|Weeden says he "feels like he's ready" to be the Browns' starter. (Getty Images)|
The biggest knock against Brandon Weeden coming out of college is his age. At 28, he's tied for 12th-oldest among NFL quarterbacks with at least 10 starts in 2011. The old-timers in front of him on the list -- Brady, Brees, Manning(s), Vick, Rivers, Roethlisberger -- are a who's who of franchise QBs.
The difference: Weeden's a rookie coming from a spread offense. And while his age may be a concern, it's not the biggest obstacle to any professional success he may have. At least not according to two Big 12 coaches who faced him when he was at Oklahoma State.
Iowa State upset the Cowboys last season, 37-31, and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham says the plan was to blitz Weeden silly and force him into mistakes.
"We didn't fear his running like we did RG III or even Tannehill," Burnham told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Bill Lubinger. "He got quick feet. He got nervous. He really threw the ball away in a hurry. I'm not saying he was scared, he just wanted to get the ball out to his hot receiver."
Burnham's account jibes with several pre-draft scouting reports, including that of NFLFilms' Greg Cosell.
"In the NFL, the ideal scenario of a comfortable, secure pocket does not happen quite as often as quarterbacks would like," Cosell wrote on April 18. "You must be able to function effectively in the eye of the storm or you won't play on Sundays. That's where Weeden had some problems. The sample was small, given how well he was protected, but it was there nonetheless. When blitzed, Weeden struggled with both recognition and execution. Mentally, there were times he panicked, and physically, he did not exhibit the kind of subtle pocket movement that must be part of a pocket passer's game in the NFL."
In this sense, Weeden isn't unique. Rookie minicamps will be flooded with fresh-faced college quarterbacks who aren't particularly adept at reading and adjusting to defenses. But the Browns selected Weeden 22nd overall with designs on penciling him into the starting lineup from Day 1. After all, you don't draft a 28-year-old in the first round to waste away on the bench. You go all in -- it's the silver lining to the dark cloud that is going 4-12 last season. There's nowhere to go but up and if things don't work out, the Browns can move on to their next franchise quarterback project.
Weeden, meanwhile, considers his age an asset.
"I feel like I'm ready," Weeden told the Plain Dealer Thursday. "I have a long way to go, but I feel like I've taken the right steps to get to where I can play at that level. If I'm asked to be the guy Day 1, I'm going to do everything on my part to put our team in position to win games and score points. I'm really anxious to get going and the season will be here before you know it."
For the Browns to become something other than the dregs of the AFC North, they're going to have to protect Weeden and he's going to have to learn to read NFL defenses in the next few months.
Former Oklahoma associated head coach Brent Venables told the Plain Dealer that his game plan against Weeden and Oklahoma State during the 2010 season was to stop the run, avoid big plays and constantly change defensive looks.
Weeden held his own against the Sooners' defense; he completed 28 of 43 throws for 257 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in the Cowboys' 47-41 victory. Venables lauded Weeden for deciphering defenses quickly, his accuracy, his ability to make every throw and the Cowboys' quick-strike passing attack made it difficult to mount a pass rush.
"The challenge in the NFL," he added, "will be when the pocket's collapsing."
Which brings us back to Cosell's observations above. To reinforce that point, here's the Scouts Inc. scouting report:
"Most concerning is that Weeden struggles with his accuracy when throwing under pressure, which he will be forced to do far more frequently in the NFL. In four games charted in 2011, he completed just 45 percent of his throws when under pressure with a two TDs and 3 INTs. Low release point brings up concerns about batted balls (had eight batted down, including one for INT, in four games charted in 2011)."
If we're privy to that information then so too are NFL teams. And the Browns' three divisional opponents -- the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers -- are a blitz-happy bunch that will tee off on Weeden until he proves he can handle the pressure.
Cleveland drafted running back Trent Richardson third overall, so that should mitigate some of the pass rush. You know what else would help? Taking a page from the Bengals' draft playbook (no, seriously), drafting skill position playmakers in Round 1 and getting a quarterback in Round 2. (It's what Cincy did with A.J. Green and Andy Dalton last year and they ended up in the playoffs.)
Almost everyone agrees that Richardson was a slam dunk, even if it meant trading up one spot to get him. But even with Kendall Wright going to the Titans at No. 20, the Browns may have been better served drafting a wide receiver two picks later and doubling back on Weeden with their 37th selection.
Could another team have taken Weeden before then? We suppose, but looking at the CBSSports.com 2012 NFL Draft Tracker, who's making that move? At the top of the second round, the Rams, Colts Ravens and Broncos all had more immediate needs. You know, just like the Browns when they took Weeden 22nd overall.
That said, if Weeden proves to be a capable NFL starter, it'll give the Browns something they haven't had since Derek Anderson's from-outta-nowhere performance in 2007. And it will definitely be worth the late-first-rounder they used to get him. First things first: Weeden begins his rookie minicamp this week.
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