ESPN a bit off on best draft class in Browns history

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Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns former quarterback Bernie Kosar during halftime between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns former quarterback Bernie Kosar during halftime between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Cleveland Browns have actually had some good drafts over the years, but one year in particular stands above the rest, according to ESPN.

It may not seem like it, especially if for fans who have only followed the Cleveland Browns since 1999, but the team has actually shown it knows what it is doing on draft weekend.

The Browns have actually drafted Hall of Famers, like Jim Brown and Paul Warfield; Pro Bowlers, like Gregg Pruitt, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar, and talented players who have had long and productive careers.

It’s true!

This week ESPN took a crack at ranking both the best and worst draft classes for each NFL team since the start of the common draft in 1967. Using Pro Football Reference’s approximate value (AV) metric, which looks to determine a player’s value to his team, and eliminating drafts that include players that are still active with the team that drafted them, because their final value is still to be determined, the site came up with their rankings.

For the best draft class in franchise history, ESPN had an interesting choice as they tapped the 1967 draft:

"Not a lot of household names here — final pick Ben Davis (17th round) was the only member of the class to make a Pro Bowl — but the players Cleveland drafted in ’67 combined to play more than 1,000 career games in the NFL. This class ranks among the franchise’s best, because there were seven significant AV contributors."

ESPN also throws a bone at two drafts prior to 1967:

"Although they’re before the common draft era, the Browns’ 1957 and 1964 classes would rank among the best in franchise history. The ’57 class included Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Gene Hickerson, and the ’64 class had RB Leroy Kelly and WR Paul Warfield."

There is no doubt that the 1957 and 1964 drafts were franchise altering, to say the least, and highlighting the 1967 draft shows the value of having a solid – if not spectacular – draft can have on a team. But there are two other drafts that deserve a mention.

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The 1978 draft may not have produced much in the way of depth – raise your hand if you remember the Jesse Turnbow era – but the Browns walked out of the first round that year with Ozzie Newsome, who is in the Hall of Fame, and Clay Matthews, who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Both players last wore a Browns uniform in the early 1990s, but still sit at the top of the franchise record boards.

The other draft, or more accurately series of drafts, were the ones that covered the years 1984 through 1986 and built the foundation for the Browns teams that went to three AFC Championship Games.

In 1984 the Browns selected, among others,  Rickey Bolden, Brian Brennan and Earnest Byner; 1985 brought Reggie Langhorne and Bernie Kosar (in the supplemental draft); and 1986 saw the addition of Webster Slaughter.

Next: ESPN hits the mark with worst Browns draft class

It would be great, obviously, if the Browns came out of this year’s draft with a pair of Hall of Fame-caliber players in the first round, but as long as they build off last year’s solid draft the way those early 1980 teams did, then this rebuilding effort has a real chance to work out.

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