Do the Cleveland Browns draft poorly year after year as it seems? Maybe.
The Cleveland Browns seem to win the off-season every year, getting extra draft picks and choosing fantastic athletes, but then the regular season starts and none of them can play. Is that our collective imagination or is that reality? To find out, the numbers from the past five Cleveland Browns drafts are compared to the other teams in the AFC North.
Before writing this article, this fan was expecting to find that the vast majority of Browns picks have crashed and burned, compared to the much more successful Ravens and Steelers. But the numbers tell a different story.
Draft picks are listed from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Statistics were derived from Pro Football Reference. There’s no way to completely characterize the draft, but the numbers can provide dome insight.
Among the tangible performance indicators are the following stats: number of draftees; the number of first-round picks (R1), number of top 10 overall picks (T10), average draft position of the first-round picks (Pos); the number of games played (G); the number of seasons as a starter (St), number of Pro Bowl seasons (PB), Pro Football Reference’s estimate of Career Average Value (CarAV), and number of All-Pro seasons (AP).
Pro Football Reference also publishes a stat called career average value CarAV, in which high numbers mean they are more valuable than low scores, so what the heck, that figure is summed for all drafts as an independent indicator of achievement.
The Browns, Ravens, and Bengals have done a good job of accumulating extra picks, while the Steelers have not expanded their draft pool. It’s not as if the Browns average twice as many picks as the other teams, but they have on the average had one more pick per draft than Baltimore.
Team Picks/yr R1 Pos, T10 G St CarAV PB AP
Cleveland Browns 10.4 8 13.5 3 1513 45 382 4 0
Baltimore Ravens 9.4 6 21.7 1 1279 26 363 7 3
Pittsburgh Steelers 7.8 5 23.0 1 922 26 242 4 1
Cincinnati Bengals 9.6 5 14.5 2 1261 28 243 0 0
The numbers show that Browns draftees made it on the field with greater frequency than the other teams, and perhaps the most impressive stat is that the draftees have racked up a total 45 seasons as starters. That’s 17 more than the runner-up Bengals.
Of course, you could make the case that it’s much more difficult to start for the Ravens or Steelers, compared to the Ohio teams. Also, the stat is a bit deflated because the Browns have tended to give up on the young players and let them go on to have success with other teams. Starters for other teams include Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, Jabrill Peppers, Danny Shelton, Cameron Erving, and Austin Corbett. Browns scouting gets credit for selecting these talented players, but the team evidently could not develop them.
Another thing that stands out is that the Ravens have excelled at developing difference makers, as evidenced by leading the division in Pro Bowl appearances with seven, as well as three All-Pro selections. This comes despite having the worst draft position among AFC North teams, by virtue of winning more often.
Ravens stars include quarterback Lamar Jackson, tackle Orlando Brown, tight end Mark Andrews, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive ends Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith. We pretty much have to admit that the Ravens front office has been nailing the draft.
Pittsburgh has had fewer picks, but scored big in the 2017 draft by selecting T. J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Javon Hargrave and Bud Dupree are also stars. But you know what? After 2017, the Steelers have not drafted anyone who is particularly scary. This team may not be as solid as people think, with or without their future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
As for the Bengals, the current buzz is all about Joe Burrow, deservedly so. But you or I could have made that pick. It is not a sign of front office genius to draft Burrow first overall. The rest of the draft has been very bland for five years. Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd are the main players who scare you. The Bengals have had zero selections of recent draft picks for All-Pro, nor have they sent any of them to the Pro Bowl. This is perplexing because from about 2010 to 2015 they hit on almost every pick they made, it seems. Somehow, they lost the magic elixir and are just not getting it done now.
The Browns invested heavily in the draft by repeatedly trading back working the system (in order to achieve a superior draft position. I dare not call it “tanking” because the last time I did that, Joe Banner blocked me on Twitter.
Still, the Browns have had a number of draft successes as evidenced by numbers. Credit the Ravens front office for drafting better athletes despite having poor draft position due to winning too much. The Browns may have an edge overall, but this is expected based on the fact that they always have great draft position by virtue posting consistent losing records.
In summary, the Browns and Ravens appear to be at the top of the division in terms of player talent from the past five drafts. The Browns have had much better draft position of course, while the Ravens have drafted smarter than the rest. It should also be added that the Ravens don’t get extra draft picks by magic. They work the system for compensatory picks and deal when they can. The Steelers and Bengals appear to be more lethargic and simply have not drafted well the past few years.
So now let’s wind back the clock five years and begin with the 2015 draft of Ray Farmer.