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Empathizing with Colt McCoy

Today, Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur announced to what the entire city of Cleveland already knew — I assume others outside of Cleveland knew, but undoubtedly didn’t care — Brandon Weeden would be the starter for the Browns’ first playoff game. This all but effectively ends the short Colt McCoy era in Cleveland, at least as far as him starting is concerned.

During his 21 games played in his first two seasons, McCoy completed 58.4% of his passes for 4,309 yard, 20 TDs and 20 INTs with a rating of 74.5. You most likely looked at these numbers and said, “Yeah, I can see why this thing ended.” However, I don’t think the raw numbers tell all there is to know about Colt McCoy. Sure, they may be a big indicator of his abilities, but they’re only part of the story.

First, let’s look at the situation. Colt McCoy was drafted in the third round by a franchise that is probably in the bottom five of all U.S. sports franchises. Their owner was non-existent. Their team president (Mike Holmgren) didn’t want the incumbent coach (Eric Mangini). Their talent level was on par with a JV high school team and they competed in one of the toughest divisions in football. Not to mention living in the only sports town that God hates. There really wasn’t a winning scenario here. Add in the fact that Jake Delhomme, an undeniably nice guy but currently lacking in any competent football skills, was his mentor and competition in camp and you see the grim situation he was facing. Miraculously, McCoy rallied the troops in his second and third game and pulled off stunning ROUTS of New Orleans and New England in back to back games, the second of which probably gave Mangini priapism. However, the hope was short lived as Cleveland went on to lose their last five games, the first four only by a combined 22 points before Pittsburgh drubbed them by 32 en route to their Super Bowl berth.

During the offseason, Holmgren was able to scapegoat Mangini and  hired Pat Shurmur as his replacement, bringing in a new offensive system. The results were more or less the same. McCoy threw for over 2,700 yards, completing 57.2% of his passes for 14 TDs and 11 INTs over 13 games until James Harrison did his best Bane impersonation to McCoy’s head, ending his season with a serious concussion. Again, his numbers were pedestrian, but there’s more that meets the eye.

To start with, Cleveland’s receiving corp is most likely the worst in the league, or close to it. Their best receiver in 2011 was a rookie who caught 61 passes for 709 yards. Only one other player caught as much as 40 passes. Football Outsiders ranked the top 3 receivers on the Browns (Josh Cribbs, Mohamed Massaquoi and Greg Little) as 38th, 86th and 88th, respectively, in the league according to the DYAR metric. In other words, their top receiver, at best, would be the second option on any other team, with the other two only playing in three-receiver sets. A quarterback can only do so much. The counter-argument to that, of course, is that McCoy was Football Outsider’s 36th ranked passer in 2011, making him a second option on any other team, which is a valid point. However, I believe a young quarterback deserves a little more opportunity than 21 starts between two different offensive coordinators on team that is as starved for talent as Kim Kardashian is for attention. A prime example of this is Alex Smith. Smith was a number one draft pick for a piss-poor 49ers team in 2005. After his second season, Football Outsiders ranked him as the 38th best QB in the league. He also had gone through (and continued to endure) major upheavals in the team’s infrastructure before finally finding a quality coach and talent (mostly Vernon Davis) on the outside. In 2011, Smith rebounded to have his best year, coming in at 13 on Football Outsider’s rankings.

Now, do I believe that McCoy can pull and Alex Smith and lead a defensively-stacked team to a 13-3 record and the conference championship game? No, probably not. However, I do believe he was given a raw deal in his situation and should have had one more season to prove himself before being relegated to clipboard duty. Given time, I think he could’ve transitioned into a quality, good-but-not-great starter for a team, much in the mold of a Matt Hasslebeck or Vinny Testaverde. As he showed in college, he can be accurate and win when he has talent around him. Unfortunately, God sent him to Cleveland, where you must check your talent at the door.

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