NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Exception Rule
by Dennis Ranahan

It doesn’t have to be football season for the Cleveland Browns to mess up; they did it in April again this year by casting their first pick in the draft to Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. A guy with a great skill set and an attitude akin to that of any bull rumbling through a china shop.

The Browns also had the fourth pick in the draft, and missed taking the best player on the board while selecting Denzel Ward, a talented cornerback out of Ohio State. But, if the Browns scouting operation would have expanded beyond state lines, they could have taken the player the Broncos celebrated was still on the board after Cleveland picked.

The Broncos had a trade that would have surrendered the fifth pick in the draft but the deal was contingent on the Broncos being able to nullify the transaction if Bradley Chubb was there for the picking.

He was.

So, I didn’t spend thousands of dollars scouting players throughout the country, but from my San Francisco Bay Area office, I can tell you the Browns were oh for two.

There were a lot of good quarterbacks in this year’s draft, and any of the young men that earn roster spots in the the NFL has a chance to succeed. Height is only one measure of the potential in a young man to play quarterback in the National Football League. But, when the opportunity to pick men with more stature and stronger arms is instead opted for the shortest of the lot, the 6’ 1” Mayfield, then you are breaking a hard and fast rule.

Don’t build a team with exceptions.

Tom Brady was a sixth round choice while Drew Brees has parlayed his 6’ stature into a Hall of Fame career that includes a Super Bowl win.

But, if you want to build a winner, targeting a “short” quarterback and late draft choice to run your offense is probably not a reliable formula for success.

Bill Parcells, the Hall of Fame coach that first gained notoriety while leading the New York Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins and later coached the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, might have said it best. Between coaching gigs, Parcells was serving on the NFL draft analyst panel for ESPN.

Mel Kiper Jr., who popularized the handicapping of college talent, was seated two positions to the right of Parcells and Dan Patrick sat between the pair. Kiper had just finished a long dissertation on why the Chicago Bears should take an undersized but explosive linebacker with their pick that was currently on the clock.

“Would you take him?” Dan Patrick asked Parcells and the coach answered without hesitation.

“No.”

“Why not?” Patrick pursued.

“Because,” Parcells explained, “If you start filling positions on your team with exceptions, you end up with a team of exceptions … that can’t win.”

The Browns are always looking away from what works to find lightning in a bottle. Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy, but that award is presented to the best college player, and the skill set for the NFL game is often different than what is required to win that accolade against college competition.

The New York Jets got the quarterback that checks all the boxes with the third pick in the draft, San Darnold out of Southern Cal. Once again, I didn’t have the advantage of a scouting department with details on all the prospects but I’ve seen Darnold play, watched his mental makeup in the heat of battle, and how he communicates with his teammates and for my money this is the kid bound for greatness.

And the Browns let him get away. Cleveland continues to languished in the cellar with only one win over the past two seasons. During these same two losing seasons, the Browns failed to draft Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson while saddled with a horrible quarterback situation.

The Browns had the first and fourth picks this year, and the Jets with the third and Broncos with the fifth got better players. You don't have to take my word for it, just give it a few years and see then if you would rather have had Darnold and Chubb over Mayfield and Ward.

While the Browns will be back next year collecting on an early pick, the Jets and Broncos have taken solid strides to best assure playoff dates in the future.