Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The best Browns, 1999-present
This is not a ranking, because it's stupid to compare linebackers to wide receivers. But as we enter the 10th season of the "new Browns," it seems appropriate to look back at some of the best players from what has been a mostly forgettable period.

Jamir Miller, ILB (1999-2001): What could have been. Miller's 2001 season was remarkable. Thirteen sacks, 83 tackles, four fumbles forced.

If he'd have played in 2002, the Browns may have won 11 games instead of 9. Instead, his career ended after an injury in the 2002 preseason. It was at that time that Butch Davis brilliantly referred to Miller's 2001 season as a "product of the system."

Darrin Hambrick replaced Miller, and he lasted all of one season. Miller also had two strong seasons under Chris Palmer. He was the best free agent signing of the Dwight Clark era, and even though his career with the Browns was brief, he was often the only light on a consistently pitiful defense.

Until 2007, Miller was the franchise's only pro bowler since coming back.

Ryan Tucker RT, RG (2002-present): Tucker's career in Cleveland has been steady on the field, unsteady off it. Aside from the injuries which have kept him out during this injuries and the ones that hamper most players, he's had some other issues.

He missed time because of a mental issue, then was suspended in 2007 for a violation of the NFL's drug policy.

But when he has played, he's been very good, and last season he bordered on outstanding. While Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach got the coverage, it may have been Tucker that was the most crucial. At least if we judge by the preseason games.

Phil Dawson (1999-present): Every year people wonder about Dawson, and almost every year he remains one of the most consistent kickers in the league.

Last year he kicked two game winning field goals in overtime. He made 26 of 30 kicks last year, and has a career success rate of 82.7 percent.

Here's another intersting stat. In 1999, he attempted 12 field goals all year, making eight. It's easy to forget how inept the 1999 offense was.

Kevin Johnson WR (1999-2002): Between 1999-2002, the Browns didn't have a superstar on offense (actually, they really didn't until last year). Kevin Johnson was the closest thing the Browns had to a star, so he filled the role.

I liked Johnson then, and I still do, because he caught passes. It sounds so simple, but after years of Quincy Morgan and Dennis Northcutt, it is oh-so-important to note.

He also made some the most memorable plays in the early years of the new Browns. His last-second TD catch against New Orleans in 1999, his TD reception in the 2002 game against Atlanta, his first TD reception in Tennessee in 1999, when half my dorm room erupted because the Browns actually scored.

His two best years were in 1999 and 2001.

In 1999, as pretty much the only receiver Tim Couch trusted, he caught 66 passes for 986 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2001 (Tim Couch's only healthy season), he caught 84 passes for 1,097 yards and nine scores.

Orpheus Roye DE/DT (2000-2007): Quietly consistent, this former (and current) Steeler started all 16 regular season games four times for the Browns. He had 65 tackles and three sacks in 2005, but last year, it appeared age and injuries were taking their toll.

Josh Cribbs KR/PR/WR (2005-present): If you have to ask why, you haven't paid attention.

Kellen Winslow TE (2004-present): If it seems like he hasn't been around that long, well, he really hasn't. But when he has been on the field, he's been a beast. He had 89 catches in what was an atrocious 2006 for the Browns, and last year, put up one of the best receiving seasons in team history. Eighty-nine catches, more than 1,100 yards, five TDs.

Butch could usually spot talent. He struggled with everything else, but he could spot talent.

Other guys worth mentioning:
Leigh Bodden (2003-2007): Best thing that ever happened to him was being name checked by Chad Johnson, leading people to believe he was really good instead of just good. But he could be missed badly this season.

Reuben Droughns (2005-2006): One great year, but he was the team's first 1,000 yard rusher in two decades.

Chris Gardocki(1999-2003): Very good punter who was on the field more than the offense in the early years.

Dennis Northcutt (2000-2006): To this day, he's dangerous on special teams. He's never been more than an average receiver, though he did have one great year, in 2002, when Butch Davis used him in multiple ways.

I didn't mention the 2007 wonders like Joe Thomas, Braylon Edwards and Derek Anderson because there isn't much of a record beyond one year.

Plus, I wanted this to be more recognition for guys here during the lean years.



At 11:57 AM , Anonymous Erik said...

If none of the '07 guys belong on the list, neither does Droughns. That's exactly what he was, a one-year wonder.

And if we're only going on long-term track record, opening the door for guys like Kevin Johnson and Chris Gardocki to make the list, where is Tim Couch?

If mediocrity was the standard for excellence from 1999-2006, Couch belongs on the list. At his best in 2001 and 2002, he was above-average as an NFL passer. Injuries and Butch Davis conspired to kill his career.

Also, if Gardocki and Dawson get mentions, I have to give some love to Ryan Pontbriand, who has consistently been one of the league's best long snappers for five years. Ever since Pontbriand arrived, bad snaps on field goals, punts and extra points have been virtually nonexistent.


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