Do the Browns Find Value with Late Round Picks?

Barring another trade (never rule that out with the Browns), Cleveland will have only one pick higher than 78th in next weekend’s NFL Draft. If they stand pat with their current spots, they will need to get value out of their Day Three picks, those in the fourth round or later.

So, what are the chances of that happening, really?

As I was pondering that important question, ESPN popped up with a ranking of each team’s drafts over the past 10 years, assigning overall value and value for 4th round and later. This was done with an analytical approach (I’m not anti-analytics, but I have my limits) they labeled CAVOE (Career Approximate Value Over Expected) that I believe included statistics, zodiac signs and mothers’ maiden names.

The folks at ESPN don’t think much of the Browns’ drafting over the last decade, ranking their Day Three picks third worst in the league. When they included the first three rounds, the Browns dropped to 31st out of 32 teams.

Yeesh. Of course, a team doesn’t compile a 52-108-1 record with good drafting, do they?

But let’s return to the initial premise of this piece, Cleveland’s Day Three picks. There have been some success stories in late rounds back in the day…waaaaay back. I poured over pro-football-reference.com, the same place ESPN referenced for their fancy schmancy analytics to review the Browns’ draft history.

Much to my amazement, I found no less than SIX Hall of Famers drafted by Cleveland in the 4th round or later. Less amazing was the fact that only two of them went into the Hall as Browns and the last one was drafted in 1964.

That 1964 pick, an 8th rounder, may very well be the greatest value the Browns ever received from a draft choice. They selected RB Leroy Kelly, who succeeded Jim Brown in 1966. He led the league in rushing twice (1967 and 1968) and touchdowns three times (1966-68). Kelly’s career totals of 7,274 rushing yards and 90 touchdowns are still second in Cleveland history behind Brown (duh). Pretty good for an unheralded player from Morgan State, a HBCU in Baltimore. Incredible for an 8th round pick.

The other late-round Hall of Famer who, like Kelly, played his entire career in Cleveland was guard Gene Hickerson, a 7th round choice in 1957. Hickerson played through 1973 and did not miss a single game in his last 11 seasons. He was also named to the NFL’s 1960’s All-Decade Team.

The other four Hall of Famers the Browns drafted were Art Donovan (4th-1951) who went on to star at DT for the Baltimore Colts, Willie Davis (15th-1956) and Henry Jordan (5th-1957) who anchored the defensive line for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in the 1960’s, and Bobby Mitchell (7th-1958) who starred with the Washington Redskins.

The Browns did make one outstanding late draft selection that some of you may have actually seen play. In 1972, they spent a 13th round choice on QB Brian Sipe. Yes, many of you more hardened long-term Browns fans may immediately flash to Red Right 88 when you hear his name, but he was also the catalyst of the 1980 Cardiac Kids, one of the more exciting teams Cleveland has ever fielded.

Sipe was the Browns’ staring QB from 1976-83. His 23,713 passing yards is still the franchise record, exceeding legendary Otto Graham by 129 yards. His 154 TD passes are second in Browns history only to Graham.

Did you know that Baker Mayfield has the second highest QB Rating among qualifiers in Cleveland history? Oh, why did I go there? Milt Plum, who played for the Browns from 1957-61 is first if that makes you feel any better, but I digress.

So those of you under 50 years old have to be wondering if the Browns have ever made a strong late round pick in your lifetime?

Excellent question. Sipe was the Browns’ last 4th round or later pick to make All-Pro. LB Joe Schobert (4th-2016) was the last later round pick to make the Pro Bowl, in 2017. He left as a free agent in 2020 and is now with the Steelers, so that’s not great news for Browns fans.

How about TE Jordan Cameron (4th-2011) who made the Pro Bowl in 2013? He signed with Miami in 2015 and retired after the 2016 season due to multiple concussions, so that’s not great. I saw a recent report about him dating Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods’ ex-wife, so it’s not all bad for Jordan.

Ok, here’s one-C Ryan Pontbriand (5th-2003). He played nine seasons with the Browns, making the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008. A two-time Pro Bowler here folks. Ok, he was the long snapper, but they need love too.

DE Rob Burnett (5th-1990) had a solid career and was named to the 1994 Pro Bowl. He played 14 seasons, moving with the Browns to Baltimore and finishing up in Miami.

That’s about all I could find for you folks.

The draft is vital to success in the NFL, especially over the long haul-much more so than in the other major sports. The way that salaries at QB, WR, and CB are exploding, it will be critical for teams to have other positions filled by quality players still on their less expensive rookie contracts to balance the scales and manage the salary cap. That means not only hitting on the Day One and Day Two picks but being able to at least get solid depth on Day Three.

The Bengals had high picks the last two years and wound up with QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja’Marr Chase. All they managed to do is lead a previously comatose franchise to the Super Bowl last year. In 2018, the Browns had the #1 pick and wound up with Baker Mayfield. The circumstances that led up to the ongoing messy divorce Mayfield and the Browns are working through were costly-not nailing the first pick in the draft is a huge lost opportunity.

This time next week, we’ll know how the Browns managed the 2022 draft and we can all move away from the 1,854,322 mock drafts into the endless predictions about rosters, and later the team records.

Hey, the NFL is happy as long as we’re talking about it, right?

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