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Browns have a pair of 1st-round picks again and a chance to finally get it right

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History reflects poorly on Cleveland’s selections when it has two Day 1 picks, but it’s not alone.

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For the fifth time in 10 years, the Cleveland Browns will have a pair of first-round picks in the NFL Draft. If they want to maximize the value of their selections and set the foundation for their massive rebuild, they’ll have to draft like they’ve never drafted before.

The Browns’ first-round double-dips have netted just one selection who developed into a bona fide NFL star. Perennial All-Pro Joe Thomas is an island in a sea of failure that includes high-profile washouts like Trent Richardson, Justin Gilbert, and Johnny Manziel. The last time the franchise had two Day 1 picks was in 2015, when it landed Cameron Erving and Danny Shelton. While the pair developed into starters for the league’s worst team, it’s too soon to suggest one draft has turned the Browns’ first-round fortunes around.

Has the Browns’ record with multiple first-rounders really been that bad?

Yes. The first three times Cleveland had two or more first-round picks this millennium, the franchise selected:

a) the league’s top left tackle
b) five players who averaged fewer than 19 starts apiece in their professional careers.

Thomas is an obvious standout, but a look at the rest of the team’s selections show just what an outlier he’s been. Three were quarterbacks — Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, and Manziel — with a combined record of 12-41 as starters.

Only Weeden is still in the league, though to the Browns’ credit, only two quarterbacks from the 2007 draft class played beyond the 2012 season. That logic doesn’t hold up as well for 2014: Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, AJ McCarron, and Tom Savage highlight the list of passers selected after Manziel that spring.

Browns players selected when the team has multiple first-round picks

Year Team Picks Selections Pro Bowl? All-Pro? At least 4 years with team as starter?
Year Team Picks Selections Pro Bowl? All-Pro? At least 4 years with team as starter?
2007 Browns 3 Joe Thomas Yes Yes Yes
22 Brady Quinn No No No
2012 Browns 3 Trent Richardson No No No
22 Brandon Weeden No No No
2014 Browns 8 Justin Gilbert No No No
22 Johnny Manziel No No No
2015 Browns 12 Danny Shelton No No No
19 Cameron Erving No No No

That leaves Erving and Shelton, who have played well enough in two seasons in the league to suggest their worst case scenarios won’t even come close to Manziel’s or Gilbert’s. If they want to build on that foundation, slight as it may be, the Browns can’t afford to have another 2012 or 2014 situation again.

What can the Browns do to avoid blowing it again?

The good news for Cleveland is teams who have taken a pass rusher as one of their two first-round picks in recent years have typically gotten strong value from those selections. Terrell Suggs, DeMarcus Ware, Ndamukong Suh, Clay Matthews, Aaron Donald, Chandler Jones, Sheldon Richardson, Cameron Jordan, and Shawne Merriman are just some of the sack artists taken by teams with a pair of first-round choices.

Should the Browns take Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall selection — a move that’s no guarantee, somehow — they’d be in great shape to continue that trend.

Teams have typically struggled when overextending for an offensive player — potentially a side effect of the “playing with house money” feeling that comes with having multiple firsts. Several skill players taken with one of a team’s two first-round picks include disappointments like Trent Richardson, Felix Jones, Knowshon Moreno, Tavon Austin, Troy Williamson, and Dustin Keller.

The numbers don’t get much better when it comes to quarterbacks. Since 2001, only three passers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, and Teddy Bridgewater, were selected by a team with two first-rounders and ended up making it to a Pro Bowl. The rest of the list reads like a who’s who of regret: Kyle Boller, J.P. Losman, Rex Grossman, Quinn, Weeden, Manziel, Tim Tebow, and Jason Campbell.

That’s worse news for the Browns’ No. 12 pick. The majority of this year’s mock drafts have them taking either Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson at that slot in hopes of finally finding a franchise quarterback. Based on past returns, any rookie passer they take will have a 27 percent chance of developing into a Pro Bowler.

Has any team picked worse than the Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel duo?

Manziel and Gilbert were two premier selections who wound up making 11 total starts before washing out of the league. Since 2000, no team has had two players taken so highly in the same draft who contributed so little.

But some teams have come close.

The Bears had two first-round picks in 2003 and drafted Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman. Haynes made four starts as a pro and Grossman’s career was more meme than quarterback. The 2005 Vikings had two of the top 18 selections and came away with WR Troy Williamson (87 career receptions) and DE Erasmus James (five sacks). The New York Jets’ 2008 draft class had Vernon Gholston and Dustin Keller at the top; while Keller was a decent tight end, Gholston may be the biggest bust of his generation.

Which teams have had success with multiple first-round picks?

The Vikings have experienced the peaks and valleys of holding multiple firsts at the NFL Draft. After botching it in 2005, they came back strong in 2012. Minnesota had seven first-round picks in a three-year span and wound up with six Pro Bowlers and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

These savvy selections are also common foundations for Super Bowl teams in the past decade. The 49ers built an NFC champion roster on the strength of their stockpiled Day 1 picks. San Francisco added a pair of All-Pros in 2007 after drafting Patrick Willis and Joe Staley. Three years later, they bolstered their offense line with another All-Pro, Mike Iupati, and starter Anthony Davis.

The Packers had their own haul in 2009 when they added B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews to overhaul their defense. The Seahawks scooped up Russell Okung and Earl Thomas with top-15 picks in 2010. The Patriots got Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in 2012.

Teams who picked 2 Pro Bowlers w/ first-round picks in the same NFL Draft

Year Team Picks Selections Pro Bowl? All-Pro? At least 4 years with team as starter?
Year Team Picks Selections Pro Bowl? All-Pro? At least 4 years with team as starter?
2001 Seahawks 9 Koren Robinson Yes No Yes
17 Steve Hutchinson Yes Yes Yes
2006 Jets 4 D'Brickashaw Ferguson Yes No Yes
29 Nick Mangold Yes Yes Yes
2007 49ers 11 Patrick Willis Yes Yes Yes
28 Joe Staley Yes Yes Yes
2009 Packers 9 B.J. Raji Yes No Yes
26 Clay Matthews Yes Yes Yes
2010 Seahawks 6 Russell Okung Yes No Yes
14 Earl Thomas Yes Yes Yes
2011 Saints 24 Cameron Jordan Yes No Yes
28 Mark Ingram Yes No Yes
2012 Patriots 21 Chandler Jones Yes No Yes
25 Dont'a Hightower Yes No Yes
2012 Vikings 4 Matt Kalil Yes No Yes
29 Harrison Smith Yes No Yes
2014 Vikings 9 Anthony Barr Yes No n/a
32 Teddy Bridgewater Yes No n/a

In all, 26 of the league’s 32 teams have had the opportunity to make two first-round selections in a single NFL Draft since 2001. For some, those extra assets have been the difference between early playoff exits and Super Bowl appearances. For others, they represent an extra chance to waste an opportunity.

The Browns have firmly been in the latter camp throughout their revamped existence. They’ll have the first and 12th picks this year — a combination of picks higher than any team has had this millennium. That position suggests Cleveland should be able to find two pieces to rebuild its franchise from the ground up. But history suggests we shouldn’t get too attached to whomever the Browns select this spring.


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