The Cleveland Browns have suffered the wrath of poor drafting and, in turn, have tended to be selecting near the top of the NFL Draft each year. The NFL is set up to assist the teams struggling to win games, although – in Cleveland – it simply hasn’t worked like that. Amid losing seasons since the team return to Cleveland in 1999 the Browns have had more than their fair share of draft busts – highlighted by the likes of Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Johnny Manziel – however they’ve also nailed some selections on the head.
1) Joe Thomas – 2007 NFL Draft
Thomas is hands down the best draft pick by the Cleveland Browns since their return in 1999 and has been considered the best left tackle of his era, some even believing the greatest of all time. Durability, consistency and attitude is what easily plugs the former No. 3 overall selection in 2007 as the best Browns player. Thomas helped the Browns to a 10-6 record in his rookie season – the only winning season he’d see thus far in his career. Thomas has notched six All-Pro teams as well as being the only offensive lineman in NFL history to be selected to his first nine Pro Bowls since a rookie. Let’s not forget to mention that Thomas has started each and every of the 144 games he’s played in throughout his professional career. Unfortunately, of every player in league history to have at least six first team All-Pro selections – Thomas remains the only one to never have made the playoffs. Despite the lack of direction of the team, Thomas has remained a team leader for an unorganized franchise and at the end of the 3-13 2015 season added he’d like to retire a Cleveland Brown.
2) D’Quell Jackson – 2006 NFL Draft
Jackson could come across as a shock to be No. 2 on this list, but he was as consistent as a linebacker could. Jackson lead the Browns in tackles every year he was healthy after his rookie season and even lead the NFL in 2008 with 154. A leader in the locker room and a role model outside of it, Jackson was the linebacker that coach’s dream about having. Unfortunately for Jackson, injuries got the best of him in 2009 forcing him to miss the rest of the season as well as the following 2010 NFL season. Although he bounced back strong in 2011 with a personal best 158 tackles (leading the league in solo tackles) and 2012 and 2013 were more of the same, the team let go of him in early 2014. Jackson is still playing with the Indianapolis Colts and is still performing at a high level, having the second highest amount of tackles in 2015 (150). Certainly an efficient player for the Browns, Jackson failed to have a “down-season” in Cleveland outside of injuries placing him as the second best draft pick by the ClevelandBrowns since their return.
3) Alex Mack - 2009 NFL Draft
Alex Mack’s career in Cleveland came to a halt after another disappointing season in 2015 as he signed with the Atlanta Falcons via free agency. Hard feelings or not, Mack played the center position with great confidence and his abilities were never undermined. He and Joe Thomas were the face of the Cleveland Browns offensive line in their years together, a line that was considered to be top-five each season. Only if they could find a quarterback in those years. Mack was selected in 2009 with the No. 21 pick and lived up to those first-round expectations. The Browns have struggled with selecting players in the first round but Mack, along with Thomas, were exceptions consistently starting, playing and performing at an elite level. Although Mack left the Browns organization with a sour taste in his mouth, there is no taking away his accomplishments with his time in Cleveland.
4) Joe Haden - 2010 NFL Draft
Haden is a player that most fans would like to see appear immediately after Thomas on this list, however injuries and inconsistencies in recent season drop him here at No. 4. Haden was selected by the Browns in 2010 with the No. 7 overall pick and thrived in his first seasons with the team. Several Pro Bowls and a second team All-Pro selection in 2013, Haden established himself as the face of the ClevelandBrowns defense. A shutdown corner in a division where offenses are high-powered with big arms is a difficult feat but Haden has always been up for the challenge. Now going up against NFL elites in Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, Haden’s job has never been more difficult. Although Haden has routinely given up big plays to surprising names, the former Florida Gator always has shined when the spotlight is brightest. There is no doubt that Haden has represented the city of Cleveland in a wonderful light due to his constant community work and events for fans. 2014 was a bounce-back year after failing to make the Pro Bowl in his third and fourth seasons, but a concussion-riddled 2015 prevented Haden from seeing the field much. However, the cornerback has been a vital part of the Browns organization holding down opposing wide receivers each week.
5) Andra Davis - 2002 NFL Draft
Davis was a force to be reckoned with in his years with the Cleveland Browns. A fifth-round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, Davis earned a starting role in his second season with the Browns at middle linebacker – and boy did he not disappoint. Davis’ 171 tackles lead the Browns in 2003 and he also tied the franchise record with four sacks in a game. His 2004 season was cut short due to a knee injury but he returned in 2005 to put up 199 tackles as well as a 20-tackle game against the Green Bay Packers. A tremendous athlete and tackling machine, Davis signed a five-year extension with the team for his performance on the field. This wouldn’t last long as the Browns would eventually release Davis in 2008. The Cleveland Browns got a bargain deal in Andra Davis for six seasons after drafting him with the No. 141 pick in 2002 landing him on the top-half of this list.
6) Braylon Edwards - 2005 NFL Draft
Before Browns fans get too upset about Edwards being on this list, don’t forget he was the first Browns Pro Bowl selection in 2007 since 1989. The No. 3 pick in the 2005 had a rocky start to his NFL career battling staph infection the first weeks of his rookie season and injuries ending it early. Edwards stepped up in 2006 becoming the teams leading receiver with 61 receptions, 884 yards and six touchdowns but the controversies began here. After an on-the-field altercation with quarterback Charlie Frye and publicly calling out a number of defensive backs, Edwards –after being advised by team leaders not to – attended the Ohio State-Michigan game, resulting in him missing a team meeting. The ego only grew for the former Michigan Wolverine as he had a tremendous 2007 season breaking franchise records in receiving yards (1,289) and touchdowns (16). It should be noted that his 16 touchdowns trailed only Randy Moss’ 23 which set the new NFL record (still standing today). 2008 was a struggle for the Pro Bowler leading the league with 23 dropped balls and he simply never returned to form. He would later be traded to the New York Jets and this is where he made the infamous statement that he failed as a ClevelandBrown because the fans wouldn’t ever truly accept him since he went to Michigan. Production was never Edwards’s enemy, but off-the-field issues including numerous speeding tickets and several fights overshadowed what could’ve been a great career.
7) Kellen Winslow - 2004 NFL Draft
Winslow the No. 6 pick in the 2004 draft and was to be the next best tight end in the NFL. Athletic, strong and versatile were traits that separated himself from most normal tight ends – plus his father was a remarkable player in the league as well. Winslow had a career mightily similar to friend and fellow Cleveland Brown Braylon Edwards. A profound level of potential with elite talent – only lacking the mental stability the NFL demands from its players. Just two games into his rookie season, Winslow suffered a season-ending injury. In 2005, Winslow was tossed from his motorcycle in the summer, leading him to miss the 2005 NFL season as well. Winslow didn’t let this slow him down, though, and in 2007 recorded 82 receptions, 1,106 yards and five touchdowns. But, like most successful Browns, trouble found Winslow after he got staph infection (for the second time in Cleveland) as did several other players over those years. After calling out then-Browns general manager Phil Savage about ignoring the obvious epidemic. A trade presumably followed and that was a wrap on Winslow’s career in Cleveland.
8) Ahtyba Rubin - 2008 NFL Draft
Rubin was a reliable defensive lineman in his years with the Browns and quickly became a fan-favorite on the defensive side of the ball. Selected in the sixth round with the No. 190 pick in 2008, his eager style of play was enjoyable to watch and he was consistent on the field and a respected voice in the locker room. Rubin, after an impressive sophomore campaign, was moved to starting nose tackle in 2010. He totaled 87 tackles and constantly made his name heard for those watching the Browns games. He started in 50 of the 72 games he appeared in with the Browns and totaled nine sacks, four pass deflections, three forced fumbles, an interception and 227 total tackles. Making the list due to his selection value, Rubin is still in the league after being traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.
9) Dennis Northcutt - 2000 NFL Draft
Northcutt was a Cleveland Brown favorite and was one of the most productive players since the team’s return in 1999. Drafted in the second round with the No. 32 pick in 2000, Northcutt made his career as a speedy receiver while also displaying his motor on returns as well. He was a vital part of the Browns and could be seen as the heart of the team, supplying them with the electrifying type of play that not only inspired fans – but teammates as well. According to Football Outsiders, his 2002 season was the most efficient among wide receivers from 1991-2011. Northcutt finished his Browns career with 276 receptions, 3,438 yards and nine touchdowns and three return touchdowns. In a time when the ClevelandBrowns were still in expansion-team mode, Northcutt brought an excitement that fans could cheer for despite the losing seasons.
10) T.J. Ward - 2010 NFL Draft
T.J. Ward was a player who quickly became one of the NFL’s biggest hitters and most feared safeties – hence the nickname “Bossward.” The Cleveland Browns selected the Oregon Duck with the No. 38 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and he started all 16 games for the team, totaling 123 tackles and two interceptions. Injuries held Ward out of 2011 for half of the season but he returned in 2012 and significantly improved in coverage, which he previously lacked. 2013 was the season for Ward that propelled him to be one of the league’s better defensive backs as he earned second team All-Pro honors with 123 tackles, 1.5 sacks two picks and a forced fumble. However, in the midst of an organizational overhaul, the Browns failed to resign one of their best, young players as he signed with the Denver Broncos in 2014.
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