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EoF Time Machine: Tim Couch, '99 draft class held such promise

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

The 1999 draft included (from L to R): Couch, Culpepper, McNabb, McCown, Smith and Williams. (Getty Images)
The 1999 quarterback class sure looked good on paper. And before you point out, "Yeah, you could say that every year," we'd remind you of the 2013 cast of characters, a group that excites absolutely no one.

Fourteen years ago, the Browns were an expansion franchise and had the first overall pick. Their future would be determined, in large part, on who they selected. In fact, the April 12, 1999, Sports Illustrated cover asked if the Browns should take Tim Couch or Akili Smith No. 1.

Couch drew the short straw and would start 14 games as a rookie. The results were about how you might expect -- the Browns won two times that year and Couch completed 55.9 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, which is impressive given that he was sacked 56 (!) times.

Some highs and (mostly) lows from the inaugural season (these were taken from The Cleveland Browns: a Brief History, a post we worked up several years ago):

* Sept. 12 -- Browns lose season opener to Steelers, 43-0: "Over the years, the Browns against the Steelers have arguably produced the NFL's greatest rivalry. Al Lerner, the billionaire new owner of the Browns petitioned the league to have Pittsburgh christen his expansion Browns. As demoralizing as that decision could now seem -- "We played very poorly," Browns coach Chris Palmer said, 'we've got no place to go but up,' -- Cleveland fans know it's better to be at the bottom of the NFL than nowhere in the league at all." - Dayton Daily News

* Nov. 14 -- Browns beat the Steelers, 16-15: "Yes, it's embarrassing," Steelers linebacker Earl Holmes said at the time. "Not to take anything away from the Browns, but it's very embarrassing."

* Dec. 19 -- Referee Jeff Triplette throws a penalty flag that inadvertently strikes Cleveland tackle Orlando Brown in the eye. Brown shoves Triplette to the ground. "I would like to apologize to Jeff Triplette for what happened today,'' [Palmer] said after the game via SI.com's Peter King. "It was an embarrassing situation for me. Maybe if I had more control over the situation, he [Triplette] would have been in better shape. I have tried to work with the player and his emotions during the course of the year, and obviously I failed in this situation.''

(Brown, who underwent major eye surgery in 1999, struggled with blurred vision and white spots for several years before his comeback with the Ravens in 2004.)

Clearly, this isn't all Couch's fault -- he was playing for an organization cursed long before it bolted for Baltimore. But would things have been different if, say, the Browns had taken Donovan McNabb or Daunte Culpepper? (View all the QBs from that '99 class.)

It's hard to say. You could argue that McNabb and Culpepper were better based on their production and longevity, but they also went to situations that didn't approach the FUBAR-acity of Cleveland (which, you might argue, held for the 30 other teams, too).

But who knows, maybe this is the year everything comes together.

Incidentally, five months before Couch was drafted, he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, along with, from right to left, Texas running back Ricky Williams, UCLA quarterback Cade McNown and Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop. In related news: Williams can see into your soul.

In December 1998, Couch had no idea what fate awaited him in the NFL. (Getty Images)

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