USC quarterback Cody Kessler was taken by the Cleveland Browns at the end of the 2016 NFL Draft’s third round, in perhaps the most shocking pick of Day 2.
Had you said a year ago that he would be selected ahead of Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, you would have gotten strange looks. If you had Kessler getting drafted higher than Matt Barkley, you deserve an award.
Going into Friday, the former Trojan signal caller was solidly projected in either the fifth or sixth round. Now he’s off the board, while Rose Bowl winners Kevin Hogan and Connor Cook are still waiting to hear their names called.
Of course, Cleveland is an interesting landing place for Kessler.
History tells us that the Browns are quite possibly the worst team in the history of football when it comes to drafting or developing quarterbacks. Or just keeping them healthy, for that matter.
With that high of a selection, the Browns are relying on Kessler performing at his maximum, with a dubious team history that suggests he’ll get thrown into the fire quickly.
But with there being 24 different starting quarterbacks since the franchise was rebooted in 1999, history also says that Kessler will get a chance.
For a guy who many didn’t have getting drafted until the later rounds, that’s a positive.
In the best case scenario, Kessler gets his opportunity like every other Browns quarterback does.
But unlike Spergon Wynn, Bruce Gradkowski or Thad Lewis, he makes it worth his while.
He proves what he said at Pac-12 Media Days last year, when he asserted that he didn’t want to be an eight or nine-win quarterback.
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The only problem is that with Kessler, we’ve just yet to see it. Every breakthrough has been followed by setback. Every promise has been followed by a letdown.
And unfortunately, that leads to nothing but doubt over his pro prospects. Especially as a third round pick, which once again gives him a ton of pressure to respond to.
His senior season was a prime example of how the call and response game hasn’t worked out thus far.
In a four-game stretch to start his senior season, Kessler completed 73 percent of his passes and had a 15 to 1 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. His 201.2 passer rating was the nation’s second-best.
That included the two most impressive games of his career, coming in a valiant home loss to Stanford and a dominant road triumph at Arizona State. In both games, he negated the blitz, found his receivers in space and managed a highly efficient offense.
That’s the form the Browns are banking on. Because that version of Cody Kessler is every bit worthy of being picked with a third round selection.
But the reality that Kessler’s end to his USC career saw all of that come unraveled.
Following an early hit on the first drive of the Washington game, Kessler lost all confidence. For a quarterback who is conservative in nature, that’s a disaster.
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He wound up consistently throwing passes short of the sticks, particularly on third down. He struggled picking up the blitz and lacked any semblance of pocket awareness.
Kessler was a guy who would be fortunate to sign as an undrafted free agent.
And so, splitting the difference and finding Kessler a home in the later rounds seemed like a reasonable and safe landing spot for him.
He would have ideally been to be eased into the NFL and learned under a veteran quarterback, all while developing his game and making adjustments. Everybody wins.
But Cleveland going all on in Kessler in the third round changes that significantly.
With that high of a selection, they’re relying on him performing at his maximum, with a dubious team history that suggests he’ll get thrown into the fire quickly.
Heck, given Robert Griffin III’s injury trouble, Kessler starting in Week 1 isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibilities.
That’s much too soon and too fast for a quarterback requiring a learning curve.
Like with every new regime in Cleveland, there’s hope that this most recent iteration of the front office and coaching staff can break away from the franchise’s curse.
Right on cue, new Browns head coach and general manager Hue Jackson says, “trust him on this one.”
Well, make due, Hue.