Cleveland Browns: Is Hue Jackson really a quarterback whisperer?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Head coach Hue Jackson talks with DeShone Kizer #7 of the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter against the New York Jets of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Head coach Hue Jackson talks with DeShone Kizer #7 of the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter against the New York Jets of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Is Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson really the guy who gets quarterbacks to perform at their best? Here’s a look at the gunslingers he’s worked with.

Since the Cleveland Browns ‘quarterback whisperer’ Hue Jackson could not see fit to keep Brock Osweiler as the third string quarterback for an 0-16 team, then how did Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase get 380 yards and an overtime win out of him last Sunday?  Is Hue Jackson really the guy who gets quarterbacks to perform at their best?

Jackson enjoys the reputation as a quarterback whisperer, or an expert judge of talent as well as a superior mentor for developing quarterbacks. He has had some brilliant successes in the past. For instance, he worked with Carson Palmer when he first came into the league, as well as Andy Dalton.

As head coach of the Oakland Raiders, he had a 7-5 record with Jason Campbell as his starter. He seemed to have great rapport with his pupils and gained a great reputation as an offensive mind and mentor for quarterbacks. In his time with the Browns, Josh McCown praised Jackson effusively.

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But does Jackson really know what he is doing? In his first season, the team brought in veteran Robert Griffin III, plus rookies Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. Jackson was unable to bring any of them to starting caliber, although many observers were reasonably impressed with Kessler.

But in the off-season, Griffin was released, Osweiler was added and then released, and Jackson declined to promote either Kessler or Hogan to first string. Instead he went with DeShone Kizer, a talented kid who left college two years early to turn pro.

Kizer had an unimpressive preseason (51 percent completion percentage), a so-so combine, and a shortened college career. Although this writer believes Kizer may be sucessful by about 2020, he was statistically the worst quarterback in the NFL in 2017. Yet, neither Kessler, Hogan nor Osweiler was good enough to beat out Kizer for the first string job.

Here is a look at the quarterbacks that Jackson has coached in his career.

Patrick Ramsey: At Washington, Jackson started out as a running backs coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator. Ramsey was his first string QB and went 4-7.

Joey Harrington: Jackson became offensive coordinator in Atlanta, only to have Michael Vick get suspended, so Harrington became first string. It didn’t seem to make a difference for Harrington one way or the other. He went 3-7, and never really had success in the NFL. The limitations of Ramsey and Harrington were not Jackson’s fault, but not really evidence of being a quarterback whisperer either.

Carson Palmer: Jackson was the wide receivers coach in his first time around with Cincinnati. He therefore had no direct role in Palmer’s early development, but developed a great respect for Palmer’s talent. Palmer likewise had great respect for Jackson, and attempted to follow him to Oakland in 2011.

Jason Campbell: Jackson got a 7-5 record out of Campbell in Oakland, which is rather impressive. But Jackson, acting as temporary GM after Al Davis’ passing, then traded two first round picks for Palmer, who was feuding with Paul Brown at the time. Nobody thought this was a good move, though Jackson was right about Palmer, who went on to have big years with the Arizona Cardinals.

Joe Flacco: Jackson worked with Flacco in his rookie and sophomore campaigns in Baltimore, with good reviews. Flacco came into the league as a “project quarterback” with great physical attributes. But he was coming from little Delaware, and many observers questioned whether he could make the jump. Because Flacco had NFL success as a rookie, Jackson started to build his reputation as a quarterback whisperer.

Andy Dalton: The media sometimes touts Jackson for Dalton’s rapid development. But in Dalton’s rookie year, Jackson was busy as head coach of the Raiders. Nevertheless, he and Dalton got along well after Hue’s return to Cincinnati as offensive coordinator.

A. J. McCarron: McCarron had four years of development with the Bengals, three of which were under Jackson. McCarron performed well in spot duty, playing when asked to substitute for Dalton. Hue tried to broker a deal with the Bengals in mid-2017, in which the Browns would give up a second and third round pick for him. But during free agency, John Dorsey did not pursue him and he wound up at Buffalo, where they could not stand him and traded him to Oakland in favor of interception machine Nathan Peterman and inexperienced Josh Allen. Jackson nearly handed Nick Chubb to the Bengals, while McCarron does not seem to warrant the high regard that Jackson held him in. It’s fair to say that the McCarron affair caused observers to doubt Jackson’s quarterback sense.

Robert Griffin III: Griffin was Jackson’s starter in 2016 and was terrible, and missed a lot of time due to injuries. In fact, all Browns quarterbacks were injured in 2016 behind a line that absolutely could not protect anyone following the departures of Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack. Jackson tried to evolve the offense to be more similar to the Baylor style college offense, and Griffin improved enough to get Cleveland its only win that year. But at the end of the year, Griffin was cut, and resurfaced this season with the Ravens, who feel he is a capable backup. Is Griffin a bad quarterback, or did Jackson not figure out how to use him? Jackson whispered a little, but not enough.

Josh McCown: McCown replaced Griffin and started for Jackson until he was also injured. McCown and Jackson appear to hold each other in high regard, with Jackson having said he would like McCown to be an assistant coach if he ever retires. So let’s put McCown on the plus side of the ledger. He left the team primarily because Sashi Brown wanted young developmental quarterbacks in place of veterans. McCown put up numbers in New York

Cody Kessler: “Trust me on this one,” Jackson said upon drafting Kessler in 2016. Kessler got his chance to start following injuries to Griffin and McCown. Kessler has the false reputation of being inaccurate with deep balls, but the fact of the matter is that the line was so terrible that no Browns quarterback took a five step drop after midseason 2016. Kessler was demoted in 2017 and never resurfaced except for some spot relief, then traded to Jacksonville for a song. Clearly Hue held Kessler in such poor regard that he was unable to unseat the worst quarterback in the NFL, DeShone Kizer. There is some talk that he might start soon, and if so that would cause others to question Jackson’s judgment that Kessler could not be developed.

Kevin Hogan: Like Kessler, he was a successful four year quarterback in college (Stanford). Coincidentally, he was drafted by John Dorsey in the sixth round in 2016, and then cut by Kansas City. Hogan has some talent and served as a decent backup in 2016 and 2017. Hogan was traded to Washington but was beaten out for the backup job by another former Brown, Colt McCoy. Hogan moved on to Denver as their third string quarterback, replacing, uh, Brock Osweiler??

Brock Osweiler: Brock came to the Browns in a weird salary cap deal, in which the Browns agreed to take over his huge salary, and also acquired a second round draft pick for their trouble. The deal was basically Osweiler and a second round pick for $16 M in cap space. Osweiler had a shot at the first string job in 2017 but frankly looked terrible. He was cut by the Browns in favor of DeShone Kizer, Hogan and Kessler. It’s pretty bad if you can’t make third string on an 0-16 team that has the worst quarterback in the NFL. However, he started four games in Denver last year (all losses) but  has resurfaced as the backup for Miami, where he won the game last week in overtime and threw for 380 yards. It’s really bad when a guy has success, comes to Cleveland and is a total flop, then leaves Cleveland and has more success. You have to conclude that Adam Gase, not Hue Jackson, is the quarterback whisperer for Osweiler.

DeShone Kizer: Hue’s love affair with DeShone Kizer had historically disastrous results–a winless season. Kizer came out of college two years early. At age 21, he was almost literally just a kid, who should need two to three years of seasoning. His stats at Notre Dame were good but not great for a sophomore. Moreover he was not great in the passing drills at the Combine, though he did display NFL arm strength, very good speed and agility. After drafting him in the second round, he had a poor preseason, with only 52 percent completion percentage and one touchdown. Both Kessler and Hogan put up much better preseason numbers. Nevertheless, Hue pronounced him ready to be an NFL quarterback, and Kizer went on to go 0-15 while leading the NFL in interceptions. Hue’s decision to allow Kizer to leapfrog the other three QBs in camp was a disastrously bad decision., and the single most important cause of 0-16.  For this, the Coach earns a big, fat, juicy, red F.

Tyrod Taylor: Tyrod Taylor came to Cleveland after leading the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs with an unorthodox style. Not known for a quick release, he likes to scramble to buy time for his receives to get open, and then throws strikes. He has the reputation of having a very low interception percentage but takes more sacks than he should. This is not what offensive coordinators dream of, but it worked well enough to get into the playoffs last year. With Cleveland, in very limited action, he seemed to attempt more touch passes which were more at risk of being intercepted. He lost his job due to a concussion, and has not gotten it back. Perhaps Hue along with OC Todd Haley and QB Coach Ken Zampese overcoached him (?) He doesn’t seem to be the same quarterback that we saw the past few years. No evidence that coach Jackson and his staff had anything but a negative effect on Tyrod Taylor.

Baker Mayfield: Mayfield is a rookie but had four seasons of Division I football, and a fifth season in which he practiced but was ineligible to play by virtue of transferring schools. Hence he is vastly more prepared for success than Kizer in 2017. He has demonstrated a very high ability to make rapid decisions and throw the ball, so much so that sometimes he surprises his own receivers. His last game against the Chargers was not as good. Baker should be at least the equivalent of second round pick Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, and if not, the coaching staff will be whispering to quarterbacks in another city.

In summary, Jackson’s resume contains a number of experiences with NFL quarterbacks, some good and some bad. He was at his best with Joe Flacco and Jason Campbell. While with the Browns, absolutely no quarterback has performed at a higher level than expected.

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All of Hue’s interactions have resulted in results that are below expectations, and sometimes disastrously so.