Death. Taxes. The Cleveland Browns being a losing football team. You’ve been able to set your watch to all three occurring just about every year since the Browns returned from the abyss in 1999. Part of the reason for the Browns being a NFL punchline over the past 15 years is that the team has missed on first-round draft picks again and again and again.
That was not always the case.
The Browns, despite the fact that the team has never made a trip to a Super Bowl, were a proud franchise during their best days. Top to-be rookies such as Bernie Kosar used to want to play for the Cleveland faithful. Hall-of-Fame players have been found by the Browns in the first rounds of drafts, and included in that list is the man who may be the greatest professional football player of all time.
Here are the top 10 first-round picks in Cleveland Browns history.
10. Alex Mack — C — 21st Overall in 2009
It’s still very early in Mack’s pro career, and the possibility exists that he could find himself off of this list by the time he either leaves the organization or calls time on his playing days. Mack is, right now today, the highest-paid center in the NFL, and he is one of the best players at the position in all of the league.
The biggest knock on Mack is that he has been part of some terrible football teams. Cleveland has never won more than five games in a campaign during Mack’s career.
9. Joe Haden — CB — 7th Overall in 2010
Haden’s NFL sample size is, heading into the 2014 season, even smaller than that which belongs to Mack. That said, Haden has evolved into one of the best cover corners in the NFL, and he is also a true locker room leader for the Browns, a franchise that has only known losing since Haden entered the league.
Haden, who was named to the Pro Bowl last season, is just now entering his prime. There is no reason to believe that he will not only get better over the next few years. Haden has the makings of a shutdown cornerback, the type of player who can be the cornerstone of a championship secondary.
8. Eric Metcalf — KR/PR/RB/WR — 13th Overall in 1989
Metcalf, a fan-favorite throughout his six seasons in Cleveland, was a dynamic play-maker who played just about wherever he was asked to do so. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry as a member of the Browns. Metcalf led the NFL in all-purpose yards (1,932) in 1993. He was, in total, a two-time first-team All-Pro.
Metcalf remains one of the greatest returners in the history of the NFL. He is second all-time in punt returns and career punts returned for touchdowns. Metcalf is fourth in total career punt return yards. A lightning-in-a-bottle player when in his prime, Metcalf had the ability to take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field.
7. Hanford Dixon — CB — 22nd Overall in 1981
Dixon is commonly known as being the player credited with naming a section of the old Cleveland Browns Stadium the “Dawg Pound,” and for his nickname being the “Top Dawg.” What gets lost among analysts and non-Cleveland fans is that Dixon was, along with Frank Minnifield, part of one of the top NFL cornerback tandems in the history of the league.
Dixon had at least two interceptions every season from 1982 through 1988. It’s been reported that Dixon had only seven passes thrown his way in 1987. He had three interceptions that season. Dixon is a member of the Pro Football Reference 2nd Team All-1980s Team, and he was a three-time Pro-Bowler.
6. Mike Pruitt — RB — 7th Overall in 1976
Pruitt never led the NFL in rushing yards, but he was more than just a solid running back in nine seasons with the franchise that drafted him. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season on four occasions. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his Cleveland career. Pruitt found the end zone a total of 52 times in regular season play as a member of the Browns.
Pruitt does not have a Hall of Fame resume, nor does he pass any supposed “eye test” for that honor. He is, however, possibly the third-best running back in the history of the Browns. That’s not too shabby for any pick in any draft.
5. Clay Matthews, Jr. — LB — 12th Overall in 1978
The Matthews family has a long history of being responsible for NFL talent. Clay Matthews, Sr. and Bruce Matthews, the brother of Clay Jr., were both offensive linemen. Clay Matthews III of the Green Bay Packers is a star and also one of the faces of the NFL. Casey Matthews, son of Clay Jr. is a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Jake Matthews, son of Bruce, will soon be a starting offensive tackle in the league.
Clay Jr. appeared in 278 regular season games over 19 years. He is third all-time in tackles (1,561), and tenth all-time in career starts. Matthews was a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, and he, regardless of what is said otherwise by any critics, deserves to be enshrined in Canton.
4. Joe Thomas — OT — 3rd Overall in 2007
Thomas is one of the more under-appreciated players in the league. Arguably the best left tackle of his era, Thomas has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons in the NFL. He is a four-time All-Pro, and he last earned that honor for his play in 2013.
Thomas is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He will be first player from the so-called “New Browns” to make the Hall of Fame. Thomas isn’t a flashy offensive weapon, and he hasn’t once participated in a playoff game.
His play on the field while on losing teams is what lands him so high on this list.
3. Paul Warfield — WR — 11th Overall in 1964
Warfield is an interesting case to examine for this particular piece. He gave the club six good seasons at the start of his career, during which he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns once. Warfield was thrice named to the Pro Bowl from 1964 through 1969, and he was part of the Browns team that won the NFL championship in ’64.
He was then part of a blockbuster trade that saw him move to the Miami Dolphins, where he twice won the Super Bowl.
Warfield had great success in four seasons with the Dolphins. He was a first-team All-Pro in 1971 and 1973, and Warfield made the Pro Bowl every year from 1970 through 1974. An all-time great for two franchises, Warfield was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.
2. Ozzie Newsome — TE — 23rd Overall in 1978
Long before Newsome was known for being an NFL Draft guru and for having one of the best minds in the game, he helped revolutionize the tight end position. Newsome spent 13 seasons in the league, all with the Browns, and he went to the Pro Bowl in 1981, 1984 and 1985. A mainstay in the Cleveland lineup, Newsome played in 198 consecutive games while with the club, and he retired with more receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns than any NFL tight end before him.
Newsome was supposed to be part of a front office that would bring a Super Bowl championship to Cleveland. Owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore in the mid-90s, though, and Newsome remained with that team before ultimately becoming the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens. While Newsome has guided the Ravens to postseasons and a Super Bowl championship, the Browns haven’t won a playoff game since returning to the league.
1. Jim Brown — RB — 6th Overall in 1957
Books and essays have been written about all that Jim Brown achieved during his nine-season NFL career He won multiple MVP Awards. Brown was named to the Pro Bowl every year in which he played. He led the NFL in rushing on six occasions.
His Canton shrine was likely being sculpted before he officially announced his retirement.
Brown is a polarizing figure outside of Cleveland for numerous comments he has made through the years. One thing that isn’t in question is his greatness as a running back and an athlete.