The final mailbag of 2017 will tackle four of your questions before the Browns hit the road to Pittsburgh for one last shot at a victory.
Caleb Brantley was a highly touted player, but teams were wary to draft him. I haven't seen much on him this year. Is he going to be the serious asset we had hoped he'd be, or a wasted pick? -- Bob K., Ravenna
You can certainly eliminate wasted pick from the discussion. Brantley, the former Florida product, was projected as high as a second-round pick before an off-field incident knocked him all the way down to the sixth round. He’s looked lot more like a second-rounder than a sixth, especially during the second half of the season. After overcoming a handful of injuries throughout training camp, Brantley has been a regular in the Browns’ rotation along the defensive line. He typically logs around 10-20 snaps per game and has made his impact felt on plenty of occasions. Perhaps his biggest play of the season came earlier this month against the Packers, when Brantley burst through the line and swallowed up quarterback Brett Hundley for a big loss on fourth down deep inside Browns territory. All told, Brantley has appeared in 11 games with one start and has accumulated 16 tackles.
I believe the Browns are in every game at the start. In the NFL every game comes down to a couple of plays to determine who wins. The talent level is high everywhere. The biggest problem we have, I believe, is that the quarterback is the leader, on-field coach, motivator, etc., of the team. You really need that to help players go do the things they need to to win a game. That is why most rookie QBs need time on the bench to take over. I hope that we keep DeShone Kizer, get the best available at the first pick and bring in a vet that can lead this team for the next year or two. Do you guys think that is too much for the most important position in football? -- James S., Hamilton
Not in the slightest. That sounds like a pretty good plan for the position, and it’s one even Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas believes could come into fruition. He made that assertion Thursday when he was asked a question about the game’s most important position. Thomas has done his homework on new Browns general manager John Dorsey, whose signature moves with the Chiefs involved decisions around the quarterback. In 2013, while holding the No. 1 pick, Dorsey opted to trade for veteran Alex Smith, who remains the starter today. And even with Smith under center, he made a bold move to trade up in the first round this past year to take Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. During his time in Green Bay, the Packers used a first-round pick on Aaron Rodgers even with Hall of Famer Brett Favre on the roster.
If Dorsey was willing to make those kind of moves to secure the quarterback position on teams that didn’t necessarily have a huge need for one, you can imagine he’ll explore and execute a number of options on a team that’s struggled to generate consistent performance from the position for decades.
“This is a quarterback-driven league,” Dorsey said. “We all know that, and we all know to succeed and go a little bit further and further and further that you need one of those guys. I think it is an evaluation period that is going to take a little bit of a while to put a plan together. The draft is four and a half months away and free agency is like three months away. We have ample time to make a plan here.”
Who were the Browns lost in free agency this year? Jordan Poyer was a free agent who left the Browns in 2017 and is now a key cog in the Bills DBs. Did the Browns receive any compensatory picks? What does it take to receive a "compensatory pick" when losing a free agent? -- Elmer L., Bangor, Maine
Poyer was one of three players the Browns opted to not re-sign when free agency opened in March. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, who caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown during an injury-plagued season with the Redskins, and defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who signed with the Cowboys and has since retired, were the others. Poyer, who suffered a lacerated kidney on his final play with the Browns, has had a career year with the Bills, racking up 93 tackles and four interceptions as an every-game starter. Offensive lineman Austin Pasztor was also not retained and signed months later with the Atlanta Falcons.
The NFL’s formula for the 32 compensatory picks it distributes has never been publicly revealed, but a good place to start is with the question “Did your team sign more free agents than it lost?” If the answer is yes, you’re probably not getting any compensatory picks. The Browns, of course, signed three free agents (JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler and Kenny Britt) on the first day of free agency. Over the past two drafts, the Browns received seven compensatory picks. These picks are slotted at the end of rounds starting with the third, and the order of them is determined by the kind of salary and overall performance the lost player has in the ensuing season.
You think the Browns could draft a top running back to help the Browns’ QB -- whoever it may be. Kind of like the Cowboys did with Ezekiel Elliott. Dak Prescott is a much better QB with a great RB. -- John C., Tazewell, Texas
Running back in the NFL has become even more of a young man’s position than it was in the past, and a number of players (Elliott, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette) have given their teams incredible value as first-round selections. So, it’s certainly not out of the question. Currently, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice, Stanford’s Bryce Love, USC’s Ronald Jones II and Alabama’s Damien Harris have all been floated as potential first-round selections. For what it’s worth, the Browns have used a first-round pick on a running back twice since 1999 (Trent Richardson and William Green).