If the new millennium has taught us anything, it’s that you need a great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. The Cleveland Browns don’t have a great quarterback. What the Browns have is an iffy situation behind center. Brandon Weeden had an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2012. Weeden will turn 30 shortly after the 2013 season begins, so if he gets the starting nod he’s going to need to show rapid improvement under new head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has promised to give Weeden some competition for the starting job this year. So far, Cleveland has failed to do so via a trade or free agency. Ryan Mallett trade rumors continue to swirl, but until that happens we’ll have to assume the Browns will find Weeden’s competition in next month’s NFL Draft.
The Browns own the sixth pick in the first round. Many feel that’s too high to draft a quarterback from this year’s class, but there is one QB in this draft who is worth a top ten pick: Geno Smith. The West Virginia product did everything you could ask of him during his three years as a starter. Playing for two different coaches in college, Smith became a star in his sophomore year and just kept getting better. By the time his college career was finished, he threw for more than 11,000 yards. He also threw 98 touchdown passes against only 21 interceptions.
However, many draft experts believe Smith doesn’t make the first round grade. Their reasoning usually involves the second half of Smith’s senior season, which some people have labeled a “collapse.” The numbers don’t indicate that, though. True, the Mountaineers lost five straight games after winning their first five, but you can’t pin those losses on Smith. West Virginia’s defense gave up an average of 49 points a game during that losing streak. During Smith’s final six games of the year, he threw 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. Does that sound like much of a collapse?
By all accounts, Smith looked very good at the NFL combine and even better at his pro day last week. He also surprised everyone by running a 4.59 40-yard dash at the combine. That puts Smith in the same speed category as Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. He wasn’t asked to run the ball much at West Virginia, but with the rise of the zone read option in the NFL, coaches like Chudzinski are going to find that 4.59 very intriguing. Smith is also regarded as a very bright kid – he reportedly was enrolled in gifted classes as a youngster – and a film rat with an unquenchable thirst for football knowledge.
It’s possible the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders or Philadelphia Eagles could draft Smith before the Browns select in the first round. Perhaps another QB-starved team such as the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills or New York Jets could trade up to land him. But if Smith is still on the board when that sixth pick rolls around, the Browns would be wise to consider taking him. Last year’s quarterback bounty was an aberration. The fact is franchise QBs don’t come around very often. You have to grab yours when you can. Otherwise, the Super Bowl will remain out of reach.