The Cleveland Browns are notorious for screwing up NFL Drafts. I recently touched upon that very subject in a previous article on The Richest. From the likes of Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren to Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson, the Browns have missed and missed badly in selecting players since returning to the NFL in 1999.
That said, the team has also located real gems in drafts, players who have appeared in Pro Bowls but haven’t won anything of merit while wearing Cleveland brown and orange. I would be lying if I said that it didn’t take some work to find ten players worthy of a “best Browns draft picks” post. It took some time, but I eventually completed the task.
10. Jordan Cameron – TE – 102nd overall in 2011
Cameron could prove to be an absolute steal. He emerged out of nowhere to be one of the best tight ends in the league in 2013, going for 80 catches, 917 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Assuming that the Browns do land a franchise quarterback between now and September 2014, Cameron’s numbers should only improve over the next several seasons.
One shouldn’t, however, be quick to overrate Cameron. He has thus far produced in only one season. For now, tenth is the landing spot for the USC product in this list.
9. Buster Skrine – CB – 137th overall in 2011
Hear, or rather read, me out on this one before you dismiss it. Skrine had a rough rookie campaign, but he has improved over the past two seasons. He started in six games in 2012, during which he had 11 passes-defended. Last year, Skrine started in 15 games, he had 18 passes-defended, and he also registered a sack.
Nobody can say for sure if Skrine will ever develop into anything more than a decent player who features for a 4-12 side. Still, as far as fifth round picks go, the Browns and every other team in the NFL have certainly done worse.
8. Lawrence Vickers – FB – 180th overall in 2006
The blocking fullback was, when with the Browns, a fan favorite. He became a starter in 2007, and Vickers, as a blocker, had a hand in Jamal Lewis rushing for over 1,300 yards. Vickers spent only five seasons in Cleveland before playing for the Houston Texans and then the Dallas Cowboys.
Vickers left such a hole in the roster that those who cheer for the club wish for the team to sign a similar fullback every offseason. It hasn’t happened, and, maybe coincidentally, the Browns don’t have much of a rushing attack to speak of at the moment.
7. T.J. Ward – S – 38th overall in 2010
Injuries slowed Ward down after he was a Rookie of the Year candidate. He played in only 22 total regular season games from 2011 through the end of the 2012 campaign. During that time, Ward had 77 tackles and one interception. He did, however, force three fumbles in 2012.
His 2013 season, a contract year, was a breakout one for Ward. He had more total tackles (112) than he did in any other season, and he also had two interceptions. One of those picks was taken to the house. Inexplicably, Cleveland reportedly didn’t even offer Ward a chance to stay with the team. He’ll be wearing a Denver Broncos jersey next season.
6. Ahtyba Rubin – DT – 190th overall in 2008
Rubin has never yet been to a Pro Bowl. His best season was in 2011, when he had five sacks and 55 tackles. He has only started all 16 games of a regular season twice in his career.
Nevertheless, Rubin has to make this list due to his becoming a lineup mainstay, one who has 11 sacks in the past four years. When you go back and look at how the Browns have wasted first round draft picks, Rubin is one of the top value selections Cleveland has made since 1999.
5. Dennis Northcutt – WR – 32nd overall in 2000
It’s possible that I’m overrating Northcutt here. He was one of only a handful of exciting offensive weapons during the early days of the so-called New Browns. A lightning-in-a-bottle player, Northcutt could, when at his best, score from anywhere on the field. He was a solid No. 2 wide receiver, and also a good kick returner.
Northcutt will never be enshrined in Canton. He’ll one day be forgotten by the fan base. He was also a good player on multiple bad teams, not to mention one of the most exciting play-makers the Browns have had over the past decade and a half.
4. Alex Mack – C – 21st overall in 2009
Mack was, upon being drafted, a hoped-to-be cornerstone of Cleveland’s offensive line. He hasn’t failed to deliver. He has started in every regular season game played by the Browns since 2009. He has also been named to two Pro Bowl squads.
Mack was well worth the pick.
His status with the Browns is not yet known. It’s possible that he could move on to a new club, but only if Cleveland doesn’t match any offers made for him. Considering how much salary cap space the Browns currently possess, the team has no business losing a Pro Bowl center.
3. Joe Haden – CB – 7th overall in 2010
This is more of an estimation than it is a rating. Haden is, in theory, about to enter what should be the prime of his career. He could either rise or fall on this list over the next several years.
Haden had a roller coaster 2013. He was beaten on a few big plays, but he was also, in the first half of the campaign, one of the best cover men in the game. Should he continue to improve, Haden could evolve into a true shutdown cornerback.
He isn’t quite there yet, though.
2. D’Qwell Jackson – LB – 34th overall in 2006
Injuries slowed Jackson down in the first half of his career, and I’m not sure that we will ever know just how good he could have been had he been able to remain healthy. Jackson was Cleveland’s most consistent tackler when at 100 percent, and I’d go so far to say that he is, as of March 2014, the best defensive player the team has had since 1999.
Jackson and the Browns parted ways earlier this offseason. He will be looking to sign one final big contract of his career. Here’s hoping it’s with a winning franchise.
Jackson has earned it.
1. Joe Thomas – T – 3rd overall in 2007
Historians will one day debate whether or not the Browns should have used the third overall pick of any draft to grab a tackle. While I can admit that I have gone back and forth on the issue myself, one thing that can’t be debated is that Thomas has been one of the best tackles in the game since his first season in the league.
Thomas has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his professional seasons. He is a four-time All-Pro. Some believe that he will be a Hall of Famer when all is said and done. Thomas, truth be told, could be one of the best draft picks in Cleveland sports history.