Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Ben Cummins. Follow him on Twitter @ben155390.
The Cleveland Browns have a QB camp battle on their hands. Sound familiar? Of course it does. The concept of stability at the quarterback position must seem foreign to Browns fans at this point, and rightfully so. The last Browns QB to start all 16 games was Tim Couch back in 2001. Twenty-four different quarterbacks have started a game for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999, and it’s almost a guarantee that more than one name will be added to this now infamous Browns’ QB jersey during the 2016 season.
With so much interchange at the QB position, it’s no wonder the Browns have only made the playoffs once since 1999. The roster rebuild is well underway as Hue Jackson and company work to buck this trend. At quarterback, Robert Griffin III was signed in free agency and Cody Kessler was acquired in the third round of April’s NFL draft. In total, the Browns currently have five QBs on their roster – the aforementioned RGIII and Cody Kessler, as well as Josh McCown, Austin Davis, and Connor Shaw.
Davis and Shaw are non-factors. McCown is certainly someone to monitor since he played well at times over the past two seasons. He has the ability to win the job. However, McCown is a holdover from the previous Cleveland regime and will be 37 when the season starts. I expect the new regime to distance themselves from the franchise’s past failures and build for the future with a younger signal caller.
I think this ultimately boils down to a competition between the two quarterbacks brought in this off-season. Back in April, I touted RGIII as a late round QB option who could greatly outperform his ADP. Griffin still seems like the odds-on favorite to win the job and begin the year as the Browns’ starter. However, post draft, I’m not as bullish RGIII will keep the job for the entire season.
Although the Browns did not select a QB in the first round like many expected, they still spent a relatively high pick on Cody Kessler. Many draft analysts felt taking Kessler in the third round was a reach. However, those draft analysts aren’t running the Browns’ organization. They got their guy, and that’s all that really matters.
Is Kessler the New Dalton?
Hue Jackson raved about Cody Kessler in the post draft press conference. Jackson stated Kessler was “everything that I think you look for in a quarterback.” He emphasized Kessler’s “pinpoint accuracy”, “tremendous touchdown-interception ratio”, poise, pocket presence, and ability to play in a pro-style offense. Jackson explained accuracy is the first characteristic the Browns consider when evaluating quarterbacks and then stated Kessler “does that [accuracy] as well as anybody, in my opinion, in this draft.” He went as far as to say, “You’ve got to trust me on this one. This is a guy that we feel very comfortable with and we think he’s going to have an opportunity to ascend.”
It’s not hard to read between the lines and realize Jackson played a major role in the selection of Kessler. Although Kessler doesn’t physically wow anyone with his measurables, neither did Andy Dalton when he came out of college. In fact, Kessler and Dalton’s measurables are extremely similar, per the RotoViz Box Score Scout app.
Despite their limitations, Dalton and Kessler were standouts on the field, producing strikingly similar numbers throughout their collegiate careers as well as in their final season before leaving for the NFL.
Jackson spent the last two years as Dalton’s offensive coordinator and after a down year in 2014, Dalton finished 2015 with the highest completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career. It’s likely Jackson envisions a similar success story for himself and Kessler. When that story can start to play out on the field remains to be seen. One press conference doesn’t suddenly mean Kessler is the leader of the franchise, but he is definitely a guy to keep on your radar moving forward.
RGIII to the Rescue?
Jackson also had good things to say about RGIII, calling him a “tremendous talent” just days before the Browns signed him. Griffin should still be given every chance to succeed, and despite the selection of Kessler, the Browns did everything they could to help RGIII hit the ground running (hopefully without injury) in 2016. They selected four wide receivers in April’s draft, including Corey Coleman with the 15th overall pick, to go alongside surprise 2015 fantasy stud, Gary Barnidge. Those additions should be enough to offset the release of Brian Hartline and the likely suspension of Josh Gordon.
When considering rostering Griffin late in drafts, one question must be answered: Will he remain the Browns’ starter, barring injury, for all sixteen games in 2016? The last time we saw RGIII in 2014, he struggled going through his progressions and playing within the pocket. He was sacked 33 times and fumbled nine times in only nine games. He did however complete 68.7% of his passes that year. Since we know Jackson highly values accuracy, Griffin’s completion percentage will need to impress again if he wants to stay on the field. Jackson is a great offensive mind and I expect him to put RGIII in favorable situations to succeed. But if Griffin doesn’t deliver, don’t expect the Browns to keep their hand-picked QB of the future, Kessler, on the bench forever.
QB Camp Battle Verdict
The Browns may have finally found the man they have been looking for in Hue Jackson to turn the franchise around, but it’s going to take time. The Browns aren’t going anywhere this year. Look for Cody Kessler to see the field once they’re out of playoff contention, possibly before. If RGIII struggles in the preseason or early in the regular season, a proactive pick up of Kessler could be a sneaky play in deep-bench two-quarterback leagues. Overall, I don’t expect Kessler to be extremely fantasy relevant in his rookie year. The bigger impact of Kessler taking the reins would be the drop in value for RGIII. Assuming Griffin is named the starter, he should have enough weapons to be fantasy relevant when he’s on the field, but understand the risk that comes with investing in him with your 2QB and Superflex draft picks.