Spaghetti and meatballs. Peanut butter and jelly. The Cleveland Browns and the NFL Draft. Whether it’s the Draft Day movie or watching Browns fans react (lose their minds) to each pick on national television, the franchise has almost become synonymous with the NFL Draft, which will be held this week in Las Vegas, Nev.
Although the Browns don’t hold a first-round draft pick this year thanks to the Deshaun Watson trade, we can still take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of the best and worst first-round NFL Draft picks for the Cleveland Browns.
To keep this article from being 10,000 words, I’ll be looking at the Browns’ first-round selections since 2000. And since the Browns currently lead the AFC North in odds to win the division, conference, and Super Bowl 57 (per FanDuel Sportsbook), let’s get the negativity out of the way first.
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Worst Cleveland Browns Draft Picks
Quarterbacks Taken At Pick 22
Let’s lump all these together for the sake of brevity: Brady Quinn in 2007, Brandon Weeden in 2012, and Johnny Manziel in 2014. All three quarterbacks taken with the 22nd overall pick, and all three flamed out quicker than a candle on a Cedar Point rollercoaster. Combined, The Three Bust-keteers survived seven seasons and 40 starts, posting just 10 wins, putting up 40 passing touchdowns and less than 10,000 passing yards. *Insert vomit noise here.*
We could probably devote an entire article to Johnny Football aka Money Manziel aka Mr. Wreck-This-League, but let’s not beat a dead horse.
Justin Gilbert, 2014
In case having one massive bust in the first round from the same draft class wasn’t enough, Justin Gilbert is here to help. Drafted 14 spots ahead of Johnny Manziel in 2014, Gilbert was supposed to form a lockdown duo with then Cleveland Brown Joe Haden. Instead, the eighth overall pick started three games for Cleveland in two seasons before being traded to division rival Pittsburgh for a sixth-round pick two years down the road. The change of scenery mattered not, as Gilbert never started a game for the Steelers and recorded three tackles in twelve games.
Corey Coleman, 2016
Gone In 60 Catches: The Corey Coleman Story. Cleveland drafted Coleman as the first wide receiver off the board in the 2016 draft with pick No. 15. During week two of his rookie season, Coleman provided Browns fans with a glimpse of what they hoped he’d be, posting a 5/104/2 line against divisional foe Baltimore. That would prove to be nothing more than a hope and a dream, however, as two broken hands and a public trade request had Coleman gone after just two seasons.
Courtney Brown (2000), William Green (2002), Barkevious Mingo (2013), Cameron Erving (2015)
One name you won’t find on my list is Trent Richardson. Yes, you could say his career was a bust, but I’m not going to call him one of the Browns’ worst picks. The dude broke Jim Brown’s rookie rushing record while playing the majority of the season with broken ribs. The Browns traded him after that season, but at least they were able to recoup a first-round pick from that, unlike some of the others on the list.
Best Cleveland Browns Draft Picks
Joe Thomas, 2007
Is there really any other name to start this list with? Thomas was basically the antithesis of the entire Browns organization. A franchise filled with constant turnover, character questions, and little to celebrate, Thomas set an NFL record by playing over 10,300 consecutive snaps and was named to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls. After a 10-6 record his rookie season, Thomas and the Browns never sniffed a winning record (other than 2014) for the rest of his career which ended with a torn tricep in 2017. Thomas will look to be the 18th Cleveland Brown inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a first-ballot inductee in August 2023.
Joe Haden (2010) and Denzel Ward (2018)
The Browns nailed the selection of both of these corners, with both players going in the top seven of their respective drafts.
Haden racked up 19 interceptions and 101 passes defended to go along with two Pro Bowl selections in his seven years with Cleveland. Haden was similar to Thomas in the sense of providing stability to an otherwise completely unstable situation.
Ward, who just signed a massive contract extension, is halfway to Haden’s stats through four seasons, with 10 interceptions and 50 passes defended, and has already matched his two Pro Bowl selections. One of Ward’s Pro Bowl honors came during his rookie year when in his first game he had to square off with Antonio Brown — prime Antonio Brown, not lawsuit, running off the field mid-game Antonio Brown — and he came up with two interceptions.
Myles Garrett, 2017
Garrett has been an absolute disruptor since entering the league and is someone every single offense has to gameplan for. The former Texas A&M Aggie had his best season in 2021, setting career highs in sacks (16) and tackles (51). Garrett has also posted back-to-back first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl seasons the past two years. Heading into the 2022 season, Garrett needs four more sacks to break Clay Matthews’ franchise sack record.