Thursday, March 13, 2008

The 3rd Annual Cleveland Browns Comparison

by Jason Jones

Since 2006, I have heard fans complain that Phil Savage and his scouting staff have not lived up to their reputation. Each year this annoys me immensely. Phil Savage, in my opinion, is the best talent evaluator/GM in the game today. When you look at various draft picks (considering that 40% of them in the first 2 years were wasted) and the free agent moves made, he has steadily improved the Cleveland Browns quicker than any other franchise in professional football. Four years ago the Browns were the laughing stock of the NFL. Today there are countless "analysts" who have no hesitation in saying that the 2008 Browns are the clear favorite to win the AFC North and on paper are a top 5 team in the AFC. We will see, as they say, "That's why they play the game".

This evening, while the Mrs. was out, I decided to watch the Monday Night Football replay of the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders from 2003 -- widely considered to be the greatest game Brett Favre ever played. Naturally, I could not help but notice some of the names on these teams that are no longer with these teams. So, I figured, what better time than to introduce my 3rd annual Cleveland Browns then vs. now. In this, every year I compare the 2004 Cleveland Browns to the upcoming year’s squad. The reason for this goes back to having to play goalie to the anti-Phil Savage comments. As it has been mentioned to me, this is much less of a problem going into the 2008 season as it was four years ago. However, as I deal with some level of obsession relating to my favorite team…I visit various message boards almost nightly during high anxiety times throughout the offseason. These areas would be most commonly the Free Agency period and the NFL Draft. Needless to say, there are still plenty of people who want to question what Phil Savage has done and claim that he is a hack and should be fired. As long as Phil is employed and there is even one person who wants to entertain this thought the comparison will continue. My first thought is how much better on paper are the Browns over the last four years. Got that nestled in your mind? Then ask yourself how improved the Baltimore Ravens are over the last four years? Now ask yourself once you’ve come to the conclusion that the Browns have improved almost 3 fold while the Ravens have gradually gotten worse over the same time span, ask yourself what is the singular move/decision that effects both teams? Answer: Phil Savage becomes the GM of the Cleveland Browns and stops making the scouting and personnel decisions for the Baltimore Ravens.

Let’s get into it…

QB Jeff Garcia vs. QB Derek Anderson

Both of these, technically are Pro Bowl quarterbacks, I personally would not want either of these quarterbacks leading my franchise into the future. Jeff Garcia was old when he got into this league. Derek Anderson is the biggest David Copperfield impression in the NFL. With that being said, Derek Anderson is a closer facsimile of a prototype QB. Anderson is a pocket passer with a cannon for an arm. The downfall is that if DA is not throwing a deep pass, he is marginal at best. Jeff Garcia is a round peg. He doesn’t fit every system. Jeff Garcia in the right system is very good, anything short of said good system, he is dog crap.

Edge: Derek Anderson

QB Kelly Holcomb vs. QB Brady Quinn

I shouldn’t have to even expound on this one, but I really shouldn’t have to make this post either. Believe it or not, there are people who think DA is a godsend and clearly better than Quinn. Leaving that alone, there are still people who believe that Kelly Holcomb would have gone to the Pro Bowl given the 2007 Browns. If that is the case, why not put in Spurgeon Wynn? Holcomb was a surprise, meaning once the game tape got out on him, teams knew exactly what to do.

Edge: Brady Quinn

QB Luke McCown vs. QB Ken Dorsey

McCown, when he was in Cleveland, was very green. He was a scrawny little QB with good potential. If you ask me, he was another Butch Davis pick that was just bad. At this point in his career, he is an insurance policy for someone’s starter. Now Ken Dorsey is by no means a prize as a starter in the NFL, but he may be one of the first QB’s of this era to transition into a coaching career. Whenever his playing career is over. If we are talking skill of backups, Ken Dorsey takes it by miles. The reason is that Dorsey is a very smart football guy who gets it. McCown is just a body in case the starter goes down. Dorsey is a mentor, and unlike most QB’s, he relishes the role.

Edge: Ken Dorsey

FB Terrelle Smith vs. FB Lawrence Vickers

Take your pick here based on preference. Do you want a FB who blows up holes for the featured tailback, or do you want a FB who is another offensive weapon? I like Vickers now, but would prefer Terrelle Smith opening holes for Jamal Lewis.

Edge: Terrelle Smith

RB William Green vs. RB Jamal Lewis

Willie Green was on the sidelines when Jamal Lewis rushed for over 500 yards against the Browns. William Green wouldn’t even vote for himself on this one. It comes down to Green (a never was) vs. Lewis (a future Hall of Famer).

Edge: Jamal Lewis

RB Lee Suggs vs. RB Jason Wright

Let’s assume there are no injury issues for either. Lee Suggs would probably win this one with a respectable margin of victory. Wright has shown some signs of promise. But Lee Suggs has shown some explosiveness.

Edge: Lee Suggs

RB Andy Echimandu vs. RB Jerome Harrison

Echimandu had a cup of coffee in the league if I’m not mistaken. Harrison was an explosive back in college. His small stature gives him a low center of gravity, but if he wants to contribute he is going to have learn how to do things he is not accustomed to.

Edge: Jerome Harrison

TE Kellen Winslow vs. TE Kellen Winslow

Don’t blink, its not a typo. Going into the respective seasons, Winslow was the projected starter. Granted he got injured in 2004. As crazy as it sounds, I take Kellen Winslow, injured or not. If I could only have Winslow every other year for 10 years I take it with no hesitation.

Edge: Kellen Winslow (2008)

TE Steve Heiden vs. TE Steve Heiden

Again, same situation. Heiden is a very good #2 TE. He was featured more in 2004, but I prefer him to be a blocking TE and second to Winslow.

Edge: Steve Heiden (2008)

TE Aaron Shea vs. TE Darnell Dinkens

We were able to see Shea deliver in spots earlier. Darnell Dinkens too often is seen wearing a boot or not able to play for some strange reason. Production alone dictates this goes to Aaron Shea.

Edge: Aaron Shea

WR Antonio Bryant vs. WR Braylon Edwards

Let’s give him his due. Bryant did go over 1,000 yards. Honestly, I could go over 1,000 yards if a QB threw to me enough. Bryant dropped a lot of passes. Braylon is the truth. And probably the only Michigan WR to live up to any amount of hype. Braylon statistically is a top 10 WR in the league (actual: 7th). He is a great deep threat. With the addition of Donte Stallworth and moving Jurevicious to the slot should improve the one on one matchups. Thus, improving his big play capability.

Edge: Braylon Edwards

WR Andre Davis vs. WR Donte Stallworth

Andre Davis just got a contract extension with the Texans. I am virtually positive that the extension is due to his return ability more than his receiving ability. Donte Stallworth, on the other hand, is a prototype #2 WR. His is fast, shifty and catches the ball as well on the outside as he does in traffic. He never has reached the 1,000 yard mark, but in Cleveland, they won’t need him to.

Edge: Donte Stallworth

WR Dennis Northcutt vs. WR Joe Jurevicious

I like to call Northcutt, “Mr. Glass”. Northcutt will just as soon catch a ball that will get him hit as you or I may jump in front of speeding 18-wheeler. Joe on the other hand is arguably the best possession receiver in the game. Joe’s big body and sure hands make him a great slot receiver. Northcutt should have played baseball.

Edge: Joe Jureviciuos

WR Frisman Jackson vs. WR Joshua Cribbs

The only time Jackson showed any sort of promise was against the 3rd or 4th stringers in various playoff games. Josh Cribbs, however, is no worse than the 2nd best kick returner in the game. Cribbs is electrifying. Comparing Cribbs to Northcutt…Northcutt tried to make a hundred cuts and generally only netted a 15-25 yard starting point. Cribbs generally gets the team to their own 40…that is if he doesn’t take it to the house. Cribbs is not shifty, he finds his crease and goes, regardless of whether or not he is going to get hit.

Edge: Joshua Cribbs

OT Ross Verba vs. OT Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas has done more in his rookie year than Verba has in his entire career and counting. Verba is famous for one thing, demanding best OT in the league money and being told to hit the bricks. Thomas came in and worked hard. And became a top 10 LT in the league by season’s end.

Edge: Joe Thomas

OG Melvin Fowler vs. OG Eric Steinbach

Wow, what a difference a few years makes. Fowler was drafted as a center and moved to guard. From day one he was a below average O-Lineman. Steinbach, however, is a fringe Pro Bowl caliber guard. He may not be Alan Faneca or Steve Huchinson, but he is worth every penny.

Edge: Eric Steinbach

C Jeff Faine vs. C Hank Fraley

Faine is NOW a good center. Ask Tampa Bay, who made Faine the highest paid center in the league. Hank Fraley should win Cleveland’s Lunch Pail Award. Fraley is not the biggest guy, but he comes to play every day. This one is closer than you might think.

Edge: Jeff Faine

OG Kelvin Garmon vs. OG Ryan Tucker

I’m not even going there. Ryan Tucker is a converted RT who has played very well at RG. He started his career as a guard, which may have something to do with why he has excelled there. Kelvin Garmon is a joke, period.

Edge: Ryan Tucker

OT Enoch DeMar vs. OT Kevin Shaffer

It took a while for Shaffer to deal with his plight. Shaffer was traded from Atlanta. Where he played LT for Mike Vick. Let that settle in for a moment…which arm does Vick (when he’s not in prison) throw with? His left. Which means Shaffer is really a RT with a right handed QB. Enoch DeMar, again, is a joke.

Edge: Kevin Shaffer

OL Joaquin Gonzalez vs. OL Lenny Friedman

Gonzalez didn’t last. Friedman is a plug guy. As a backup, Lenny can play at least 3 and maybe even 4 of the OL position.

Edge: Lenny Friedman

The rest of the Offensive Lineman go to the 2008 Browns barely. In all fairness, I’m going to skip it. Barring injury they wouldn’t matter for either team.

DE Courtney Brown vs. DE Corey Williams

Courtney Brown should have walked to the podium on draft day in a hospital gown and booties, since he would spend most of his career on IR. Corey Williams is a guy who was drafted for D-Line depth most likely at DT. He has proven his worth in a very deep D-Line team. In the 3-4 he will be a very effective DE. Unlike Brown, Williams will play and accumulate stats. Easy decision, though had Courtney Brown been able to play, he would have been a beast.

Edge: Corey Williams

DE Kenard Lang vs. DE Robaire Smith

This is a system question. When the Browns ran a 4-3, Lang was probably as serviceable as Robaire in a 3-4. Problem was that Kenard was forced to move to OLB in the 3-4 scheme. In a 4-3 Kenard Lang is undersized at DE. In a 3-4 which was the eventual reality he is terrible. Robaire could and has excelled in both systems.

Edge: Robaire Smith

DE Ebenezer Ekuban vs. DE Simon Fraser

Ebenezer is not very good. Let me reset. Ekuban is one of those DE’s who should be a career backup merely because he is big and not a wimp. There is no specific skill to speak of. Simon Fraser would probably be better suited in a 4-3, but I like his heart. He knows he’s not the top guy at his position, and he doesn’t care.

Edge: Simon Fraser

DT Gerard Warren vs. NT Shaun Rogers

Big Money Warren my ass. That’s all Gerard does effectively is cash checks. Warren was supposed to be the next Warren Sapp. No chance. Here’s the rub…Some believe that Shaun Rogers has motivation issues. If both of these had no motivation or consistency issues, then Rogers would be the most effective interior lineman in the league and Warren would be good enough to start on a 4-3 team.

Edge: Shaun Rogers

DT Orpheus Roye vs. NT/DE Shaun Smith

I like Roye, especially back in 2004. As a fan I can appreciate what he did year in year out. Shaun Smith, in the beginning, felt like a throw in for depth. He has shown production, so much so that we could see him starting at NT had we not pursued Rogers.

It comes down to consistent effort from Roye vs. better than expected production from Smith.

Edge: Shaun Smith

DT Alvin McKinley vs. DT Louis Leonard

McKinley is a lot like Roye with much less statistical production regardless of system. Leonard I believe has played two games at most. It comes down to a question of sample size. Alvin has it and Louis doesn’t.

Edge: Alvin McKinley

MLB Andra Davis vs. ILB Andra Davis

Not to confuse you again, but this is a landslide for Andra Davis the Middle Linebacker. In his first couple of years as a starter in the 4-3, Davis showed good ability and promise. As a an ILB, he is drastically lacking. There is too much movement and coverage required of an ILB compared to that of a MLB.

Edge: Andra Davis (2004)

OLB Ben Taylor vs. ILB D’Qwell Jackson

D’Qwell Jackson, although underachieving his hype, is still a better LB than Ben Taylor will ever be. Ben Taylor was the worst case of yards after first contact. I don’t think another LB in the game has been drug for more yards than Taylor.

Edge: D’Qwell Jackson

OLB Chaun Thompson vs. ILB Leon Williams

Although Thompson may have been the biggest reach in NFL history, he has evolved into a nice player. The difference in this one, is appropriate value. Leon Williams was drafted where he should have been. Not to mention Leon stepped in when called upon, and played very well. Williams has worked into his role nicely and much quicker than Thompson

Edge: Leon Williams

OLB Warrick Holdman vs. OLB Kamerion Wimbley

Bottom line, not one single player on the 2004 team has more ability than Kamerion Wimbley…period. Wimbley is the cornerstone of a 3-4 system that demands particular types of players. He is the first in the progression from then to now.

Edge: Kamerion Wimbley

OLB Kevin Bentley vs. OLB Willie McGinest

If this were 2004 vs. 2004 then it would be a landslide in McGinest. It is not. The fan in me wants to say Bentley because I loath what McGinest has become. However, as many old men has said during various sports arguments, McGinest has forgot more about football than Bentley will ever know. McGinest’s football mind takes this one over

Edge: Willie McGinest

OLB Barry Gardner vs. OLB Antwan Peek

Peek was an absolute stud for his value in Houston. Then Houston moved a 4-3 and put in on the line and he suffered. He is a very solid run stuffing 3-4 OLB. Barry Gardner has never really spiked to that level. Gardner is average at best.

Edge: Antwan Peek

S Earl Little vs. S Sean Jones

Earl Little was nice for a stretch. At times Little showed great promise, and some would say he was one of the stalwarts of the 2004 team. In a very childish manner, Little couldn’t hold Joneses jock strap in regards to rushing the passer and tackling. Little was much more of coverage safety and ultimately average at that.

Edge: Sean Jones

S Robert Griffith vs. S Brodney Pool

Brodney Pool is the 2008 version of Chaun Thompson if Thompson had not progressed the way the staff had wanted him too. Pool is another in a line of Oklahoma players this staff just loves. Brodney looked nice in the draft, but just hasn’t gotten it. Pool makes me pray for a first round FS for the future to set my mind at ease. Griffith although not the same player he was in Minnesota, was still just a better S than Pool at this stage of the game.

Edge: Robert Griffith

S Chris Crocker vs. S Nick Sorensen

Sorensen who was just signed to an extension, at least for now, is a stud Special Teamer. He has potential to become a rotation player at Safety (keep in mind, Crennel does not play FS or SS, he just plays 2 safeties at one time). Crocker was intriguing but never really progressed past intriguing. Based on upside alone, I take Sorensen.

Edge: Nick Sorensen

CB Anthony Henry vs. CB Eric Wright

Considering Henry’s rookie season, one would be inclined to give him the nod. However, compared to Eric Wright’s rookie season, Wright showed more potential to be a shut down corner. Anthony Henry will never be more than a #2 CB. Wright has the ability to be the #1 on most teams. Call it upside if you want.

Edge: Eric Wright

CB Daylon McCutcheon vs. CB Brandon McDonald

McDonald as the incumbent #2 may be a stretch. McCutcheon has proven, regardless of his diminutive stature, that he can be a #2. McDonald seems to be a homerun hitter of a CB. You will remember his big plays, but do you remember when he got beat? Granted, this may seem like an upside pick, but I think it is more related to the respective talents. McDonald in much less time played showed the ability to make big plays.

Edge: Brandon McDonald

CB Lewis Sanders vs. CB Kenny Wright

Here’s were it gets a little hairy. Lewis Sanders was an unproven commodity. Kenny Wright has been in the league for a minute, specifically as a nickel back. Based on talent, I believe it is not even close. Lewis Sanders was available in the 2008 FA period. I desperately hoped the Browns could bring him back.

Edge: Lewis Sanders

CB Leigh Bodden vs. CB Daven Holly

Savage and Crennel really like Holly in his current role, possibly to expand said role with the loss of Bodden. The difference is Holly is depth, while Bodden was the #1 CB on the team as of a month ago. This is a no contest when compared to now. However, we are talking Bodden of 2004. When he almost never played. If we give Eric Wright the edge for upside, we absolutely have to give Bodden the Edge.

Edge: Leigh Bodden

K Phil Dawson vs. K Phil Dawson

What can you say? Dawson is the most consistent and steady Cleveland Brown since their reemergence in 1999. The question is, which Phil Dawson do you prefer. I take the battle tested, pull a miracle out of your pooper Phil Dawson. Remember the Ravens game that was sent to overtime care of the crossbar support in 2007? Enough said.

Edge: Phil Dawson (2008)

P Derrick Frost vs. P Dave Zastadil

This one is as no brainer as starting RB or starting WR earlier discussed. On one hand, in 2004 you have a mistake prone numb nuts in Derrick Frost. On the other you have the former Pro Bowl Punter in Dave Zastadil. I don’t know that Zastadil has ever had an 11 yard punt, I know that Derrick Frost has.

Edge: Dave Zastadil

End Result, or Final Score?

2004 Cleveland Browns - 7

2008 Cleveland Browns - 31

Final Thoughts? Anyone who believes that Phil Savage has not vastly improved this team since taking the job should seriously reconsider that line of thinking. Even if you don’t agree with all of the previous assessments, chances are no one can close the gap that is the margin of victory for the 2008 team. It really is not even close. As I type this, Phil Savage is entertaining a contract extension. We, as fans, should be so lucky. In a four-year period, Phil Savage may have done the best job in that amount of time in NFL history. I have no analysis to back that up but I cannot imagine any other GM who has molded a team to what I believe is a 442% improvement on the 2004 team.

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