The Cleveland Browns: Development vs Results

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Like DeShone Kizer. Don’t like DeShone Kizer.

I don’t care.

At this point, after what has transpired this season in Cleveland, it doesn’t matter. And in reality, it shouldn’t have mattered in the first place.

What was the goal of this season? To win or develop young talent?

Let me explain.

The Cleveland Browns were always going to struggle to be competitive this year. Armed with a roster chock full of potential, but severely lacking in experience and development, any armchair quarterback with a cursory knowledge or understanding of the game could tell you the Browns were going to struggle. But perhaps with the right sprinkling of coaching and in-game development, they could be something reminiscent of a consistently competitive team growing into a contender. Eventually.

But it wasn’t going to happen immediately. Especially without a solution at quarterback. And that’s where the disconnect is.

It appears from the outside that head coach Hue Jackson has been coaching this team as if wins are important. If those are the marching orders he’s been given in order to retain his job, the higher-ups in the organization are wrong. If those weren’t the directives given to Jackson, his actions this season have shown he is blinded to the reality in front of him.

Following the 2017 NFL Draft, the direction of the Browns made sense. It looked as if the plan was carefully thought out. Acquire assets. Dedicate them to important areas of the team. Let them marinate and coalesce into something fantastic and sustainable.

The Browns defense has some long-term parts in place – DE Myles Garrett, LB Jamie Collins, LB Joe Schobert, S Jabrill Peppers, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, LB Christian Kirksey to name a few –  and are performing admirably this season. Currently, they rank in the top 10 in both yards per play allowed and rushing yards per game allowed.

The construction of the offense started with throwing heavy resources at the offensive line, including free agent deals for center JC Tretter and guard Kevin Zeitler, in addition to a long-term extension for guard Joel Bitonio. 1st round picks have been dedicated to wide receiver Corey Coleman and tight end David Njoku, two intriguing skill position weapons with limitless upside and a need for refinement on the edges.

And the approach of “not rushing to find a quarterback and instead waiting to find the right quarterback” was mostly lauded by those on the outside. Granted, they could have stayed at #12 to select Deshaun Watson, but at the time, they played the market appropriately, benefited from other teams’ desire to move up, and were able to add other assets. There is little risk in acquiring additional assets. But there is risk in not taking a risk every now and then.

The long-term approach by general manager Sashi Brown and his staff has been sound. Development was the key. Let these players grow. Allow mistakes. Live with them. Learn from them.

For the most part, that has happened. But at the most important position on the field, it hasn’t.

When Cleveland passed up on the opportunity to draft either Jared Goff and Carson Wentz last year, people on the outside understood. Neither was a sure thing. Each had major questions. Both needed seasoning.

In the 2017 Draft, outside of the aforementioned Watson, it was doubtful any of the other top tier quarterbacks – Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes or Kizer – would be ready to step in and start right away, let alone be successful being placed in that position.

When Kizer slipped to the 2nd round, it was as if the board fell exactly how the Browns had planned. They were able to get a quarterback with long-term potential without sacrificing any additional assets, namely a 1st round pick or any additional picks it would require to move up and get a more lauded rookie or a veteran with potential like New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo.

Kizer could then sit and observe this season or he could play and work out the mistakes on the field.

But If there’s one quarterback in this draft class who any college football observer knew wasn’t going to develop by being pulled in and out of the lineup it was Kizer. It was the same thing that happened to him at Notre Dame in 2016 and it’s exactly what’s happening to him for the second straight year. His best season of football under the bright lights was in 2015 when he was forced into the lineup due to injury and the team decided to roll with him because in reality, there was no other option at the time.

DeShone Kizer’s raw skill set is impressive. Go back to his 2015 tape and the makings of something special are there. But more than any other quarterback in this class, Kizer needed to be shown how to get there again. He needed someone that was going to show unwavering confidence in him. Not baby him, but speak his language. Get him in the quarterback room with two other smart guys at the position (Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan are less skilled, but are both smart players) and a coach that wants to teach and guide. Then see if Kizer can hone his craft and let the chips fall as they may.

Has Kizer performed well this year? No, not if measures like wins and interceptions in the short-term are the determinants, as Hue Jackson apparently has decided.

Long-term development should have been the goal all along and if Kizer was going to start Day One, he should have been in there until Week 17 or he never should have seen the field in the first place.

Finding a quarterback for the long term isn’t a switch you just flip on. More than any other players, quarterbacks are unique and need to be handled as such. Find out how the player learns. Seek answers to the right questions that will ultimately decide if that player himself is the answer to what the team has been seeking at the position.

Don’t give up if you’re a Browns fan. The light will go on. Things will get better. More than likely, Hue Jackson will be gone and with any luck a new, innovative coach with an eye toward long-term development will be installed. Or due to ownerships complete ambivalence toward creating a winner by harnessing the ability in the young talent on hand, the same cycle will continue.

Whatever the reason, the problem isn’t that Hue Jackson has the wrong answers. It’s that he wasn’t asking the right questions in the first place.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jfey5 and find his other work here, including a comparison of modern Super Bowl teamsthe best playoff QBs in recent memory, and his predictions for the 2017 Heisman Trophy race.

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