On Sunday, rookie Cody Kessler will become the 26th quarterback to start for the Browns since they re-entered the NFL in 1999. The previous 25 have come from all over the country, from Florida to Cleveland to Oregon and everywhere in between. It’s a group that features more guys named McCown (two) than guys with a winning record (one). Yes, there was a guy named Wynn, but nobody who knew how to do it.
Here’s how that motley crew ranks, from top—a relative term, if ever there was one—to bottom. You won’t be surprised to find out there was a whole lot more competition at the lower end...
1. Derek Anderson (Tenure as a starter: 2005–09; Record as a starter: 16–18)
Taking over for Week 1 starter Charlie Frye, who was traded two days after the 2007 season opener, Anderson hung 51 points on the Bengals in his first game and didn’t look back. He completed 56.5% of his passes for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns.
In a nutshell: Despite winning on the final day of the ’07 season, Anderson’s 10–6 Browns missed the playoffs due to having a worse record than the TItans against common opponents. He tore his MCL the next year.
2. Brian Hoyer (Tenure: 2013–14; Record: 10–6)
The local kid out of St. Ignatius High School won his first two starts as a Brown, but coach Rob Chudzinski still wouldn’t name him the starter. Then he ripped up his knee in his third start. Hoyer came back in 2014, playing so-so but getting W’s.
In a nutshell: With the Browns 7–6 contending for a playoff spot in ’14, Mike Pettine benched him for Johnny Manziel. The Browns promptly lost 30–0 to the Bengals and didn’t win again. Hoyer left to have a productive ’15 with the Texans, and he’s in line to start for the Bears this weekend.
3. Tim Couch (Tenure: 1999–2003; Record: 22–37)
The first player the franchise drafted upon its return to the NFL, Couch has won more games as a starter than any new Brown.
In a nutshell: After struggling through three seasons marked by injuries, blowouts and sacks, Couch led the 2002 team to a 9–7 record and a playoff berth. Naturally, he broke his leg in the regular season finale and missed the wild-card game. Kelly Holcomb stepped in and threw for 429 yards in a losing effort, a performance that helped him take Couch’s job.
4. Kelly Holcomb (Tenure: 2001–04; Record: 4–8)
Holcomb went off in that wild-card game against the Steelers—his 429 yards set a record at the time for non-OT playoff games—and the Browns still found a way to lose, 36–33. Holcomb had a tendency to put up big numbers in losses, not all of which were his fault. For instance...
In a nutshell: He threw for 413 yards and five TDs against the Bengals in 2004, but the Browns still lost 54–48 in Butch Davis’s last game as head coach.
5. Colt McCoy (Tenure: 2010–12; Record: 6–15)
A Heisman runner-up at Texas, McCoy fell to the Browns in the third round of the 2010 draft. He knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in his second start, although he finished just 9 of 16 for 74 yards through the air.
In a nutshell: For a brief time in 2011, he was the team’s leading receiver. His first pass in the season opener was tipped—to himself, and he snagged it to avoid a turnover. The play lost five yards.
6. Josh McCown (Tenure: 2015–present; Record: 1–8)
The second McCown brother to pilot the Browns, Josh signed a three-year deal in 2015. He put up massive numbers by Browns QB standards, including a three-game stretch in which he threw for 1,154 yards, but results were hard to come by, and injuries kept him from getting any momentum all year. This season, his only start ended in a broken collarbone.
In a nutshell: On opening drive of the 2015 season against the Jets, he took the Browns 90 yards, only to fumble at the one-yard line when he was hit trying to dive into the end zone. New York recovered, and McCown left with a concussion. The Jets won 31–10.
7. Jason Campbell (Tenure: 2013; Record: 1–7)
Playing for his fourth team in five years, Campbell actually put up pretty decent numbers in Cleveland, even earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in his second start, but the well-traveled veteran didn’t exactly get much help.
In a nutshell: He threw a late touchdown pass to give Cleveland a 26–14 lead with 2:43 left against the playoffs-bound Patriots. New England scored with 1:04 left, kicked off from midfield thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty, recovered an onside kick at the Browns 40 and scored the game-winning TD in 29 seconds.
8. Seneca Wallace (Tenure: 2010–11; Record: 1–6)
Brought to Cleveland from Seattle when Mike Holmgren took over as president, Wallace lost six of his seven starts—but five of those losses were by a TD or less.
In a nutshell: He had the Browns leading at halftime against the Falcons in Week 5 of 2010 before going down with an ankle sprain. Jake Delhomme came in and contributed a pick-six to Atlanta’s comeback. Wallace, who put up solid numbers before the injury, threw one more pass all year.
9. Jeff Garcia (Tenure: 2004; Record: 3–7)
The journeyman made four Pro Bowls—sandwiched around a brutal season with the Browns. He did, however, tie an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis.
In a nutshell: Garcia left Cleveland for the Lions after a disappointing 2003 campaign, then got his only win with Detroit against—you guessed it—Cleveland, early the following season.
10. Trent Dilfer (Tenure: 2005; Record: 4–7)
Four years after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl win, Dilfer was acquired from the Seahawks for a fourth-round pick. He threw the ball well enough, but the Browns didn’t win back-to-back games all year.
In a nutshell: Dilfer immediately butted heads with offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon. “I think there’s people that are good at what they do, and people that aren’t,” he said after Carthon was fired in 2007.
11. Charlie Frye (Tenure: 2006–07; Record: 6–13)
After playing well late in 2005, Frye was named the starter entering ’06. A product of the University of Akron, he didn’t quite deliver the same results as that other Kid from Akron, but he was still popular with the hometown fans. During a 30–0 loss to the Bengals (owners of the league’s worst defense), he and Braylon Edwards had to be separated by teammates during a sideline tiff; when Edwards began yapping at the Cleveland crowd to plead his case, they showed whose side they were on by pelting him with garbage.
In a nutshell: After winning a camp battle for the starting job in 2007, Frye was yanked less than 30 minutes into the opener by coach Romeo Crennel and two days later became the first quarterback since the merger to start in Week 1 and be traded before Week 2.
12. Jake Delhomme (Tenure: 2010; Record: 2–2)
Coming off a woeful 2009 season that saw the Panthers release him even though they still owed him $12.5 million, Delhomme beat out Seneca Wallace for the starting job in Cleveland. He hurt his ankle in his first start but tried to play through it, leading to recurring problems.
In a nutshell: Delhomme declared, “I’ll always consider myself a Panther” just before the Browns took on Carolina, a game in which he threw no TDs and two picks. (The Browns inexplicably won when John Kasay missed a field goal as time expired.)
13. Brandon Weeden (Tenure: 2012–13; Record: 5–15)
The former minor league baseball player was drafted with the No. 22 in 2012 as a 28-year-old.
In a nutshell: He got trapped under a giant American flag on the field before his pro debut, then went out and threw four picks.
14. Brady Quinn (Tenure: 2007–09; Record: 3–9)
An All-American at Notre Dame, Quinn battled Anderson for the job in 2008 and ’09, once throwing a team-record three TD passes in a quarter.
In a nutshell: Quinn began the Curse of 22 when he was taken with that pick in 2007. In later drafts, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel would be picked in the same spot.
15. Johnny Manziel (Tenure: 2014–15; Record: 2–6)
Taken with the 22nd pick after a homeless man told owner Jimmy Haslam it was the right thing to do. Perhaps you’re familiar with his off-the-field exploits.
In a nutshell: He played well enough to be named starter in November of his rookie year, but he was demoted to third string a week later when video emerged of him partying in Texas on a bye week. After the season finale, he skipped out on his concussion protocol and was shortly thereafter spotted in Vegas, wearing a fake mustache and calling himself Billy.
16. Thad Lewis (Tenure: 2012; Record: 0–1)
The former Duke star was signed off the practice squad and forced to start when Weeden and McCoy got hurt.
In a nutshell: Less than a week after being added to the active roster, Lewis went 22 of 32 for 204 yards against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense. The Browns waived him anyway.
17. Connor Shaw (Tenure: 2014; Record: 0–1)
Called up from the practice squad to start the season finale in 2014 after injuries to Manziel and Hoyer.
In a nutshell: Played well enough in a Week 17 loss to the Ravens, then tore up his thumb the following preseason, sidelining him for the year and ending his career with the Browns.
18. Ty Detmer (Tenure: 1999; Record: 0–2)
The 1990 Heisman winner was brought in to mentor Tim Couch in 1999, the Browns’ first season back in the league. He ended up starting in Week 1, passing for just 52 yards before being pulled in a 43–0 loss to Pittsburgh.
In a nutshell: Detmer tore his Achilles in the 2000 preseason and resurfaced in Detroit a year later for the final four starts of his career.
19. Austin Davis (Tenure: 2015; Record: 0–2)
The former college walk-on impressed with the Rams in 2014, earning himself a two-year deal with the Browns. He appeared in three games, one against each AFC North rival. The Browns lost them all.
In a nutshell: He led the Browns to a game-tying touchdown in relief against the Ravens on Monday Night Football, then drove the offense into position for the game-winning field goal. It was blocked and returned 64 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
20. Robert Griffin III (Tenure: 2016; Record: 0–1)
The franchise opted against drafting a QB this spring, instead trading down from the No. 2 spot (the Eagles ultimately took Carson Wentz there) and signing injury-addled RG3, who hadn’t thrown a pass in over a year.
In a nutshell: He may miss the rest of the season after breaking a bone in his left shoulder in the opener against the Eagles, who won 29–10 behind Wentz.
21. Doug Pederson (Tenure: 2000; Record: 1–7)
Pederson was on the opposing sideline when RG3 went down in Week 1, on his way to a win in his first game as the Eagles’ head coach. Still, that’s not the most damage to the Browns Pederson has overseen in his lifetime. As the starting quarterback after Couch got hurt in 2000, Pederson led the Browns to a total of five offensive touchdowns in eight games.
In a nutshell: Pederson failed to crack the 65-yard single-game passing plateau until his third start of the season.
22. Luke McCown (Tenure: 2004; Record: 0–4)
McCown was expected to back up Jeff Garcia after being drafted by the team in 2004. When Butch Davis quit 11 games into the season, new coach Terry Robiskie decided to shake things up and put McCown under center. He was traded to Tampa Bay during the 2005 draft.
In a nutshell: McCown gained 67 yards passing in his second start, at Buffalo—and he gave up 70 in sack yardage, one of just four games this millennium in which a team finished with negative passing yards.
23. Ken Dorsey (Tenure: 2008; Record: 0–3)
The Browns traded Dilfer for Dorsey, whose three starts in Cleveland resulted in six interceptions, five sacks, three offensive points and more pick-sixes (two) than TD passes (none).
In a nutshell: After a heady 10-win season in 2007, the Browns appeared on Monday Night Football three times in ’08—and started three different QBs. Only Dorsey lost his start.
24. Spergon Wynn (Tenure: 2000; Record: 0–1)
Drafted out of Southwest Texas State in 2000—just before Tom Brady—Wynn saw action in seven games that season before the team sent him to Amsterdam of the World League for seasoning. He was then traded to Minnesota, where he appeared in three games in 2001 and never played in the NFL again.
In a nutshell: The Browns collected two first downs in his only start, a 48–0 loss to the Jaguars. One came on an encroachment penalty. His long pass, for eight yards, was equaled that afternoon by wide receiver Kevin Johnson, who finished the game with a 100.0 quarterback rating. Wynn’s was 40.6.
25. Bruce Gradkowski (Tenure: 2008; Record: 0–1)
Another local QB, the University of Toledo product signed with the Browns when Derek Anderson went down late in 2008, with the team in the midst of an offensive touchdown drought that would ultimately reach 24 quarters.
In a nutshell: Gradkowski finished his only season in Cleveland with a QB rating of 2.8.