2015 (12th overall): DT Danny Shelton
Original Pick: DT Danny Shelton
Just one season removed, it’s impossible to gauge whether picks this year can be added to the few of successes in Browns draft history. This pick helps add firepower and fill a void in Cleveland's defense. Also, the defensive tackle has been known for his consistency. In his first year, he played in every game. And that was after two-straight seasons in college where he played in every game.
Looking at the rest of the board this year, there are some guys who did well. But no one has proven yet that they deserved to be drafted here instead. First-round draft success takes years to account for, and after just one season, the Browns and Cleveland fans should have no complaints with Shelton. He showed up and did his job without incident or injury. Though his numbers may not have been anything to brag about, there's time for Shelton to make his mark.
1 2015 (19th overall): C Cameron Erving
Original Pick: C Cameron Erving
Both picks this year filled vacancies left by seasons of continued mistakes. It may seem like a cop out, especially as Cleveland finished with its worst-ever record at 1-15, but Erving and Shelton may be part of what could be a turning point for this organization. They both should have been drafted by Cleveland. They’ve seen the worst, and are hopefully working each day to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Plus, Cleveland no longer has Mack, who has been a dominating force at center. It looks like Erving will fill that void.
Going into 2017 with the first overall pick, Clevelanders are once again excited for the year to come. This could be the year the organization welcomes its new franchise face. This could be the year that everything changes.
Or, this could just be another year that Cleveland stomps on the dreams of the NFL’s next number one pick.
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