Chris Pokorny of our sister site, Dawgs by Nature, stopped by this week to give his thoughts on the Browns’ tough start to the season, Hue Jackson’s future, and the biggest elephant in the room by far - Deshaun Watson.
1. Alright, I have to just rip the Band-Aid off and ask this - what goes through a Browns fan's mind when they see Deshaun Watson have instant success in Houston? Do you believe the Browns should have picked him instead of essentially trading his rights to the Texans? Do you think he would have had this much success in Cleveland, or would he have ultimately struggled as much as DeShone Kizer has?
Other fans may disagree, but for me, rather than being disappointed, I see it more as a, "Lol, well, there goes another quarterback storyline we'll get to hear about." I don't have a problem with how the Browns handled their 2017 draft. Myles Garrett was a lock at No. 1 overall, and I think the quarterback they liked the most was Mitch Trubisky. The Bears pulled off that surprise at No. 2, so there was really no way Cleveland could've landed both Garrett and Trubisky. The player I was more upset about passing on was Malik Hooker at No. 12, not Deshaun Watson. If Cleveland was going to make a trade, they still got great value. Browns fans are sick of hearing that because quarterback has been an ugly spot for this team for two decades now, but I still believe in the path this team is on.
The Browns didn't enter this year's draft with their eyes on DeShone Kizer. When he fell to them in the second round, I believe it was more of a, "Well, at this point, it's worth a shot to see if we get lucky at quarterback without wasting too high of an asset." So to me, it should be no surprise when I say that Deshaun Watson would have had a much better start to the season for Cleveland than Kizer did. However, it'd still be a bit mediocre because Cleveland, with Corey Coleman sidelined, doesn't have any receivers who are even close to the caliber of talent that DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller are. I'd venture to say the Browns would at least have a win by now with Watson.
2. How about that Myles Garrett? Early returns from his rookie debut seem to be positive, but what did you see out of him on the field? Does he look like a future star?
Everything in camp and the preseason from Myles Garrett exceeded expectations, which isn't something I think you hear very often for a first overall pick. He dominated every practice session and gave the Browns the rarity of a "presence" on the defensive side of the field -- i.e., someone who announcers could actually circle pre-snap and who fans want to stare at to see what he'll do.
His debut last week came after missing four games to a high ankle sprain. As I'm sure Texans fans know, he had a sack on his first career snap and had a second sack later in the game. That productivity was in limited playing time. I will say that his ankle is still bothering him, and it made for some ineffective snaps later in the game. Garrett already knows he won't be 100% again until after the season is over, so it'll be a wait-and-see approach to determine whether teams will be able to halt his production due to season-long soreness in that ankle.
3. How about Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku? What are your thoughts on their rookie seasons so far?
Jabrill Peppers has been a bit of a disappointment, but it's deeper storyline than that. When he was drafted, and then during training camp, we were sold on the fact that he'd play linebacker, safety, and cornerback, much like Jamal Adams is currently doing with the Jets. In Week 1, the Browns lined him up 30 yards deep as a single-high safety. That continued in Week 2. And in Week 3. And so on. Before long, we realized that Gregg Williams' defense operates that way, and he's chosen Peppers to be that deep guy. Many Browns fans believe it takes his playmaking ability away from his arsenal. Additionally, there have been several running plays or catch-after-the-runs that have reached the third level, where Peppers is the "last line of defense," and he's taken awful angles to allow a potential 20-yard gain to turn into a 60-yard touchdown.
Of the three first-round picks -- Myles Garrett, Peppers, and Njoku -- the team took it slowest with Njoku during training camp in terms of reps. During the regular season, I'd say he averages about 40% of the snaps per game. The results haven't been bad. He's caught 12 of the 15 passes he's been targeted on for 118 yards and 3 touchdowns. Week 5 was really the first time he was leveraged in a few downfield throws, and it came with Kevin Hogan under center (speaking of which, Hogan has thrown two of those touchdown passes to Njoku, both of which were athletic catches). I feel like Njoku is doing fine as a first-round pick, but with the team's incredible lack of depth at wide receiver, I wish that head coach Hue Jackson would make him more of a focal point offensively.
4. Is the Deshone Kizer era already over, or is Kevin Hogan just a passing fancy? Additionally, are Browns fans already clamoring for Sam Darnold in 2018?
Kevin Hogan has already seen a decent amount of reps this regular season in relief of Kizer, and the difference between the two is astronomically in favor of Hogan. The offense has actually moved the ball OK under both quarterbacks, but Kizer is never able to finish drives with points and he still takes way too long to make a decision. It seems like half of Hogan's drives end in points, and when he makes quick (and correct) decisions with the football, it really exasperates just how slow Kizer's decision-making is. There's room to grow, so we can't write Kizer off. He has some good traits, including arm strength, mobility, and not lacking confidence. This sitdown is necessary for him, because he needs to see from a distance how Hogan is able to successfully move the ball, get more familiar with terminology, etc.
Regarding the 2018 NFL Draft, quarterback is definitely the early line of thinking, even if Kizer or Hogan show a little glimmer of progress. It'll be the third year of this regime, and really the time when the pieces around the quarterback have been put in place to select "the" franchise guy.
5. Is Hue Jackson's job safe this season no matter what record the team finishes with? If not, what would it take to save his job?
That question is getting tougher and tougher to answer. If you had asked me right before the regular season, I would've said that his job is definitely safe until after the 2018 season. But a winless start through five games is painful, especially after a 1-15 season. On paper, Cleveland has a lot more to work with this year too -- the highest-paid offensive line in football, some talented defensive players, etc. And, parity exists so much in the NFL that even bad teams can be 2-3 at this point. Why are the Browns still winless with all of those factors? Is it possible that Hue Jackson is just a bad head coach?
Lots of fans have called for a separation of duties for Jackson, so that on gameday, he can actually "manage the game" while someone else acts as offensive coordinator. I'd like to see that too, because I don't feel he's able to engage players enough on gameday or think about strategy because he's so busy staring at his playsheet and trying to balance (up until this point) teaching a rookie quarterback on the fly. Overall, I'd still say that Jackson's job is relatively safe, but he really does need to stack up several wins before the end of the season.
A big thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions; you can find my answers to Chris’ questions about the Texans over at DBN here. You can also always find his and others’ excellent work on all things Brown over at Dawgs by Nature.