Cleveland Browns 10 Best NFL Draft Picks

    Who are the Cleveland Browns' best NFL draft picks? Here are the top 10 in franchise history.

    February 21, 2016

    Who are the Cleveland Browns’ best NFL draft picks? Here are the top 10 in franchise history.


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    Cleveland might be known for its major problems drafting and finding any consistent success as an NFL franchise, but there was a time when it was the NFL’s dominant franchise. That’s why most of the greatest draft picks in the team’s history are from an era gone by.

    There’s one other giant problem with figuring out the Browns’ history – the Baltimore Ravens.

    Had the franchise stayed put, this would’ve been a vastly different list of the ten greatest draft picks, but it has to go by what actually happened for the Browns.

    A few rules. First, with rare exception, the player had to have been drafted by the franchise. Otto Graham is the greatest quarterback in Cleveland Brown history, but he was drafted by the Detroit Lions. Lou Groza was drafted by the United States military, not Cleveland. He was sort of like a free agent walk-on and not a draft pick. The same goes for Marion Motley, too – yeah, it’s splitting hairs.

    Second, longevity with the franchise means just about everything. Making the Hall of Fame, or being a regular on the Pro Bowl circuit for a short time can overcome that. However, high-end production for a long time matters more than a short burst, especially if that player spends a key portion of his career with someone else. Paul Warfield was tremendous for the Browns, but he took his legacy to another level at Miami.

    And finally, this isn’t a list of the best players in Cleveland Brown history. This is a list of the best draft picks whose career was mostly spent with that team.

    1. RB Jim Brown, Syracuse

    1957, 1st round, 6th pick overall
    Pick Before: QB Len Dawson, Purdue by Pittsburgh
    Pick After: HB Clarence Peaks, Michigan State by Philadelphia

    The slam-dunk of all slam-dunks, he’s arguably the greatest player in NFL history with 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns in his nine-year career, to go along with 262 catches for 2,499 yards and 20 scores. Nine years, nine Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro honors. By the way, before you dog the teams before Cleveland that passed on Brown, Green Bay took Paul Hornung with the first pick, Len Dawson went fifth – but not to Kansas City – and John Brodie was more than fine for San Francisco. They weren’t Brown, though.

    2. RB Leroy Kelly, Morgan State

    1964, 8th round, 110th pick overall
    Pick Before: QB Gary Wood, Cornell by New York Giants
    Pick After: C Ken Bowman, Wisconsin by Green Bay

    How’s this for an eighth-round draft pick? 7,274 yards, 74 touchdowns, and 2,281 more receiving yards and 13 scores on the way to a Hall of Fame career. It took a little while to get going – Cleveland had a decent guy in the backfield in Jim Brown – but he took over and dominated in his third year with three straight 1,000-yard seasons and 42 scores in the span. Named to three All-Pro teams and with six Pro Bowl appearances, he made a name for himself post-Brown.

    3. OT Joe Thomas, Wisconsin

    2007, 1st round, 3rd pick overall
    Pick Before: WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech by Detroit
    Pick After: DE Gaines Adams, Clemson by Tampa Bay

    Unfortunately, he played on lots and lots of bad teams. Otherwise, he might be a nationally known name as arguably the NFL’s premier offensive tackle for a decade. It was hardly a risk taking him as the No. 3 overall pick, but he more than justified the selection with an outstanding six All-Pro nods and earning Pro Bowl honors in each of his first nine seasons. He’ll end up in the Hall of Fame.

    4. TE Ozzie Newsome, Alabama

    1978, 1st round, 23rd pick overall
    Pick Before: DB Ron Johnson, Eastern Michigan by Pittsburgh
    Pick After: LB Dan Bunz, Long Beach State by San Francisco

    Even by today’s standards the 13-year Brown put up massive receiving numbers for a tight end catching 662 balls for close to 8,000 yards and 47 scores. Not just a Hall of Famer, he was one of the prototypes for the modern day tight end, playing like a big wide receiver with elite hands and peerless route-running ability. However, as great as he was, he was named to just one All-Pro team and three Pro Bowls.

    5. OG Gene Hickerson, Ole Miss

    1957, 7th round, 78th pick overall
    Pick Before: HB Curley Johnson, Houston by Pittsburgh
    Pick After: HB Reuben Saage, Baylor by Baltimore

    The seventh-round pick spent 15 years holding down a spot in the interior of the Cleveland offensive line, rolling out a phenomenal six-year run in the late 1960s making him one of the game’s greatest blockers. The Hall of Fame star was named to three All-Pro teams and six Pro Bowls, going every year from 1965 to 1970.

    6. OT Dick Schafrath, Ohio State

    1959, 2nd round, 23rd pick overall
    Pick Before: WR Buddy Dial, Rice by New York Giants
    Pick After: WR Dave Sherer, SMU by Baltimore

    A 13-year rock at left tackle, he was among the best blockers of his era being named All-Pro three straight years from 1963 to 1965 and to six straight Pro Bowls. He was also an All-Pro in 1969, even though he didn’t go to the Pro Bowl. Just 6-3 and 253 pounds, he made his game on quickness, but even without the bulk he was ultra-effective for a very, very long time.

    7. LB Clay Matthews, USC

    1978, 1st round, 12th pick overall
    Pick Before: DB Luther Bradley, Notre Dame by Detroit
    Pick After: OT Mike Kenn, Michigan by Atlanta

    No argument if he should be higher based on longevity. A borderline Hall of Fame defender, Matthews spent 16 years with the Browns making a whopping 1,561 tackles growing into the leader and main defender for several great teams. He hit his stride just when most players wind down, making his first Pro Bowl in his eighth year and going to four in five years.

    8. DT Michael Dean Perry, Clemson

    1988, 2nd round, 50th pick overall
    Pick Before: WR Brian Blades, Miami by Seattle
    Pick After: LB Dante Jones, Oklahoma by Chicago

    Known as Refrigerator’s younger brother, he turned out to be the better NFL player with seven great years with Cleveland before going to Denver. Perry came up with 61 sacks and a whopping 534 tackles as a Brown, going to five Pro Bowls – and one with Denver – and earning the All-Pro defensive tackle spot in 1989 and 1990.

    9. QB Brian Sipe, San Diego State

    1972, 13th round, 330th pick overall
    Pick Before: K Jaime Nunez, Weber State by Los Angeles
    Pick After: T Leon Pettigrew, San Fernando Valley by San Francisco

    Way too small, way too scrawny, and way too obscure, the 13th round draft pick turned into Cleveland’s all-time leading passer throwing for 23,713 yards with 154 touchdowns. Of course, he’ll always be remembered for that one bad pass in 1980 against the Raiders that kept the Browns out of the Super Bowl, but he was also the league’s MVP that year throwing for 4,132 yards and 30 scores. Okay, if you want to put Bernie Kosar here, no complaints.

    10. QB Bernie Kosar, Miami

    1985, Supplemental Pick

    He became a Cleveland legend in a lot of ways, almost getting the team to two Super Bowls, but his eight full seasons were just very good throwing for 21,904 yards and 116 touchdowns. Never an All-Pro and named to just one Pro Bowl team, he was never an MVP like Brian Sipe, and he was never the star quarterback of his era. However, the supplemental pick turned out to be terrific.

    MORE: Cleveland Browns All-Time NFL Draft Team

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