Please Sashi, not Mitchell!
Being a fan of the Cleveland Browns is a curious life choice, and one I frequently find myself attempting – and failing – to tangibly justify. Having started my support of the team for no better reason than them being the first team I had randomly picked on my first ever NFL game at the age of 8, I stuck by them through thick, through thin, through non-existence and then, despite the shred of common sense in my brain telling me not to, resumed my fandom when the ‘new’ Browns emerged from the football ashes in 1999. If I say that I’ve felt vindicated in that decision sitting here, I’d be lying.
There are many things that weigh on a Browns fan, but none more heavily than our awful (and that’s being somewhat charitable) draft record over the years, particularly in the first round. Yes, it’s true that the likes of Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Joe Haden proved sound investments, but along the way the reject litter pile has grown taller and taller. The rotting cherry on top of this mound of garbage was provided in 2014, when in what was one of the strongest classes across the board for years we emerged with a cornerback who couldn’t cover even third and fourth string receivers or seemingly set his alarm clock properly to get to training in time and a quarterback who drunk and partied his way out of the league within 24 months.
It’s the quarterback position that hurts the most, because it’s the position the Browns have – as evidenced by the infamous picture of a fan’s jersey adorned with all quarterbacks we’ve had since 1999 – most disastrously tried to fill. The misfires, the passing over of Big Ben… you name it.
We’re rolling into a new draft this weekend once again linked with a quarterback. As is the way with the Browns, they seem to have secured the number one in a year when there’s no obvious hot ticket in the one position they need the most. Mitch Trubisky is the man most linked, and I cannot argue he has shown talent. To most fans of other teams in the NFL, it seems an obvious pick to make. Browns fans are quarterback starved, and we have a shot at the best in the class. There are, however, problems.
See, Browns fans are for the majority glass-half-empty types these days for reasons already explained. We lose a heck of a lot of games. We hire and fire front office staff more than any other team in the league. We make awful draft decisions almost every season. It’s a cycle vicious enough to chip away at the resolve of even the most ardent, passionate members of the team’s fan base. The video of an angry fan shouting insults at our stadium is chuckled at, but deep down most of us feel the same way. First Energy Stadium has become a factory of sadness.
Trubisky is a man with promise, but the sample size worries us. For all the world the guy looks like a player who needs his final year in college. His final game for North Carolina against Stanford in the Sun Bowl was a roller coaster of highs and lows, with some impressive passing mixed in with some sloppy play and turnovers. A lot of Browns fans were already aware of the possibility we’d draft him and were watching that game. The response was decidedly mixed. On a personal level, watching him didn’t fill me with the sense of confidence that, say, watching Mariota or Winston did back in their final seasons.
Then there’s last year’s draft and the various rumours surrounding Hugh Jackson’s love for Jared Goff leading to us passing on Carson Wentz once the Rams had traded up. Time will tell if Goff can turn around what was a troubled rookie season, but anyone watching games last season could see that the guy the Browns desperately wanted wasn’t anywhere near ready for the NFL, whereas the one they didn’t had hit the ground well and seemed a prototypical tough AFC North quarterback. It did nothing to convince us that our ‘newest new’ front office could fix the position any better than any of the other countless inhabitants of our draft war room chairs.
To top it off, there continue to be nagging rumours that the Browns might – and might is a scary word for any Browns fan – use our number one pick on Trubisky in a class full of potential game-changing defensive talent. The Browns’ defense is slowly improving, sure – Danny Shelton proved very effective against the run last year, and Jamie Collins, Emmanuel Ogbah and Christian Kirksey are a solid core up front, but more needs to be done. A potentially elite pass-rushing end is on the board for us in the form of Myles Garrett, and although doubts do exist due to him never quite dominating as much as people felt he should in college, he is undoubtedly an intelligent, highly skilled and athletic player who most agree has the potential to greatly influence the course of a franchise if utilised to his potential, much in the same way JJ Watt and Khalil Mack have done in Texas and Oakland. That is more than enough for a Browns fan to mean we desperately hope he’s the first name announced in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
The recent (and excellent) Gentleman’s Mock Draft proved to me that on a personal level I am not even ready to accept Trubisky at number twelve, let alone with that first pick. As I scanned the board to see who had been selected with the previous 11 picks, I noticed that Marshon Lattimore was still available and – even knowing it was a mock – I found myself hoping he’d be the guy announced for us there. In a mock! It went a long way to showing me how little faith I have in not only this year’s quarterback class, but also our ability to choose the right one, or make the most of him once we have him on the training ground in Berea.
It’s that gun-shy nature of myself and a lot of Browns fans that fill us with an impending sense of doom at this time of year. If Trubisky is to join us then I hope the guy does thrive, that he does stand up and make up for almost two decades of disaster. If he can, he will exist on the same level of adulation that LeBron James has earned himself in what is a sports-mad city that cares deeply – whether it likes to admit it or not – about the Browns, who against the Cavaliers and Indians very much seem the runt of the litter right now.
It’s that passion that fuels our worry and concern about the Trubisky pick. It’s that passion that also means that many, myself included, will probably never believe we are doing the right thing in selecting a first-round quarterback until he’s right there in front of us, leading us into the playoffs and beyond. All I can say is, Mitch, if you are drafted by us this year then you’d better start working on your shoulders immediately, because upon them will rest the hopes and misgivings of a fan base who are crying out for a hero; a hero that at the current time we can’t bring ourselves to believe will ever exist.
Matt Hughes is a long suffering Browns fan. You can find him on Twitter if you want to extend your sympathies!