ENGLISH: Past draft picks haunt Browns

Published 11:37 pm Thursday, May 3, 2012

By Jim English

When the Cleveland Browns selected Alabama running back Trent Richardson with third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, they were in many ways trying to resurrect their franchise’s past.

…and in other ways, they were trying to escape it.

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If you recall the glory days of the Browns’ organization, more than likely there is a star running back in the majority of the highlights from that era. It almost goes without saying that any conversation about Browns’ ballcarriers practically begins and ends with possibly the greatest of all time – the one whom all great runners are still measured against – Jim Brown.

He played nine seasons, never missed a game, and ran for an incredible 12,312 yards on 5.2 yards per carry. He lead the league in rushing all but one season and then abrubtly retired, still in his prime. But as brightly as his star still shines in Cleveland, he was far from the only one.

Long before Jim came along, a future Hall Of Famer named Marion Motley was helping put the relatively new team on the map. He ran for over 4700 yards in eight years while averaging a whopping 5.7 yeard per carry. The old grainy, black-and-white highlights of Motley resemble a bowling ball rolling through a field of salt shakers.

Immediately after Jim Brown’s retirement, Leroy Kelly took the reins and proceeded to pile up three consecutive 1000 yard seasons of his own. It was the beginning of an impressive seven-year stretch of 7,274 yards and 74 touchdowns. Though Brown would never be forgotten, Kelly clearly succeeded in making Cleveland fans at least not miss him so much.

There have been a few other runners in the decades since then who have reminded Browns’ fans of the glory days to some extent. Mike and Greg Pruitt each played nine seasons in the 70’s, and each compiled over 8000 yards and over 40 touchdowns combined rushing and receiving. And to a lesser degree, Ernest Byner and Eric Metcalf in more recent years.

But for the last couple of decades, the Browns have been a consistent source of frustration for the Cleveland fans. They have had a losing record in 16 of their last 19 seasons. And though it has earned them a long list of high draft picks, that too has proven to be a source of frustration.

In 1999, they used the first draft pick overall to select QB Tim Couch from Kentucky. But it is well-documented what a bust that wound up being. To make matters worse, they picked him over future NFL star QB Donovan McNabb and RB Edgerrin James. Then the following year, with their second consecutive top overall pick, they chose Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown. He never once made the Pro Bowl, unlike two other available DE’s that year – Shaun Ellis and John Abraham. (And I’m sure the Bears appreciate them passing on a linebacker named Urlacher, too.)

Could it be that Trent Richardson is the long-anticipated one to finally follow in Jim Brown’s cleat-steps and return Cleveland to the playoffs? Many draft experts and NFL executives considered him the best overall player in the draft, and he obviously led the Crimson Tide to one BCS Championship and contributed heavily to another. Richardson clearly possesses the speed, strength, instincts and durability that are needed to be a successful back in the NFL.

But then again, Tim Couch was once considered the cream of the crop as well, and had all the tools they look for at the next level. Stay tuned…….time will tell.