Oh, where to begin as it pertains to draft picks made by the Cleveland Browns since the club returned to the National Football League in 1999? That is not just a saying, nor is it an easy and lazy way to begin a piece. There is literally no one spot to begin with regarding the awful draft classes the Browns have produced over the years. When you really look back and examine the draft picks made by the Browns and also see the players who could have instead been selected by Cleveland over the years, it is not all that difficult to understand why the Browns are currently perceived as one of the worst organizations in the NFL and in all of North American professional sports, in general.
In short, it’s been bad times for the Browns.
While it is still early on into the experiment, it seems as if the Browns once again swung and missed in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Those picks do not, however, sting nearly as much as do the draft picks that the Browns made during the opening round of the prior draft. As much as Cleveland fans may still hold resentment over the Browns trading up in order to acquire Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Manziel will likely not be the biggest mistake that the Browns made during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Yes, the Browns passed on the young man who arguably the best overall wide receiver in the league today.
The Browns had two first-round draft picks in 2015
15 2015: Shane Ray
Original Pick: NT Danny Shelton, 12th Overall
The biggest knock anybody could have on defensive end Shane Ray one year into his NFL career is that he has not yet really shown what he can do. That is because Ray did not receive a ton of opportunities to play throughout the majority of 2015, which is understandable considering that the Denver Broncos had one of the best defenses in the league and a unit that proved itself capable of stopping Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during Super Bowl 50. The expectations moving forward toward the starts of training camps and the 2016 preseason is that Ray will be asked to do more for the Broncos this time around. Danny Shelton may one day prove himself worthy of starting on a NFL defensive line, but the harsh reality is that he largely looked lost during his opening pro campaign. Ray over Shelton would be the smart choice for any re-draft.
14 2015: Cedric Ogbuehi
Original Pick: C Cameron Erving, 19th Overall
Maybe, just maybe, Cameron Erving will silence critics, settle in at the center position now that All-Pro Alex Mack has managed to escape the Browns, and show that he was worth a first-round grade back in 2015. Let’s just say that we were not impressed with what we saw from Erving during his first season in the NFL. Cedric Ogbuehi may not have jumped off of screens during games and in All-22 Film, but Ogbuehi was solid when he received playing time from the Cincinnati Bengals later on in his rookie year. One must also consider that the Browns are in the middle of (another) total roster rebuild. Drafting Ogbuehi in the spring of 2015 would have allowed the Browns to trade All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas for draft picks that the Browns are going to need in the future. Ogbuehi could have been a mainstay on the Cleveland offensive line for years to come.
Note: The Browns had two first-round picks in 2014
13 2014: Odell Beckham Jr.
Original Pick: CB Justin Gilbert, 8th Overall
Of all of the picks spotlighted in this piece, this one may be the top “only in Cleveland” moment of the entire bunch. Then-Browns head coach Mike Pettine wanted a lengthy cornerback and he decided on Justin Gilbert. Gilbert has, in his first two seasons in the NFL, been more of a spectator than an impact-player, and it would not even be shocking if the Browns parted ways with Gilbert between the posting of this piece and September 2016. Odell Beckham Jr., meanwhile, has set records during his first two seasons in the NFL. Beckham has been the top target for Eli Manning and the best offensive player on the roster of the New York Giants since October 2014, and Beckham does not seem to be close to slowing down at any point in the future. Then again, the Browns do always have Josh Gordon. Oh, that’s right. Whoops.
12 2014: Derek Carr
Original Pick: QB Johnny Manziel, 22nd Overall
The biggest shame of all is that we will likely never know what Johnny Manziel could have been had he been able to conquer certain alleged demons during his stint with the Browns. What cannot be denied, however, is that Manziel and the Browns were not a good fit. The same could be said for the Browns and Teddy Bridgewater, as Bridgewater is the ideal quarterback to play within the offensive system currently utilized by the Minnesota Vikings. Thus, all eyes go over to Derek Carr. Carr fell to the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, where he was eventually drafted by the Oakland Raiders. The strong-armed QB has flourished during his first two seasons with the Raiders, and Carr is one of several reasons why some around the NFL believe the Raiders could compete for a playoff berth later this year. Carr to Beckham would be quite the combination for the Browns right now.
11 2013: Sheldon Richardson
Original Pick: LB Barkevious Mingo, 6th Pverall
Linebacker Barkevious Mingo is one of several Cleveland players who are supposedly on the bubble with new head coach Hue Jackson and his staff examining individuals they never drafted and never signed in free agency. Maybe there are some Browns fans out there holding onto hope that Mingo could one day become the type of defensive player who would fit well into Jackson’s scheme. We, on the other hand, are going with the sure thing in defensive end Sheldon Richardson. Richardson’s talent up front is undeniable, and there is little doubt that he would be a good fit for any AFC North side looking to get stronger and even a little meaner on the defensive end of the football. The harsh truth of the matter is that Mingo has a long ways to go before he proves himself to be equal to Richardson. We don’t see Mingo getting there, so we’re picking Richardson.
Note: The Browns had two first-round picks in 2012
10 2012: Luke Kuechly
Original Pick: RB Trent Richardson, 3rd Overall
Yes, we realize that some of you out there would go with quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the Browns here. The Browns, after all, had zero answers at the QB position back in 2012 (what else is new), and Tannehill would’ve been better than any other QB on the roster at the time. We, however, are assuming that Tannehill would’ve been about as good as Brandon Weeden in that Cleveland offense. Thus, we instead are drafting Luke Kuechly here because there are no such concerns regarding Kuechly. Kuechly is routinely one of the best defensive players on the field, and he would have fit nicely into the 2012 Cleveland defense and also into the unit that will play home games at FirstEnergy Stadium later this year. Maybe Tannehill would’ve been a franchise QB for the Browns. We clearly are not sold on that idea, and Kuechly is our pick because of that.
9 2012: Russell Wilson
Original Pick: QB Brandon Weeden, 22nd Overall
This right here is why we are not even thinking about selecting Ryan Tannehill with a first-round pick. Assuming that only we have the time machine allowing us to go back and re-draft, only we know that Russell Wilson becomes a two-time Super Bowl reaching quarterback who already has a Super Bowl victory on his resume. Wilson not only has the skills on the field. He has the type of “refuse to lose” mentality that the Browns have been lacking since the team last posted a winning record all the way back in 2007. Tannehill may have had the first-round grade at the time, but it is Wilson who had the first-round talent beginning with his first summer as a NFL player. The future of the Browns could have changed forever had the team grabbed Wilson at any point in the first two rounds of the draft.
8 2011: Julio Jones
Original Pick: DT Phil Taylor, 21st Overall after a trade down.
For the purposes of this simulation and also because we possess the previously-mentioned time machine, we are saying that the Browns did not deal away the sixth-overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft in order to eventually settle on defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Instead, the Browns land Julio Jones, the best wide receiver in the history of the so-called “New Browns” who made their debut in the NFL in 1999. Jones is not only a special receiver who can make plays and hit home runs when his team needs a score. He also has the skills that could help a young quarterback improve to the point that he is able to start for a NFL team. As much as it might hurt for Cleveland fans to do so, just imagine Russell Wilson lobbing touchdown passes for Julio Jones as the two are playing home game along the coast of Lake Erie. On second thought, don’t do it. No supporter of the Browns deserves to feel that kind of pain.
7 2010: Rob Gronkowski
Original Pick: CB Joe Haden, 7th Overall
Cornerback Joe Haden is a beloved player among fans of the Cleveland Browns. Haden has, despite what some experts may say on the matter, also had an up-and-down career. That cannot be said for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski may, statistically speaking, be on his way to being known as the greatest tight end to ever play the position. Remember, also, that Gronkowski’s numbers would be even more impressive had he not suffered a gruesome knee injury against, ironically, the Browns several years ago. Last but not least, Gronkowski has the kind of personality that would not be defeated by the culture of losing that has infected the Browns for about 15 total years. Haden has done a lot of great things in the Cleveland community and his contributions should not be forgotten. This piece is all about play on the field, though, and that is why Gronkowski is the better and the smarter pick.
6 2009: Alex Mack
Original Pick: C Alex Mack, 21st Overall
It is difficult to hate on this draft pick. Yes, a center does not put points on the board nor does he stop opposing defenses. A good center, particularly one who is on a rookie contract for several years, is an inexpensive mainstay for one of the most important parts of any football roster. Alex Mack was perceived as one of the best young centers right out of the gates during his rookie season and he was ultimately named to three Pro Bowl squads during his tenure with the Browns. While nobody can blame Mack for twice attempting to venture out into free agency and away from the Browns, Mack more than earned his money as a member of the Cleveland offensive line. The Browns received good value in selecting Mack during the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. It is not Mack’s fault that the team did not do enough to adequately build around him.
Note: The Browns did not have a first-round pick in 2008, but the club did have two first-round picks in 2007, though they traded up to get the second one, so it doesn't count.
5 2007: Joe Thomas
Original Pick: T Joe Thomas, 3rd Overall
If we are going to stick with Alex Mack as the pick for the 2009 NFL Draft, we would be silly to not keep Joe Thomas where he belongs for the 2007 draft. Thomas is the patron saint of offensive left tackles and widely regarded as one of the best players at the position of his generation. There are some individuals in NFL circles who would tell you that Thomas has been somewhat overrated during the past couple of seasons. The Browns seemingly agreed with that assessment, as it was widely reported in the fall of 2015 that the club was shopping Thomas’ services leading up to the trade deadline. That makes sense, as the Browns are nowhere close to winning anything of merit with or without Thomas on the roster. Thomas is still a member of the Browns as of June 2016, but one has to wonder if that will change if a team comes calling for the future Hall-of-Fame tackle.
4 2006: Elvis Dumervil
Original Pick: DE Kamerion Wimbley, 13th Overall
Cleveland fans were flying high upon seeing Kamerion Wimbley during Wimbley’s first seasons in the NFL. There was even a time when it appeared as if Wimbley would be a cornerstone of a defense that would help the Browns catch up with the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in the division standings. We obviously know better by now and we understand that a Browns team looking for a pass rusher would be better off using this pick to take defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil, who fell all the way down to the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft because scouts are often wrong, has been named to five Pro Bowl squads during his career, and he is now part of a Baltimore defense that gets to beat up on the Browns at least twice every season. We get to right the wrong and put Dumervil in brown and orange in this piece.
3 2005: Aaron Rodgers
Original Pick: WR Braylon Edwards, 3rd Overall
The answer is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Until fans of the Browns are finally able to celebrate their favorite team winning a first Super Bowl championship in franchise history, they will always look back at this draft and know that the answer is Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers famously sat and waited...and waited...and waited...until the Green Bay Packers selected him late in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Rodgers had to learn behind Brett Favre for a few seasons, and Rodgers then went on to guide the Packers to multiple playoff berths and one Super Bowl title to date. Oh yeah. Rodgers is also maybe the best overall player at the QB position as of 2016, and his resume would land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame if he were to decide to hang his cleats up for good before September of this year. Life really isn’t fair for the Cleveland fan.
2 2004: Ben Roethlisberger
Original Pick: TE Kellen Winslow, 6th Overall
The answer is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Until fans of the Browns are finally able to celebrate their favorite team winning a first Super Bowl championship in franchise history, they will always look back at this draft and know that the answer is Ben Roethlisberger. To his credit, Kellen Winslow looked like an elite talent worthy of such a high draft pick when he was physically at his best with the Browns. Winslow’s off-the-field issues and matters aside, he does not play the quarterback position. The Browns could have instead selected Roethlisberger, a QB who is from Ohio and who has never forgotten that he was once snubbed by his home-state franchise. Roethlisberger has made it a habit of not letting the Browns forget what could have been over the past decade. Way to go, Browns. You gifted the Pittsburgh Steelers, who barely even consider you rivals at this point, a pair of Super Bowl titles. Job well done.
1 2003: Tony Romo
Original Pick: C Jeff Faine
Football fans who dislike the Dallas Cowboys and who have enjoyed making jokes about Tony Romo over the years may laugh about this one. Those people should realize that Romo is statistically one of the best regular season quarterbacks to ever play for the Cowboys, and Romo has been better than literally every QB the Browns have had from 1999 up through the spring of 2016. Romo, who went undrafted after attending the 2003 NFL Combine, may not possess the best postseason resume, but one cannot blame only Romo for that. The Cowboys have not been a perfect franchise over the past decade. Had the Browns drafted or even signed Romo back in 2003, the club could have had the starting QB it has needed since ‘99. That would have changed things for the Browns starting in 2004, as it would have made passing on Roethlisberger not nearly as painful. The Browns could have had Tony Romo for free. Maybe this team really is cursed, after all.