I like Sashi Brown. I like Hue Jackson. I like Paul DePodesta. I don’t like the decision they made.
The ironic thing is I also like DeShone Kizer, so perhaps this will look as foolish in retrospect as those glowing preseason pieces on Ryan Leaf in ’98. But pushing Kizer, a rookie quarterback, out into the chaos of the NFL season for the opener is premature, and potentially permanently damaging.
Let’s start here: Kizer is the most talented signal-caller on the roster and has played relatively well in the preseason. It’s hard to truly judge exhibition decisions, throws, and drives for obvious reasons. Most starters don’t play much. Most players play at half speed. The fans and media treat it like a light jog. Success is relative under these conditions.
Kizer’s proven his fantastic arm strength though, made mostly solid reads, and has not been the entitled, immature, coddled kid many accused him of at Notre Dame. He’s worked hard, taken tough coaching well, and remained humble at every juncture with the Browns.
So maybe he’s ready, and like Peyton Manning or Troy Aikman, under center at the starting line for a bad team in his rookie season will help him develop into a Hall of Famer. But more likely it will damage him, teach him terrible habits, and force him into taking an unnecessary pounding every week.
The Browns might be the worst team in the league (although the Jets, Niners and Bears are all aggressive contenders for that title). Last year, Cleveland was one of only ten teams ever to finish 1-15. It took the Browns until Week 16 to get that lone victory, the latest into the season it took any of the previous nine squads to win a game. Cleveland has built through the draft the last two years, and has some high-end talent on the roster. But it’s a young roster, it’s early in the franchise’s development, and the Browns are not ready to protect Kizer’s inexperience.
We’re not talking literal protection here. The offensive line should be decent. They have future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas protecting his blindside. We’re talking about a supporting cast picking up the slack of a young quarterback and not forcing him to carry too much of the load.
Dak Prescott thrived last season as a rookie primarily because he played behind the most dominant offensive line in recent memory, had a superstar running back with a historic rookie season, and was complimented with veterans Dez Bryant and Jason Witten as security blankets in the pass game.
Cleveland’s rookie quarterbacks of the past like Tim Couch and Brandon Weeden were permanently scarred because of starting too early as rookies. Former Browns first-round pick Brady Quinn has told me how ever-changing personnel, schemes, and coaches sunk his career before he had a chance. And David Carr was pummeled so brutally in Houston as the top pick overall for an expansion team he never recovered.
The key for this current Browns regime is long-term planning and patience. Tossing a rookie quarterback out there for a bad team goes against this. Brown and DePodesta have shown they are looking to build in a deliberate way, stressing team development and leadership qualities in their players. Jackson is a no-nonsense guy who coaches with passion and desperately wants to prove his worth. The leadership feels like the right pieces in place.
But in the preseason everyone’s optimism is unchained from reality, and unfortunately the Browns will be a 6-10 team at best. Is it worth throwing Kizer to the wolves this early if you have a human pinata in Brock Osweiler who can take the punishment as Kizer watches and learns?
Yes, you may get 16 games under center for Kizer and perhaps that helps develop your next franchise quarterback. Perhaps it goes kaboom, yet positions you for Sam Darnold at the top of the ’18 draft. Perhaps you can then try to trade Kizer in the offseason as a young quarterback commodity as you draft your next guy. But the “Cleveland QB Nightmare” has been unrelenting over the last twenty years, and often it’s because of decisions exactly like this.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.