Thursday, August 2, 2018
The Franchise 9: Cleveland Browns
One feature I want to make for this blog is to feature the best nine players for each franchise. Why nine? Because then I get to create a binder with a page for each team, of course! To make my task a little easier, I've decided to narrow the field to Super Bowl Era players only. First of all, it eased the selection process because I wanted to keep each team to nine players. Trying to take a team like the Bears or Packers with all its history and whittle the greatest players to nine is a daunting task. For some of these teams, it was hard enough to make the cuts that I did. To double the length of the history and decide between Norm Van Brocklin and Torry Holt was beyond the scope of what I wanted for this project. Sorry Norm, it's just easier to justify excluding you because of your time period. Second, it makes it a bit easier to collect the cards I need without having to bust my budget on a lot of vintage. Third, since half the teams in the NFL don't have history too far beyond the advent of the Super Bowl, it levels the field a little for the newer teams.
As is always the case with any type of ranking, there will be plenty of room for debate. This is in no way a definitive list. I have a soft spot in my heart for the guys in the trenches, so some may say that I have included too many offensive linemen. Interestingly, I have found that most teams have a 5/4 split between offense and defense, or vice-versa. I didn't intentionally try to even it out, that's just how it turned out. This is just my opinion, and I tried to base it on both stats and status. I've learned a little bit of football history in the process as well, and having a bit of history is one of the appeals of collecting to me. In any case, it gave me another something to do with my cards, and that's why I did it in the first place.
The teams will be presented in no particular order; basically, I have chosen the players already and am in the process of filling in the gaps as I do not currently own a card of every player I have chosen. I'll present each team as I complete its page. Players are in order of position, not ranking. I don't really care to take my nine franchise players and try to rank their greatness. I'll just leave it as a team.
Today we'll take a look at the Cleveland Browns.
1. Leroy Kelly, RB (1970 Topps)
Obviously not the greatest running back in Browns' history, but he is the best of the Super Bowl Era. In 10 seasons with Cleveland, he rushed for 7,274 yards and 74 TDs. He is the 2nd-leading rusher in franchise history. He was a 6-time Pro Bowler and 3-time 1st Team All-Pro.
2. Paul Warfield, WR (2007 Playoff Contenders Legendary Contenders)
Hall of Famer Paul Warfield had some of his best years with the Browns. In eight seasons, he caught 271 passes for an insane 19.2 yards per catch. He scored on nearly 20% of those catches, too, finding the end zone 52 times for the Browns.
3. Ozzie Newsome, TE (1987 Topps)
Before he became known as the genius GM of the Ravens, Newsome was the premier TE of the 80s. He spent his entire career in Cleveland, amassing 662 receptions for 72 TDs in his career. He was the all-time leader in receptions by a tight end at the time of his retirement.
4. Gene Hickerson, G (1971 Topps)
Hickerson was a Hall of Fame guard who played half of his career before the Super Bowl Era. However, five of his six Pro Bowl selections and all three of his 1st-Team All-Pro bids came after 1965, which is part of the Super Bowl Era. For that reason, I count him as one of the best Browns of modern times.
5. Joe Thomas, T (2008 Topps)
Recently retired Joe Thomas should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, in my opinion. He made the Pro Bowl every year of his career until injuries derailed his final season. Throw six 1st Team All-Pro selections in 11 years to the mix, and you get a dominant tackle.
6. Michael Dean Perry, DT (1993 Upper Deck)
I feel like this one could be a bit controversial, but I'll make my case. According to Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value stat, Perry is the seventh highest Brown in history. Not only that, but only Joe Thomas, Leroy Kelly, and Gene Hickerson have more combined Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections for the Browns than Perry. He is also second in franchise history in sacks. His older brother, William "Refrigerator" Perry may have gotten more publicity, but I would take MDP on my team.
7. Clay Matthews, LB (1991 Pro Set)
Speaking of brothers, Clay's brother Bruce was already named to the Houston/Tennessee Franchise 9 team as an offensive lineman. On the defensive side, Clay was a pretty good player himself. He may not be in the Hall of Fame, but he is still the franchise leader in sacks, even 25 years after leaving the team.
8. Hanford Dixon, CB (1989 Pro Set)
Teammate Frank Minnifield was named to the NFL's All-1980s team. I don't understand why. Dixon accumulated more interceptions, more Pro Bowls, and was an All-Pro twice. Plus, he played through the entire decade, whereas Minnifield started in 1984. Not only that, but Dixon claimed credit for naming the Browns' secondary "the Dawgs," thus beginning the Dawg Pound in Cleveland. He is very much deserving of this nomination.
9. Frank Minnifield, CB (1990 Pro Set)
Of course, Minnifield was no slouch himself. He was also a Pro Bowl regular and an All-Pro. If he didn't coin the term "Dawg Pound," he at least had a hand in creating it. Looking at this team, it's easy to see why the Browns had the success they did in the 80s--Matthews, Dixon, and Minnifield all together made it difficult for opposing offenses to get things going.
Ultimately, this was one of the more depressing Franchise 9 players to decide. There is some great history for this team--but it is old history. Most of the best players to suit up for the Browns did so before the advent of the Super Bowl. The team won multiple championships in the years before the AFL/NFL merger and hasn't been back to the championship game since. Only one player on this team has been active in the past 25 years. The future may be bright, though, as the Browns really have a chance to build on some young players and lots of high draft picks. We'll see if they can make strides in the AFC North.
What do you think? Who would you change out if you had to limit this team to the 9 best players of the past 50 years? Let the discussions begin!