ESPN

Browns' QB carousel

RG III will be the Browns' 25th starting QB since 1999. Can he break the cycle of disappointment? The numbers say he can.

The first 24? Mostly bad

It started out promising enough, when the Browns landed QB Tim Couch with the first pick of the 1999 draft. And for five seasons, he posted numbers that were solid if not spectacular -- his career average of .517 Approximate Value per game isn't far from the career marks of Nick Foles (.589), Sam Bradford (.571) and Matt Cassel (.500). Since then, a cavalcade of veterans (such as Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer and Jake Delhomme) and draft picks (Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel) have failed to retain the job long-term. Below are all 24 starters, ranked by total Approximate Value with Cleveland. In case you're wondering: Griffin's career AV of 33 would put him first on this list (by a hair) if he had played in Cleveland.

Approximate Value rankings

Sorted by total AV during tenure with Browns. Click to show details.
  • 32
    College: Kentucky
    Acquired:Drafted No. 1 overall
    AV per game with Browns:0.517
    Games as starter:59
    Wins as starter:22
    Winning percentage: .373
  • 15
    College: Oregon State
    Acquired: Claimed off waivers from Ravens
    AV per game with Browns: .385
    Games as starter: 34
    Wins as starter: 16
    Winning percentage: .471
  • 11
    College: Oklahoma State
    Acquired: Drafted No. 22 overall
    AV per game with Browns: .478
    Games as starter: 20
    Wins as starter: 5
    Winning percentage: .250
  • 10
    College: Texas
    Acquired: Drafted in third round
    AV per game with Browns: .417
    Games as starter: 21
    Wins as starter: 6
    Winning percentage: .286
  • 9
    College: Michigan State
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: .529
    Games as starter: 16
    Wins as starter: 10
    Winning percentage: .625
  • 8
    College: Middle Tennessee State
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: .421
    Games as starter: 12
    Wins as starter: 4
    Winning percentage: .333
  • 7
    College: Akron
    Acquired: Drafted in third round
    AV per game with Browns: .333
    Games as starter: 19
    Wins as starter: 6
    Winning percentage: .316
  • 6
    College: San Jose State
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: .545
    Games as starter: 10
    Wins as starter: 3
    Winning percentage: .300
  • 6
    College: Fresno State
    Acquired: Traded from Seattle for fourth-round pick
    AV per game with Browns: .545
    Games as starter: 11
    Wins as starter: 4
    Winning percentage: .364
  • 5
    College: SMU
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: .625
    Games as starter: 8
    Wins as starter: 1
    Winning percentage: .125
  • 5
    College: Texas A&M
    Acquired: Drafted No. 22 overall
    AV per game with Browns: .333
    Games as starter: 8
    Wins as starter: 2
    Winning percentage: .250
  • 4
    College: Auburn
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: .444
    Games as starter: 8
    Wins as starter: 1
    Winning percentage: .125
  • 4
    College: Iowa State
    Acquired: Traded from Seattle for seventh-round pick
    AV per game with Browns: .286
    Games as starter: 7
    Wins as starter: 1
    Winning percentage: .143
  • 3
    College: Notre Dame
    Acquired: Drafted No. 22 overall
    AV per game with Browns: .214
    Games as starter: 12
    Wins as starter: 3
    Winning percentage: .250
  • 2
    College: BYU
    Acquired: Traded from San Francisco for a fifth-round pick
    AV per game with Browns: .400
    Games as starter: 2
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • 2
    College: Louisiana Tech
    Acquired: Drafted in fourth round
    AV per game with Browns: .400
    Games as starter: 4
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • 2
    College: Louisiana-Lafayette
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: .400
    Games as starter: 4
    Wins as starter: 2
    Winning percentage: .500
  • 1
    College: Duke
    Acquired: Claimed off waivers from St. Louis
    AV per game with Browns: 1
    Games as starter: 1
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • 1
    College: Southern Miss
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: .333
    Games as starter: 2
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • 1
    College: Miami (Fla.)
    Acquired: Traded by San Francisco with seventh-round pick for Dilfer
    AV per game with Browns: .167
    Games as starter: 3
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • 0
    College: Texas State
    Acquired: Drafted in sixth round
    AV per game with Browns:0
    Games as starter: 1
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • 0
    College: South Carolina
    Acquired: Signed as undrafted free agent
    AV per game with Browns: 0
    Games as starter: 1
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • 0
    College: Toledo
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: 0
    Games as starter: 1
    Wins as starter: 0
    Winning percentage: .000
  • -1
    College: Louisiana-Monroe
    Acquired: Signed as free agent
    AV per game with Browns: -.091
    Games as starter: 8
    Wins as starter: 1
    Winning percentage: .125
Eight of 24
were drafted by the Browns
Six of these were picked in the first three rounds, and four in the first.
Ten of 24
were signed as free agents
Only three of these QBs made at least 10 starts with Cleveland.
One of 24
had an overall winning record
Hoyer (10-6), who won four of his first five starts for the Browns.
One of 24
appeared in a playoff game
Holcomb, in a loss to Pittsburgh after the 2002 season.
One of 24
was selected to a Pro Bowl
Anderson did it in 2007, when he threw for 3,787 yards and 29 TDs.
Ten of 24
threw for more TDs than INTs
That's 42 percent. In 2015, 96 percent of NFL starting QBs* did it.
One of 24
made 16 starts in a season
Couch did it once, in 2001 during a 7-9 season.
Four of 24
started only a single game
One-hit wonders: Wynn, Gradkowski, Shaw and Lewis.
Four of 24
started in a win over the Steelers
Only Couch, Quinn, Weeden and Hoyer did so in 17 seasons.
*Quarterbacks with at least 10 starts

The Browns are banking on Griffin bucking two troubling trends from the previous 24: As a group, Browns quarterbacks tend to have a short reign (11.3 starts) and struggle mightily (.399 AV/game). And for Griffin, there's a concern that the job is largely a career dead end. Eight of the 24 never started another NFL game after their time as Browns starter was finished, and a ninth (Josh McCown) is Griffin's backup. Other than Jeff Garcia, who started 35 more games as a journeyman after departing, no one went on to make more than 11 starts with other teams.

Average NFL starts

AV per game


Things can't get worse

The Browns go through quarterbacks at a rate no other NFL team can match. And there's a correlation between QB stability and team success -- as highlighted below, no team has fewer playoff appearances than Cleveland since '99, and no team has cycled through more starting signal-callers. With the exception of the Ravens (16 starting quarterbacks in that span, and 23 playoff games), most winning franchises don't make many changes. First-year Browns coach Hue Jackson hopes Griffin can hang on to the job, as well as deliver the team's first playoff win since the 1994 season.

Starting QBs vs. winning QBs

Bubbles are sized by total team playoff games. Hover for details.

Beyond wins and losses, the problems are more fundamental -- the team just can't find production at the position. Let's look at the league using Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A), an advanced passing statistic from Pro Football Reference showing a quarterback's per-pass impact. When we compare each team's season totals to the league average, you get a sense of how teams stack up over time. The Browns' worst season by this measure? The 2009 campaign, when Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson combined for a paltry 11 TDs and Cleveland's ANY/A was -2.5 compared to the league average. It's worth noting that the best Redskins total in this span (+1.6) came Griffin's rookie year. Here's all 32 teams, ranked by number of years at or above league average (the Patriots were at or above average in 16 of 17 seasons, while the Browns only topped the average in 2007).

Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt

Each block represents the difference from the league average ANY/A. Hover to view team totals.
< -2 yds
-2 to -1
-1 to 0
0 to +1
+1 >
Team
'99
'00
'01
'02
'03
'04
'05
'06
'07
'08
'09
'10
'11
'12
'13
'14
'15
Team
'99
'00
'01
'02
'03
'04
'05
'06
'07
'08
'09
'10
'11
'12
'13
'14
'15

Can RG III make things better?

After 17 seasons of searching for quarterback stability, is Griffin the answer? "I know the history, a little bit, of Cleveland," said Griffin at his introductory news conference in April. "And guys sometimes don't want to come here. I wanted to come here. I wanted to be here, and I wanted them to know that." The Browns signed him for two years at a bargain price -- he has a modest cap hit of $5.047 million this season, 29th-highest in the league among quarterbacks. And the experts say he could be higher up the list in terms of his performance. ESPN Fantasy Football projected stats have Griffin ranked 22nd among all QBs in yards, 27th in touchdowns, fourth in rushing yards and 23rd overall.

Projected 2016 statistics

As of Sept. 8, courtesy of ESPN.com Fantasy Football expert Mike Clay
309completions
494attempts
62.6%completion pct.
3,683passing yards
7.5yards/attempt
427rushing yards
19touchdowns
13interceptions

When compared with the 28 previous Browns QBs seasons since 1999 with at least 100 pass attempts, Griffin's projected numbers would stack up very well, especially in terms of volume (passing yards) and efficiency (yards per attempt). And when you plot Griffin's first three seasons in Washington against his predecessors, it's clear that anything close to his previous output would be a level of big-play ability the franchise hasn't see this century.

Griffin/Browns QB season totals

All seasons with at least 100 pass attempts since 1999. Hover for details.
* Projection

Potential good news for Griffin, who turned 26 earlier this year: statiscally speaking, he's the right age for a career year. Using year-by-year numbers 2000-14 (more than 1,100 individual seasons of data), we broke down the average change in Approximate Value from the previous year for each age. Peak age: 26 by the slimmest of margins over 27, 28 and 29. Another starters in his age-26 season per Pro Football Reference: Houston's Brock Osweiler, who is also settling in with a new franchise.

QB aging curve

Year-over-year change in Approximate Value, all NFL QBs 2000-14
Peak: 26

One major blow to Griffin's chances for success: the four-game suspension of receiver Josh Gordon, a college teammate of RG III, to start the season. While that could hinder Griffin's success, it also might very well get balanced out by favorable scheduling. Using projected fantasy points (an indicator of the big-play ability of a defense), the Browns play just six defenses on the season rated above the league average, and only the one in Gordon's absence. So Griffin should have time to get comfortable in the offense before facing top-10 defensive units from the Bengals, Jets and Bills later in the season. A look at the defenses he will face, in order:

Browns' opposing defenses

By projected fantasy points (including special teams) for ESPN.com Fantasy Football. Hover for totals.

In Cleveland's first game against the Eagles, Griffin will face off against a ghost of the Browns' QB past (Doug Pederson, now Philadelphia's head coach) and another who could haunt them (Eagles starter Carson Wentz, drafted after Cleveland traded the No. 2 pick to go with RG III). So the question is, can Griffin turn the recent tide of history and raise the bar for recent Browns QBs? These factors indicate that he can. Of course, if injuries derail his season or he struggles, backup Josh McCown waits in the wings. And worse yet for Browns fans: the specter of rookie Cody Kessler taking over -- he would become starter No. 26. And the carousel would continue.


Illustrations by Joel Kimmel, photos by Getty Images

More Stories