Cleveland Browns take on the Ghost of Draft Classes Past

Cleveland Browns vs Carson Wentz in Week 11

Rewind to the 2016 NFL draft. The stage was set. The Cleveland Browns entered that draft season with the second overall pick and a glaring need to fill at the quarterback spot. Surely, after all the years of futility at that position, there was no way the Browns could walk away from that draft without securing their franchise quarterback of the future.

Well…about that. A week before the draft the Browns traded their coveted second overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a treasure trove of future draft picks. The Browns received the eighth overall pick, as well as the 77th and 100th pick in 2016. The trade also included Cleveland receiving the Eagles’ 2017 first-round pick as well as their 2018 second-round selection. In return, the Eagles netted an additional fourth-round pick in 2017. The trade was essentially the Eagles’ answer to the question: how much is a possible franchise quarterback worth?

Philly used that second overall pick on Carson Wentz, and the Browns picked up their quarterback of the future with the third of their third-round picks in Cody Kessler. Drastically different approaches to addressing the most important position in all of professional sports. Insert the wise Pepper Brooks quote from Dodgeball here.

The Browns bold strategy in fact did not pay off. Early on in Wentz’ career it appeared the Browns had made a cataclysmic mistake by passing up on the opportunity to select the North Dakota State University signal-caller. As fate would have it, Wentz’ debut would be against the same Browns that did not believe he was worth the second overall pick in the season opener of the 2016 NFL season. The Eagles would go on to win the contest, and Wentz was named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week.

Wentz checked all the boxes: size (6-foot-5, 237lbs), athleticism, arm strength, and he was a natural playmaker to boot. In only his second season, Wentz was the leader in the clubhouse for league MVP before succumbing to a season-ending ACL injury. After only 13 starts in 2017, Wentz threw for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.

It was looking like the Browns had once again missed their meal ticket and every pundit and jaded fan let them know about it. However, even after securing the coveted bag, Wentz has sputtered in neutral in the seasons immediately following his rapid ascension. Wentz still shows occasional flashes of elite playmaking ability, but the fifth-year quarterback has regressed tremendously in 2020. Stop me if you heard this before, he has become a polarizing figure within the team’s fanbase with half of the fans defending him and the other half demanding his job be stripped.

Now, five years after the Browns passed up on Wentz, the Eagles come to Cleveland in a must-win matchup for both teams. The Browns need to win just tread water in a surprisingly competitive AFC wildcard swimming pool, and the Eagles, well they are in the NFC East so they are never really out of contention for a playoff spot.

With a win, the Browns will finally be able to quiet the ‘should have drafted Wentz mob’. However, if the Browns were to lose to this fledgling Eagles squad…the Ghost of Draft Classes Past will come back to haunt the organization and its fanbase.