July 29, 2014

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Browns need franchise QB, but Tannehill is no No. 4 pick

Colt McCoy will never be a big-time NFL quarterback. The Browns will never be a consistent playoff contender until they find a legitimate franchise quarterback. The best place to find that guy is in the top five of the draft.

Tannehill

This brings us to Ryan Tannehill and the great quarterback debate of 2012. In Browns Town, the debate never stops so we must keep track by year.

Tannehill, the Texas A&M product, was given another endorsement Friday as a potential franchise quarterback and the best pick for the Browns at No. 4 in the draft next month.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay said on a conference call the Browns should take the risk on Tannehill, bypassing Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who would provide more immediate impacts.

“I would have a very difficult time passing on him at that No. 4 pick,” McShay said. “I just think that he has everything that you look for in a future franchise quarterback if you develop him properly and if you’re willing to be patient.”

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said much the same Thursday after Tannehill impressed during his pro day workout in College Station, Texas.

Former Browns general manager Phil Savage called this part of the NFL calendar “the silly season.” No games will be played for months, the conversation never stops and players mythically rise and fall on teams’ draft boards without ever putting on pads.

That appears to be what’s happening with Tannehill. Once viewed as a second-round pick or late first-rounder, the consensus among experts is he won’t make it out of the top 10. If a team doesn’t trade up for him, Miami would likely pounce at No. 8.

What isn’t silly is the notion that the Browns must find the long-term solution at quarterback.

McCoy has received a series of votes of confidence from president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur, but they sound more like a precaution in case the Browns decide not to draft Tannehill or Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden and McCoy is left as the last resort.

Even if the Browns pull the trigger during the draft, they still might need McCoy to open the season as the starter. So what sense would it make to dismiss him in March?

There is also merit to the thought that McCoy will be better in his second year in the West Coast Offense and could make a serious jump if surrounded by better talent at receiver, running back and the offensive line. This became the company line once the Browns couldn’t pull off the trade for the No. 2 pick and the right to take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Even if McCoy improves his 58 percent completion rate and 74.5 rating in his third season, I don’t have confidence he’ll ever develop into one of the NFL’s elite. He has all the intangibles analysts rave about in the offseason, but he’s not tall enough and doesn’t throw it well enough once the games start.

So the Browns are in a familiar position. For the umpteenth time since Bill Belichick sent Bernie Kosar and his “diminishing skills” packing, the Browns are looking for the answer at sports’ most important position.

The draft has proved to be the top option, even if it produces more duds than studs. With Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Griffin out of the equation, the Browns must choose from Tannehill and Weeden. Other quarterbacks have potential and perhaps 10 will be drafted, but they carry more question marks.

A premium has always been placed on quarterbacks, but it continues to grow with every passing season. And I mean passing. The NFL was dominated last season by top-notch quarterbacks setting record after record.

The necessity of having a special quarterback pushed Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert into the top 12 of the 2011 draft. The same thinking, and pressure, makes Tannehill a real possibility at No. 4 — or No. 3 if Miami doesn’t want to risk it — and Weeden, who will turn 29 years old during the season, a candidate for the Browns at No. 22.

Tannehill at four just seems too high. He made only 19 starts at quarterback for the Aggies after playing two years at receiver. He’s a bit of a project, and I don’t like the idea of a project at No. 4.

He’s also only, at best, the third-best quarterback in the draft, and doesn’t appear to be on the same level as Luck and Griffin. But the draft is far from an exact science. Dan Marino was the sixth quarterback taken in 1983, trailing such luminaries as Tony Eason, Todd Blackledge and Ken O’Brien.

McShay thinks the gap between Griffin and Tannehill isn’t that large.

“There’s a difference I think between (Luck) and Robert Griffin III. But I don’t think the difference between Robert Griffin III and Tannehill is all that big to be quite honest with you,” McShay said. “I think he belongs in the top 10 and I would have no problem pulling the trigger on this guy.

“I just think that now you’re looking at an organization that has its future franchise quarterback, has a guy that has all the physical tools, the size, the arm strength, the accuracy, which continues to improve, has the right mentality, can handle pressure and has just intangibles through the roof. I think it’s gonna be a huge internal struggle trying to figure out whether to go with Tannehill.”

The Browns couldn’t be faulted for being bold and it’s OK to reach for a quarterback. Just not that far. Just not for that guy.
If he winds up being a bust, the franchise could be set back years. And I’m not sure Cleveland’s psyche can handle that.
So I’d pass on Tannehill, hope for Weeden and pray that McCoy transforms himself into a reliable starter.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.