Recently I was the target of all the venom that Cleveland Browns fans could muster because I said that taking Brandon Weeden at #22 was a terrible pick. Some of that venom was toxic enough to set the Cuyahoga River on fire… again. A few of them made interesting comments, while others proved that Cleveland is entirely too close to the black hole of intelligent thought known as Pittsburgh.
Let me preface this post by noting up front that I did not call taking Weeden a terrible pick because I think Weeden will be a terrible QB. On the contrary, I expect that he can be a decent QB, maybe a pretty good QB. But he has a good chance of getting run out of Cleveland before he has the chance to get there.
To begin a look at what is reasonable to expect out of a rookie in Weeden, let’s list other QBs to go at around his pick of #22 to establish a baseline.
- Tim Tebow, #25 in 2010
- Josh Freeman, #17 in 2009
- Joe Flacco, #18 in 2008
- Brady Quinn, #22 in 2007
- Aaron Rodgers, #24 in 2005
- Jason Campbell, #25 in 2005
- J.P. Losman, #22 in 2004
- Kyle Boller, #19 in 2003
- Rex Grossman, #22 in 2003
- Patrick Ramsey, #32 in 2002
- Chad Pennington, #18 in 2000
I see two good players, a media darling, and a bunch of uninspiring names.
Including Tebow is unproductive to this discussion because he is a different animal entirely, though I could include him if I wanted to artificially drive down the baseline. That leaves us with 10 guys to consider. I will even include Aaron Rodgers’ exceptional numbers, though I doubt many are going to argue that Weeden will be the elite talent that Rodgers is. (If you want to make that case, please entertain us.)
Now let’s look at each of these guys’ first year as the man under center. Since most of them did not start in Week 1, I have used the yards/games played to extrapolate his production for a full 16-game season.
- Josh Freeman: 1855 yds in 10 games = 2968 yds
- Joe Flacco: 2971 yds in 16 games
- Brady Quinn: 1339 yds in 10 games = 2142 yds (2009 season, after sitting as a backup for 2 years)
- Aaron Rodgers: 4038 yds in 16 games (2008 season, after sitting as a backup for 3 years)
- Jason Campbell: 1297 yds in 7 games = 2965 yds (2006 season, after sitting as a backup for 1 year)
- J.P. Losman: 1340 yds in 9 games = 2382 yds (2005 season, after sitting as a backup for 1 year)
- Kyle Boller: 1260 yds in 11 games = 1833 yds
- Rex Grossman: 3193 yds in 16 games (2006 season, after sitting as a backup for 3 years)
- Patrick Ramsey: 1539 yds in 9 games = 2736 yds
- Chad Pennington: 3328 yds in 15 games = 3328 yds (2002 season, after sitting as a backup for 2 years)
Add up our ten players’ extrapolated first full season — only four of whom were true rookies like Weeden will be — and we come to 28556 yds, or an average of 2856 yds per guy. (If I limited the list to just the four rookies, our total would be 10508 yds, or an average of 2627 yds for a rookie. But we’ll go with the higher number.)
Colt McCoy’s production last year (which led one Brown’s fan to refer to him as “hot dumpster water”) was 2733 yds, a mere 123 yards below my baseline expectation for Weeden. So if Weeden merely matches this average for a rookie, which I think is a respectable level for a rookie, I see no reason to expect that he will get any different treatment from Browns fans than McCoy is getting right now. More importantly, if Holmgren is abandoning McCoy now, will he abandon Weeden too? I have to seriously question how Weeden will be treated in Cleveland if he does not exceed 3000 yds passing, a level that Joe Flacco did not exceed as a rookie.
Switching from the spread offense to a pro-style offense is not automatic, which both McCoy and Weeden ran in college. It is going to take time to change up that technique, time I’m not sure his fan base will give to Weeden. Both were touted as being smart, having a quick release, accurate throws (at least in the short game for McCoy), and being mobile when needed.
Overall, Weeden has the advantage of a better arm than McCoy, and that will be his savior at times. But he has the disadvantage of fewer starts (2 years to McCoy’s 4 years) and being a true rookie who is changing systems and learning new technique, which will offset that advantage to some extent.
Weeden also faces the disadvantage of a tough schedule. More than one Browns fan has asserted to me that the Bengals only found success last year because of a soft schedule… a schedule in which the Browns faced 12 of the same opponents out of 14, plus facing the Bengals twice, and could only muster a 4-12 record. But this year Weeden will be facing the much tougher NFC East (instead of the rather weak NFC West, save SF) and an improved AFC West (instead of the uncharacteristically weak AFC South). Not an easy road for a rookie.
When the book is closed on the 2012 season, I think the Browns will again be around 4-12. Slightly improved because of Weeden and TR, but not nearly to the extent that Browns fans want to believe. For a rookie going against a slate like this year’s, that ain’t bad. The defenses in the AFC North are notoriously tough and are going to give a rookie fits, so I see another 0-6 year in the division. The one potential in from the AFC East is against WAS, although RG3 may well have found his mojo by then. I can see a win against OAK or maybe a stolen win against a SD team that never travels well. And they have good shots against BUF and IND.
Before I go, I need to circle back to the title: Dalton > Weeden.
Browns fans make excuses, but the fact is that Dalton threw for the 5th most yards by a rookie QB in NFL history, a fact that was buried by Cam Newton’s historic season. And he did it following the extremely short offseason, another protest used by Browns fans to excuse their poor offense last year. (If you are going to trot out the “soft schedule” argument, then I expect you to explain how his best game — nearly 400 yds passing — came against the Ravens, the #4 passing defense in 2011.)
“Well, you Bengals homer, if Dalton did that well, so can Weeden.” Uh, no, that’s not going to happen. Here’s why.
Dalton ran a pro-style offense at TCU, so he did not have to change nearly as much of his technique as Weeden will. He did not take a significant majority of snaps from the shotgun like Weeden did. And he spent four years running the pro-style offense, not just two years in the spread like Weeden. Weeden will produce like a respectable rookie, but he will not — repeat, will not — throw for more yards than Dalton as a rookie.
Unfortunately for Weeden, producing like a respectable rookie will be just good enough to get him run out of town.