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How to Fail at Building Through the Draft: The Cleveland Browns Story

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Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield

Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have not had much success on the football field, and so it might be unfair to pick on them as an example of how not to do things, but their futility in the first round of the NFL Draft truly shows how not to build a winner at the NFL level.

The Browns traded former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday. They’re still paying Mayfield over $10 million to play for Carolina in 2022, and in return, they got a conditional 2024 fifth-round draft pick.

In his four seasons as the Browns starting quarterback, Mayfield never was an All-Pro, never made the Pro Bowl and never finished higher than 14th in passing yards. That’s not exactly the production that teams are looking for out of the No. 1 overall pick.

That’s been the theme for Cleveland. The Browns have drafted five quarterbacks in the first round since 1999. None has made a Pro Bowl. The rest of The Browns’ high draft picks haven’t fared much better.

Since 2010, Cleveland has drafted in the top 10 eight times. Joe Haden played seven seasons with the Browns before being inexplicably cut and finishing his prime seasons in Pittsburgh. Trent Richardson was traded two games into his second season. Barkevious Mingo was a starter in one of his three seasons in Cleveland before moving on. Justin Gilbert lasted two seasons before being traded.

Things have been trending upward lately. Myles Garrett, the first overall pick in 2017, is a star and Denzel Ward (No. 4, 2018) and Jedrick Wells (N0. 10, 2020) at least seem to be solid starters.

We won’t get to see if that trend continues, because Cleveland traded its next three first-round picks to Houston for Deshaun Watson, who very well could be suspended for the 2022 season.

Trading them as opposed to using them seems like a better plan for the Browns, given their track record, but even in that instance, it doesn’t seem like they were draft picks well spent.

Things are different in Cleveland than they have been for much of the new Browns’ tenure. Despite their failures at the top of the draft, Cleveland has a roster full of talent that can compete with anyone in the AFC North on any given Sunday.

But if things continue to not work out the way Browns fans are looking for, the draft failures continue to be an easy reason to point to. It should also give Steelers fans reason to appreciate the job that Kevin Colbert did in his time as Pittsburgh’s general manager. He built two Super Bowl winners with just one pick inside the top 10 of the draft.

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