Now that the Super Bowl is over, the NFL world is caught up in draft hype. Our Cleveland Browns are at the forefront of the discussion; they hold two first-round picks, including the #4 overall. Most everyone thinks they will use that first pick on a quarterback. Many believe that pick will be Johnny Manziel. In Manziel, the Browns would have a high-risk, high-reward option. He could be a superstar from day-one in the NFL, and lead the team that picks him to the playoffs. On the other hand, he could be an ineffective bust who only stays in the NFL for a couple of years.
The Browns are no stranger to a first-round draft pick being a bust. And Cleveland’s all-time biggest bust at the quarterback position (if not ever) is Tim Couch. Couch was drafted with the first overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft, and was highly anticipated as a franchise quarterback. He had the size and the college repertoire of a potential star QB, setting SEC passing records that stood for years. After he was drafted, he almost immediately was put into the starting quarterback role.
And there, he fell completely flat. He played five years for the Browns, only making 62 starts due to multiple injuries. In his Browns career, he averaged 2,200 yards and a 59.8% completion percentage per season. Even worse is his touchdown/interception ratio: in those 5 years, he threw 64 TD’s and 67 INT’s. Finally, his career passer rating was 75.1. Couch was squarely in the mediocre-to-bad range until (at the behest of angry fans), the Browns released Couch after the 2003 season.
Adding insult to injury, Couch attempted to make several comebacks in the NFL, being signed briefly by both the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars as quarterback depth. Neither team wanted him beyond the preseason. In between those stints, he unsuccessfully auditioned for several other teams as well. The bottom of his plummet came when he tested positive for both anabolic steroids and human growth hormone in 2007. That’s right, he was cheating and still couldn’t be a backup QB in the NFL. A #1 overall draft pick.
I write this as a cautionary tale – even a high draft pick quarterback is a risk. They don’t always turn out to be players of Cam Newton or Andrew Luck stature. In fact, there’s no guarantee that they will even be decent like Alex Smith or RG3. The fascinating thing is that there is really no way to ensure, with absolute certainty, that a college quarterback will pan out in the NFL. There are ways to improve the crapshoot that is evaluating talent (the combine isn’t for nothing), but as long as there is a draft, there will be busts like Tim Couch. It’s simply a matter of doing the best possible evaluation while getting a little bit of luck.
I’m not saying that Manziel will be a bust – I think he’s the second best quarterback in this upcoming draft. But we can never be certain, and the people making the drafting decisions in Cleveland had better do their research on this one. The last thing the Browns need is another Tim Couch.