When talking rookie quarterback prospects, two names are prevalent – Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. There will occasionally be a side of Ryan Tannehill sprinkled in for someone projecting future production and then a nutjob will mention Brandon Weeden. In this article, I shall be the nutjob. While some may compare the rookie year of Andrew Luck to Peyton Manning or RG3 to Cam Newton, I shall compare the rookie season of Brandon Weeden to Sam Bradford. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it is probably much more accurate. Allow me to explain.
Let me to paint you a picture: A rookie under center who played his college years in the Big 12 operating a pass-happy offense which masked any deficiencies in navigating the pocket. A bruising running back behind an offensive line not exactly engineered for a power-running game. Question marks at wide receiver, with no proven target to lean on but many young targets whose skill levels were tough to gauge due to the teams’ previous quarterback. And lastly, Pat Shurmur calling the plays. Am I describing the 2012 Cleveland Browns or the 2010 St. Louis Rams? The correct answer is both.
That 2010 season, Sam Bradford set the rookie record for completions (354) and attempts (590) while becoming only the 3rd rookie quarterback to start all 16 games and pass for 3,000 yards. Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have since joined that club but for Sam Bradford to do so on a team that won 5 combined games the previous three seasons is saying something about both Bradford and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Should we expect an air-it-out offense in Cleveland under Brandon Weeden early in his career? Absolutely not. In fact, looking at the deep passing (attempts of 20 yards or more) over the last 3 years for quarterbacks with Shurmur calling plays may make one wonder if Cleveland will ever air it out with Brandon Weeden:
- Matt Bulger (2009): 28 deep pass attempts, 11.3% of passes
- Kyle Boller (2009): 14 deep pass attempts, 8% of passes
- Keith Null (2009): 10 deep pass attempts, 8.4% of passes
- Sam Bradford (2010): 40 deep pass attempts, 6.8% of passes
- Colt McCoy (2011): 44 deep pass attempts, 9.5% of passes
- Seneca Wallace (2011): 10 deep pass attempts, 9.3% of passes
Adding up the number of passes over 20 yards for offenses under Pat Shurmur for the past 2 seasons (94) is still less than the 109 deep passes that Eli Manning attempted last season alone (18.5% of his throws).
There are several ways to view this data, and likely many factors in the equation. For one, every quarterback on the list was in their first year operating the Pat Shurmur offense. Thus, it could be a matter of baby steps. Considering Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford threw 45% (5 of 11) and 20% (3 of 15) of their interceptions on deep passes, baby steps were probably a wise choice. It could also be that these teams just don’t have the deep targets to throw it to. Guys like Danny Amendola and Greg Little just aren’t the type of receivers that you air it out to such as Hakeem Nicks or Mario Manningham. In fact, Little was targeted the 17th most of any wideout last year but only 13 times was it on an attempt of more than 20 yards (11.5% of his targets).
The main difference between the 2010 Rams and the 2012 Browns will be pass protection. With the best pass protecting left tackle in the NFL Joe Thomas (+20.0 pass blocking grade) and second round pick Mitchell Schwartz likely taking over the right tackle position, Brandon Weeden should have a better pocket than Sam Bradford did in 2010. That year, Bradford felt a bit of pressure with Roger Saffold and Jason Smith (-5.8 and -7.6 pass protecting ratings) protecting the edges. And then in 2011, the Rams offensive line collapsed and Bradford broke down. That is less likely to happen to Brandon Weeden with those two protecting him.
But while Browns do have a large advantage over the Rams in pass protection, they also have a large disadvantage in that they have to face the AFC North instead of the NFC West. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers will find out early on whether Brandon Weeden can handle the pass rush. If Pat Shurmur does take babysteps with Weeden, his chances of failure will be limited. After Colt McCoy had a PFF rating of -19.0 yet threw for a respectable TD/INT ratio of 11/5, chances of Brandon Weeden falling flat on his face seem very minimal.
I expect the production of Brandon Weeden to be very similar to that of Sam Bradford in 2010. 354 completions, 590 attempts, 3,512 yards 18 TD and 15 INT sounds about right. It’s very unlikely that those numbers will make Brandon Weeden into top 15 fantasy quarterbacks with the surplus at the position in the NFL now. But for a rookie, those numbers would a first baby step in the right direction. How he does going forward from 2013 and beyond will depend on how quickly the team can surround him with playmakers.
Follow Mike Daneshgar on Twitter, @mdaneshgar.