Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cleveland Browns All Career-Year Team

By John Turney

At Pro Football Journal we are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the Browns. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Jim Brown’s best two seasons and use both QB slots.

Here is the team, First-teams on left, Second-teams on right:
The offensive line shakes down like this:  center Frank Gatski, 1955, guards Gene Hickerson, 1968, and Jim Ray Smith, 1960, and tackles Joe Thomas, 2015, and Lou Groza, 1952.

We've seen Lou Groza play, even full games, and it seems that he was a much better lineman earlier in his career, as opposed to later. We chose 1952 since he was a consensus All-Pro and still a duel threat due to his kicking. Joe Thomas has been consensus All-Pro several times and we chose 2015 since he allowed his career-fewest sacks (one) and had his career-low in holding penalties called against him (one). Hickerson and Smith were key blockers for Jim Brown, and Hickerson for Leroy Kelly. Gatski is a Hall of Famer and in 1955 he was everybody's All-Pro center.

The Second-team offensive line is as follows:  Center Alex Mack, 2013, guards Joe DeLamielleure, 1980, and Abe Gibron, 1955, tackles Dick Schafrath, 1965, and Mike McCormack, 1957. All were All-Pros in their respective seasons.

For honorable mentions we have Tom DeLeone, 1980, Fred Hoaglin, 1969, and Art Hunter, 1959. Then we have guards John Wooten, 1966, and Dan Fike, 1986. Lastly the tackles:  Cody Risien, 1986, Tony Jones, 1994, and Doug Dieken, 1980.    

Fullback, at least the modern fullback, is kind of a throwaway position since the Browns have only used it a limited amount of the time. Prior to the franchise folding up and moving to Baltimore Kevin mack was the last fullback and he was an old-school type, one who ran the ball. Nonetheless, to fill the roster we chose Marc Edwards, 1999, and Lawrence Vickers, 2007.

Tight end lines up this way, first Ozzie Newsome, 1984, then Gary Barnidge, 2015. The HMs are Kellen Winslow, 2007, Jordan Cameron, 2013, and Milt Morin, 1968. The tight end position is deep for the Browns and Newsome's top year was 1984 but others have put up some impressive numbers.

Jim Brown, 1965, and Marion Motley, 1948, are the running backs, though we are fully aware they were fullbacks in their era, lining up to the tight end side, however we consider them ball-carriers and back then halfbacks had to block for the fullbacks often since they would line up in "red" or "brown" formations. Brown could have filled out 9 slots, but we picked his last season with his touchdown total being the deciding factor, though 1963 may have been better.

The next two running backs are Leroy Kelly, 1968, and Bobby Mitchell, 1960. We chose as honorable mentions Earnest Byner, 1985, Peyton Hillis, 2010, Mike Pruitt, 1979, and Kevin Mack, 1985.

For the third-down back, the First-teamer is Calvin Hill, 1980, and the Second-teamer is Greg Pruitt, 1981, with two garnering HM Earnest Byner, 1995, and Eric Metcalf, 1992. From 1978-80 Hill caught 14 touchdown passes (6 in both 1978 and 1980) and Greg Pruitt, assumed his role in 1981.

The slot receivers are in order: Brian Brennan, 1986, Keenan McCardell, 1995, for First- and Second-team then honorable mentions go to  Andre' Davis, 2002, Taylor Gabriel, 2014, and Dennis Northcutt, 2002.

For the outside receivers, it was very close for all four slots. Ultimately, we went with Mac Speedie, 1949, and Paul Warfield, 1968, on the First-team and Dante Lavelli, 1946, with Josh Gordon, 2013, on the Second-team. The honorable mentions are Gary Collins, 1965, Webster Slaughter, 1989, Braylon Edwards, 2007, Pete Brewster, 1955, and Dave Logan in 1979. Warfield just barely beat out Lavelli, his 12 TD catches made the difference.

The quarterbacks were easy to order:  Otto Graham, 1947, MVP Brian Sipe, 1980, Frank Ryan, 1966, Bernie Kosar, 1987, and Milt Plum, 1960 (yes, based on his passer rating).

Len Ford, 1951, and Lyle Alzado, 1980, are the defensive ends. Michael Dean Perry, 1990 (86 tackles, 11.5 stuffs and 11.5 sacks for a total of 23 'stacks".) and Jerry Sherk, (1976 AFC Defensive Player of the Year,  92 tackles, 8.0 were stuffs, and 12 sacks.), are the defensive tackles and the nose guard is Bill Willis, 1952.

Ford had a monster season in 1951, one of best-ever by a defensive end, and in 1980 Alzado had 104 tackles and 9 sacks and 3 forced fumbles and was a First-team All-Pro. In 1952, had there been an award, Bill Willis could have been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Backing those five up are Bill Glass, 1965, and Rob Burnett, 1994 (55 tackles, 10 sacks, Second-team All-AFC), at end with the nose Bob Golic, 1985 (All-NFL), and tackles, Bob Gain, 1958, and Don Colo, 1955. In 1965 Glass had 16½ sacks and was Second-team All-Pro (in 1962 and 1966 he also averaged more than a sack per game).

The honorable mention ends are Jack Gregory, 1970 (15½ sacks), Ron Snidow, 1969 (All-Conference), Carl Hairston, 1987 (51 tackles, 4 FF, 8 sacks, Second-team All-AFC), Paul Wiggin, 1967 (Pro Bowl, 8½ sacks, 4 FR), Reggie Camp, 1984 (52 tackles, 6 pass deflections, 14 sacks), and Carlton Massey, 1955, and Mack Mitchell, 1977, who had a double-digit sack season.

For tackles and nose the honorables are Shaun Rogers, 2008 (76 tackles and 4.5 sacks), Dick Modzelewski, 1964, Walter Johnson, 1969 (Pro Bowl and 8 sacks), and Henry Bradley, 1980 (69 tackles and 3 sacks).

The designated rushmen are Joe Jones, 1970, and inside rusher Mark Word, 2002. The honorables are Charles Buchanan, 1988, Sam Clancy, 1986 (6.5 sacks), Michael Dean Perry, 1988, and Dave Puzzuoli, 1986. Turkey Jones was among the first designated rushers, but also got some starts in 1970 and had 5½ sacks plus lots of hurries and Word had 8 sacks among his 21 tackles.

We had never heard of Charles Buchanan, either. In 1988 he played 9 games, the only ones of his career and had 5 sacks. Hmm. And yes, Puzzuoli was a nose tackle by trade, but he was fairly effective in getting to the quarterback when he spelled Golic and played in nickel situations.

In all their years the Browns have not had a truly honored MLBer. Tom Cousineau was a Second-team All-Pro in 1983 (138 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions, 9 passes defensed) and 1984. Mike Johnson, in 1989, was All-AFC and a Pro Bowler and had 105 tackles, 3 picks and 3 forced fumbles. Pepper Johnson was a Second-team All-AFC and went to the Pro Bowl.  Two statistically significant seasons were Vince Costello, 1963 (7 interceptions, a high number for a middle linebacker) and  Dick Ambrose, 1978 (153 tackles, 11.5 were stuffs). We also looked at Karlos Dansby, 2015 (108 tackles, scored two defensive touchdowns as an ILBer, and D'Qwell Jackson, 2011 (158 tackles, 3.5 sacks). So, who to choose, since there isn't a Butkus or Schmidt among them?

After checking alternate sources we note that Cousineau was a First-team All-Pro in 1983 by the Buffalo News and USA Today, teams chosen by Hall of Famer writers Larry Felser and Gordon Forbes, so we thought we may be trying too hard to avoid putting Cousineau so high on a list of a team with great history. Ultimately we went with Mike Johnson on the First-team and Cousineau on the Second-team, after all, fair is fair. And the rest mentioned are all honorables.

Clay Matthews, 1984, and Tony Adamle, 1951, are the First-team OLBer. Jamir Miller, 2001
Jim Houston, 1964, are next. Matthews had a fine year in 1984 as an outside backer and right defensive end in most passing downs. He had 96 tackles (5 were stuffs), 12 sacks, 3 forced fumbled batted away 5 passes. Interestingly, his coach, Marty Schottenheimer said "He'd never seem a player have a better season at any position".

Adamle was a consensus All-Pro and Houston was a First-team All-pro in 1964 with a pick six. Miller had a very similar season to Matthews's 1984 in 2001 with 99 tackles, 13 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Adamle and Houston were All-Pros in their respective years.

A long list of honorables is Chip Banks, 1983 (All-Pro, 97 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 picks, one for a touchdown),  Andra Davis, 2003, Galen Fiss, 1962, Walt Michaels, 1959, and Johnny Brewer, 1966.

Hanford Dixon, 1986, and Frank Minnifield, 1988, (both unanimous All-Pros) are the cornerbacks with Joe Haden, 2013, and Erich Barnes, 1968, next. Had Barnes been a bit younger when he played with Browns he likely would have challenged for a top spot. Haden was a Second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2013 and Barnes was All-Conference and a Pro Bowler in 1968 at age 33.

Bernie Parrish, 1960, Clarence Scott, 1973, Tommy James, 1950, Ben Davis, 1968, Don Paul, 1956, and Warren Lahr, 1953 are the honorable mentions at corner/defensive halfback based on post-season honors.
T.J. Ward, 2013 (112 tackles, 3 defensive touchdowns, Second-team All-Pro, Pro Bowl), and Eric Turner, 1994 (105 tackles, 9 picks, All-Pro) are the top safeties with and Felix Wright, 1989 (9 picks as a strong safety), and free safety Thom Darden, 1978 (consensus All-Pro, 100 tackles and 10 INTs), the Second-teamers. Ken Konz, 1954, Tashaun Gipson, 2014, Ross Fichtner, 1966, and Bobby Franklin, 1960 get special mention.  

Anthony Henry, 2001 (10 interceptions, the most by a non-starter that we've uncovered) and Rod Perry, 1983, are the First- and Second-team nickel backs.  Eddie Brown, 1974, and  Anthony Blaylock, 1989, get special mentions.
Lou Groza, 1953, and Phil Dawson, 2012, are the kickers. Don Cockroft, 1972, and Matt Stover, 1994, are honorables. Groza was ahead of his time in terms of accuracy and in 1953 he was 23 for 26 (88.5%), unheard of for that era. Dawson was a Pro Bowler in 2012 and missed just two kicks.

 In 2000 Chris Gardocki was Second-team All-Pro though we're not sure why he had a fine gross average, but he and his punt coverage teams allowed 793 return yards, which just killed hit net average. For the First-team punter we chose Horace Gillom, 1953. He was a Pro Bowler the year before, but that was in an era when the Pro Bowl punter was usually a position player, so his 1952 choice was unusual. However, he did lead the NFL in punting average in 1952 but he had one blocked so in looking for the best season we chose the following season when he had a gross average of 43.8 and a net of 40.1 and had only 4 touchbacks. However, several years would do on this list because from 1950-54 Gillom had a net punting average of 38.9.

For the Second-team, we picked Gary Collins's 1965 season. He led the NFL in gross yardage and likely in net, too, with 46.7 and 39.4 respectively. The four honorable mentions we picked all had a 39.0 net average or better. Dave  Zastudil, 2008 (39.4), Reggie  Hodges, 2010 (39.0), Spencer Lanning, 2014 (39.2) and Andy Lee, 2015 (40.1).

Eric Metcalf, 1993 (12.9 avgand 2 TDs) and  Leroy Kelly, 1965 are the top two returners.  Then Dennis Northcutt, 2002, Josh Cribbs. 2007, and Gerald McNeil, 1987 are the honorable mentions.
Josh Cribbs, 2009 (3 kickoffs taken to the house and 27.5 avg.), and  Eric Metcalf, 1990, are the top two kickoff returners and Greg Pruitt, 1973 gets the sole honorable mention.

Bill Cowher had 30 special teams tackles and a forced fumble in 1980 and he gets the top spot and the Second-teamer is Joshua Cribbs, 2008 (23 tackles and a FR). When you combine his return abilities with his excellent coverage skills, Cribbs is the best special teams player in Browns history we contend. 

Blake Costanzo who in 2009 had 14 tackles forced 2 fumbles and recovered three fumbles on special teams is the top honorable mention then comes Brent Boyer, 2002 (21 tackles and a FF),  Andra Davis, 2002, (19 tackles), and Ricky Featcher, 1978 (19 tackles and a fumble recovered). 

1 comment:

  1. Though I truly respect Paul Brown as a coach and innovator throughout his legendary career, I am amazed at all the good to great players that he let go of, from the Browns and Bengals. He was more willing to fight for his coaches however, but not giving Unitas a chance to be his QB and letting him go to Baltimore and Weeb Ewbank, had to have crossed his mind, over the years but hindsight is 20/20...