Each week, Patrick Wall previews the upcoming game by looking at the biggest storylines of the week.
That Good "Good"
I want to start this week's column out with a question: what defines a "good" quarterback?
It's a loaded question, I know. There are plenty of legitimate arguments to be made about tangibles versus intangibles; leadership and football IQ. And you can argue the "shades of good" (ie, great, really great, Joe Flacco-level elite, etc.) but in general, a good quarterback is going to be more productive than the majority of his peers. And with any luck, he'll transcend the talent around him and maybe even make those guys better, too.
I ask these this question not because I want to share my dissertation with you, but because I want to scratch my head in the direction of the Cleveland Browns a little bit.
Last week, Browns general manager Paul DePodesta said Cleveland was comfortable making the trade that netted the Eagles their presumptive quarterback of the future Carson Wentz, because they didn't feel Wentz would ever become a top-20 quarterback. From ESPN (emphasis mine):
"I think the hardest part, and where we have to stay the most disciplined, as much as you want a player, you can’t invent him if he doesn’t exist. In a given year, there may be two or three NFL-ready quarterbacks at the college level. In another year, there literally may be zero. There just may be not be anybody in that year who’s good enough to be a top 20 quarterback in the NFL.
"Even though you have a desperate need for one, you have to resist the temptation of taking that guy just because you have a need if you don’t believe he’s one of those 20 guys at the end of the day. I think that’s the hardest part, just maintaining your discipline because you have the need. That’s what we did this year."
So in essence, the Browns' brain trust doesn't think Wentz is going to be a good quarterback (according to reports, though, they did think that LA's Jared Goff will be - more on that later). But if a top-20 quarterback is your threshold for the number two overall pick... whew. That's not exactly elite company, Paul.
Here are the last five years worth of quarterbacks who ranked 20th in quarterback rating, along with their stats from that year:
|Year||Name||Att||Comp||Comp %||Yards||TD||INT||QB Rating|
Again, the Browns don't believe that Wentz can throw for more than 3,361 yards and 20 touchdowns, and fewer than 14 interceptions while maintaining a 61.1 completion percentage. But since 2011, it's been done 37 times by 19 different quarterbacks. In essence, Cleveland doesn't think Wentz can be peak Kirk Cousins or average Ryan Tannehill.
To be fair, that's not an absurd judgement to make, nor is it the whole story. You don't take a quarterback second overall because you think he's going to hover around the middle of the pack. And Wentz's small school background would make any team at least a little nervous. But for the Moneyball franchise to decide he won't be around league average is surprising, especially since the quarterback they did draft is going to be inactive on game day.
Which brings us to Goff. According to reports in the spring, the Browns would have taken the Cal product, had the Los Angeles Rams not leapfrogged them by trading with the Tennessee Titans. Ultimately, the Browns went the developmental prospect route and drafted USC's Cody Kessler in the third round. To them, we say: good luck with that.
Here's the funniest bit - Kessler will be inactive come Week 1, while Goff failed to beat Case Keenum for the starting gig after a rough preseason. Goff is listed as second on the Rams' official online depth chart, but might not actually be the backup. And yeah, Wentz was going to be inactive this time last week, but he also jumped Chase Daniel in line. Goff had an actual chance to win the job and was real, real bad.
Cleveland was the talk of the NFL this offseason for their hiring of former MLB front office folks in the hopes of getting ahead of the analytics curve. Time will tell which team will end up being right in their evaluations, and Sunday should at least provide a small glimpse into the future of that conversation. But for now, it seems fair to at least question the Browns' methods of evaluation.
You Said It!
And that takes us to a segment I'm very excited to introduce. This season, we want to hear from you! Each week I'll be running a new poll on my Twitter account about a topic related to the week's game. Send us your input, and we'll put the best responses here.
This week's question:
Do you think the Browns' new regime is capable of determining whether Carson Wentz can become a top-20 QB?— Patrick Wall (@ByPatrickWall) September 6, 2016
The votes are in (1,757 of you voted, wow!) and boy oh boy do you folks have a low opinion of the Browns. It's fair - since 1999 they've started about as many quarterbacks as there are people in Fargo, North Dakota. But even their new analytics-driven approach didn't win over many of you. Here are some of your best responses:
@ByPatrickWall there's honestly maybe 5 teams at any given time who are any good at evaluating, drafting, and developing players— Ari Fishbein (@arifishbein) September 6, 2016
Congratulations to all of you who were featured. Your piece of the Aggro Crag is in the mail.
Youth Is Served
One of my favorite things in sports writing is the overuse of sports cliches. They're lazy and often don't make any sense. What does "youth is served" even mean? According to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Physical Phrases (a thing that apparently exists), it means to allow the young to act young.
In sports, it usually means that young players do well. In my head, it's a Twilight Zone episode where aliens write a cool blog about how to make tweens into an after-school snack. Captain America knows what I'm talking about.
In this instance, I bring up the phrase because, holy dawg pound are the Browns a young team. This April, the Browns drafted 14 players and 13 of them made the team. And as if that weren't crazy enough, they also have four undrafted rookies on the team. Think about that for a second - 17 of the Browns' 53 players have never taken a real NFL snap. That's almost a third of the team!
And as if that weren't crazy enough, 28 of their 53 guys have less than three years pro experience. To be fair, only three are starters, and any Sixers fan will tell you that this is what Year One of a rebuild looks like. But if there was ever a team for a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback to face, this might be it.
Most observers don't have high hopes for the Eagles this season, and their lack of faith might be accurate. But this Sunday, the rookie with a possible chip on his shoulder will go against a Browns team that's just about as young as he is. So in a season that could feature more downs than ups, look for the Eagles to start their season on a positive note.
Who knows, we might even see some top-20 quarterbacking while we're at it.