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When the Cleveland Browns selected Cody Kessler in the 2016 NFL Draft, Hue Jackson said to trust him. I was skeptical at first, but then I believed in Hue and the process. No one was excited about Kessler. In fact, people were mostly shocked that we took the quarterback in the third round. I mean the Browns owned the second overall pick and traded it to Philadelphia, essentially passing on Carson Wentz. Kessler was an unexpected pick and it’s a tougher pill to swallow after seeing the success of Dak Prescott (taken in the fourth round, 42 picks after Kessler). Once the disappointment faded and the smoke cleared the Browns started the season with RGIII, Josh McCown and Kessler on the roster.
Robert Griffin was supposed to rejuvenate this Cleveland offense, but hope was cut short with a broken shoulder blade during the season opener. McCown got the starting nod for game two and he injured his shoulder. The Texas native is a trooper through, he fought through the pain and finished the game. Afterwards, McCown couldn’t even lift his left arm.
Enter Cody Kessler. He had his work cut out for him on the road in Miami. The rookie had some shaky moments and fumbled twice (losing one). Even after falling behind 24-13 in the fourth quarter, Kessler rallied the team to score 11 unanswered points to tie the game. Cleveland had a chance to win with possession at Miami’s 24-yard line. With one timeout left, instead of running a play, Hue opted to kneel the ball and attempt a field goal. The Browns missed the 46-yard attempt and lost in overtime.
Next up, another road game in Washington. Cleveland fell behind two touchdowns but showed the resilience to tie the game. We took the lead in the third just to crumble in the fourth quarter. A late interception from Kessler destroyed any chance of a comeback. The young quarterback managed the game pretty well until that point. Cody played well the following game against New England until he was knocked out the game with rib and chest injuries. It was disappointing because it could have been a shootout. The Patriots scored a touchdown and the Browns responded with one of their own. New England scored again and then Kessler went down on the following possession.
Kessler healed up by the next week and faced off with the Tennessee Titans. He handed in his best game of the season with 336 yards and two touchdown passes. However, once again the Browns trailed 28-13 in the fourth. Cleveland caught fire with two late scores, but it was too late. The quarterback showed progress but got knocked out of the following contest against Cincinnati. He took an ugly hit and was ruled out with a concussion.
He only missed one game to return against the Dallas Cowboys. Kessler passed for over 200 yards and a touchdown, but Cleveland was shut out in the second half in a 35-10 defeat. They couldn’t sustain drives, just like the following week versus Baltimore. It was a great defensive effort from both sides as Cleveland held a 7-6 advantage at halftime. Kessler accounted for 90 yards and a touchdown before being benched in the third for Josh McCown to “spark” the offense.
We lost 35-7.
Kessler’s final task was the Pittsburgh Steelers and we all know that’s no easy task. He completed seven of his 14 passes for 128 yards and an interception before receiving his second concussion of the season.
Ultimately, Cody Kessler performed better than any other quarterback that started for the Browns during 2016. In eight starts (nine appearances), he completed 65.6% of his passes for 1,380 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He fumbled four times as expected for a rookie, but he only lost one.
The 23-year-old is calm and collected in the pocket so he doesn’t make many mistakes. He is an excellent game manager and although the Browns didn’t win any of those games, they were competitive and kept the games interesting. Kessler is an accurate quarterback, but his arm strength is mildly concerning. An offense needs to be able to execute the deep pass successfully in order to keep the defense guessing. Health and durability are also a concern with the kid. When you look past the flaws, you have a legit field general. He isn’t going to be a top 10 QB, but he can be a mid pack guy and Cleveland can definitely use that. Kessler isn’t going to wow you with an Aaron Rodgers hail mary, but given the opportunity, I believe he can succeed.
Follow the author: @CST_Max_Gold
Photos via: CBS