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Browns QBs, Johnny U, and nine other bolts out of the blue

By Steve Doerschuk The Canton Repository Published: June 13, 2017 4:00 AM
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It's long past due for the Browns to be the NFL's annual surprise team.

For that to happen in 2017, they'll need a bolt out of the blue at quarterback.

Cody Kessler was 0-8 as a rookie starter in 2016.

Of the 36 QBs passing for more than 1,000 yards in 2016, Brock Osweiler was No. 33 in passer rating at 72.2, just behind No. 32 Josh McCown's 72.3.

DeShone Kizer was 4-8 in his final year at Notre Dame.

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Kevin Hogan has less than a 50-50 shot to even make the roster.

A big year from any of them would be a bolt, to be sure.

A fairly compact hope chest can be examined, by way of examples of QBs who came out of nowhere to have big seasons.

Here's a list of 10, mostly recent, but touching on a few interesting names from the past.

BOLT 1

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JOHNNY UNITAS

Drafted in Round 9 and cut by the Steelers, he was playing semi-pro ball for $6 a game before Weeb Ewbank won a wrestling match against his former Cleveland boss Paul Brown and signed him to the Colts.

Starter George Shaw broke a leg, giving Unitas a handful of starts in 1956. In 1957, he led the league in touchdown passes.

BOLT 2

FRANK RYAN

Ryan passed for 293 yards in 10 games as a Rice senior sharing time with King Hill. Ryan lasted until the fifth round of the 1958 draft and was a four-year backup with the Rams. As a first-year Cleveland Brown in 1962, he got some work as an injury replacement in a season that got coach Paul Brown fired.

Finally getting a chance to start in 1963, Ryan went 10-3. In 1964, he led led the Browns to the NFL championship.

BOLT 3

JOE MONTANA

That was quarterback Dan Manucci, not Dan Marino, drafted down there in the neighborhood where the 49ers plucked Montana at No. 82 overall in 1979.

No one was moaning about missing on Montana when his record was 2-6 through his first two seasons. He started in Year 3, went 16-3, and won a Super Bowl.

BOLT 4

KURT WARNER

A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017, Warner was so inconsequential to the 1999 Rams that they exposed him to the expansion draft, where the Browns decided he wasn't worth taking. Trent Green blew out a knee. Warner became the Rams starter and became 1999 NFL MVP as well as MVP in the Super Bowl.

BOLT 5

DREW BREES

Bolt out of the blue? This guy? Sounds crazy now. It didn't after his third season in the NFL, his second as a Chargers starter.

Brees posted a 2-9 record, with 11 TDs, 15 interceptions and a 67.5 rating. It appeared to be a mistake to have taken him with the first pick of the second round in 2001.

The next year, Brees was 11-5 with a 104.8 rating.

(In Osweiler's second year as an NFL starter, for what it's worth, he was 8-6, with 15 TDs, 16 interceptions and that 72.2 rating.)

BOLT 6

TOMMY MADDOX

Maddox was a 1993 first-round bust. After getting released by the Giants and Falcons, he played for the New Jersey Red Dogs (Arena League) and L.A. Xtreme (XFL).

He got back in the NFL when the Steelers ran out of patience with Kordell Stewart. In 2002, at age 31, he led Pittsburgh from a 17-point deficit to a 36-33 playoff win over the Browns.

BOLT 7

JAKE DELHOMME

Seven QBs were drafted in Rounds 6 and 7 in 1997. No one thought Delhomme was worth even that sort of low-stakes gamble.

He was 28, two years removed from his only two NFL starts, when he became the Panthers' starter in 2003. He went 10-5 and took Carolina to the brink of beating New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

BOLT 8

TONY ROMO

The Steelers (Brian St. Pierre, Round 5) were among 13 teams that drafted a quarterback in 2003. Romo, from Eastern Illinois, wasn't one of them. He didn't throw a pass in his first three years with the Cowboys.

He made his first NFL start in Game 7 in 2006 and went on a 7-3 hot streak that got the Cowboys to the playoffs.

BOLT 9

RUSSELL WILSON

Wilson was 2-7 down the stretch as a second-year North Carolina State starter. He then boosted his stock in a career that ended at Wisconsin, but he wasn't drafted until Round 3. The fourth, fifth and sixth QBs selected were Brandon Weeden, Osweiler and Wilson.

As a rookie starter, Wilson helped the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and won a playoff duel against Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III.

BOLT 10

DAK PRESCOTT

Prescott was the eighth quarterback drafted in 2016 (Kessler was the sixth). He started every game, helped Dallas to a 13-3 season, and was named NFL Rookie of the Year.

There are other "bolts" one could name. We exclude former 17th-round pick Brian Sipe from our list of 10 because he started plenty of games for the Browns while slow-cooking his way to NFL MVP honors in 1980.

We exclude Tom Brady on the off chance you're tired of reading about him.

Meanwhile, the 2017 Cleveland Browns move through spring practice with guys named Cody, Brock, DeShone and Kevin at quarterback.

Their last names don't mean much, now, in the scheme of NFL things.

They can dream, can't they?


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