2012 was the year of the rookie quarterback. With the likes of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson dominating headlines while leading each of their teams to surprise playoff appearances, a few other rookie quarterbacks were given starting opportunities as well – with relatively mixed results. One of those quarterbacks was the Cleveland Browns’ Brandon Weeden.
Given the fact that the Browns have had 18 different starting quarterbacks since returning to the NFL in 1999, it’s safe to say that stability at the position has been hard to come by. Weeden, who is already 29 years old in just his second season, has contributed to continuing that trend. Weeden was drafted by the former Browns management tandem of Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2012 Draft. Despite his draft position, most Browns fans kept their expectations grounded because of all of the things working against Weeden’s favor: his age, a poor track record of former professional baseball players in the NFL (Drew Henson, Chris Weinke), and a near-exclusive use of shotgun formations at Oklahoma State – just to name a few.
Although he flashed serious potential at times, Weeden more often than not failed to silence his doubters. He started off the 2012 season with one of the worst quarterback performances many of us have ever seen (5.1 passer rating) in a week 1 loss to Philadelphia, but performed admirably the following week against Cincinnati (114.9 passer rating). The ups-and-downs continued throughout the remainder of the season, as Weeden followed many of his best feats with some of his worst blunders. Weeden’s final stat line reflected his inconsistencies: 3,385 yards, 14 TD, 17 INT, 57.4 completion percentage, 72.6 passer rating.
For those who followed the Browns season closely, it was obvious that Weeden’s skill set did not fit well into Pat Shurmur’s West Coast offense. However, not all of the blame could be placed on the coaching staff, as Weeden often displayed poor decision making skills. Struggles with batted balls, reading defenses, and costly interceptions in key moments persisted throughout the season for Weeden.
The good news for Browns fans? Shurmur is gone, and he has been replaced with the well-traveled Norv Turner and rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski. Turner and Chud have already made it clear that they will open up the offense to better fit Weeden’s gun-slinging, downfield approach while continuing to keep the offense balanced with plenty of feeds to workhouse running back Trent Richardson.
Also, Weeden is now a year older (actually, that’s good and bad news). Some experts, such as NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, are under the belief that Weeden is in the position to take a major leap forward in his second year as an NFL starter. The tools are there, as Weeden possesses excellent arm strength and certainly looks the part of a successful NFL quarterback (6-foot-3, 220 pounds). His leadership skills have rarely come into question, either, as he has publicly earned the respect and approval of many of his coaches and teammates.
Backing up Weeden are the newly-acquired Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. There have been discussions among fan circles that Campbell or Hoyer could compete with Weeden for the starting job, but that is little more than fan speculation at this point. This should be Weeden’s job to lose.
With all of the offseason moves that the Browns have made, the future in Cleveland appears to be much brighter than it has been in past years. Arguably the most pivotal piece to the success of any NFL franchise, though, is stability at the quarterback position. Just ask the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, who recently agreed to dish out $120.6 million over six years to quarterback Joe Flacco. If Brandon Weeden fails to progress during his second season, then the Browns must look elsewhere in 2014. Until that point, we have to trust that Brandon Weeden can develop into the position stabilizer the Cleveland Browns franchise so desperately needs.