When the prospect of hiring Andrew Berry to be the general manager of the Cleveland Browns was introduced, it immediately renewed old arguments about the use of analytics and how the Browns employed them when Sashi Brown was the Executive Vice President of the team. The resulting rift which pit people who wanted to embrace data against those who wanted so-called "football guys" to make the decisions was the same one that was created in Berea when team owner Jimmy Haslam insisted on hiring Hue Jackson to be the head coach.
Now that Berry has taken the job to be the team's general manager, any number of misconceptions about his ability to judge talent or manage a team have come up due to the teams that went 1-31 in 2016 and 2017 as well as decisions in free agency and the NFL Draft are concerned.
When Sashi Brown hired Berry from the Indianapolis Colts, Berry had been involved in scouting for seven seasons. Brown was, after all, a lawyer and he needed someone to do the heavy lifting when it came to talent evaluation. Along the way, Berry was exposed to some of the creative ideas Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta and Brown were utilizing to manage the salary cap and create additional assets in the draft with trades. After three years in Cleveland, two with Brown and one with John Dorsey, Berry took an opportunity to work with the Philadelphia Eagles under their general manager, Howie Roseman, giving him more exposure to the business side of the organization.
Just 32 years old, Berry has been directly involved in scouting for seven of them, then four between the Browns and Eagles in the scouting process as well as being exposed to more of the business side including contract negotiations and salary cap management. He's also coming at this with an economics degree from Harvard, trained to think and approach things from a different perspective as well as a master's in computer science, which may not have a specific use in this role, but is impressive nonetheless. Berry is really smart. That's a good thing. That's in addition to playing four years a a corner for the Crimson and getting a look as an undrafted free agent from the Washington Redskins.
Despite how much worked out in the strangest of ways by going 1-31, enabling the Browns to select their franchise quarterback instead of having to trade picks to move up to get them, which was their plan all along and why they stockpiled so many, so much of what led to 1-31 wasn't because of analytics and their use. It was caused by a terrible marriage forced onto them by ownership and the battle that waged on for those two seasons that carried over into the past two seasons.
When the Browns hired Hue Jackson, they hired a paranoid, insecure head coach who thought he had all the answers and fought them every step of the way in what they were trying to accomplish, believing that would help his standing within the organization. That led to the trades down the draft order that so many assume is just how analytics work, but also forced them to compromise on so many picks, so Hue could feel like a big man.
So while many people assume every decision the team made during that time was rooted in analytics and therefore analytics failed, that couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, the Browns ended up with this mutant organization with parts based in data, parts rooted in stubborn, outdated thinking and arrogance with a good amount of scar tissue as a result of the clashing of those two thought processes.
From the 2016 NFL Draft, Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, Cody Kessler Joe Schobert, Ricardo Louis, Derrick Kindred, Seth DeValve, Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton and Trey Caldwell were all well rooted in data.
Coleman had immense talent, but the Browns failed to vet him well enough as a person, which is what caused him to fail. Ogbah has had injuries derail some impressive seasons between 2017 with the Browns and 2019 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Nassib is a rotational piece on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that would've been far better than what the Browns were left with this past season. Kessler was overdrafted by about three rounds, but still continues to find spots on rosters as a backup quarterback.
Joe Schobert has made a Pro Bowl and as he heads to free agency, was one of the most important pieces on the team's defense the last few years. Louis was a shot that didn't work in part because he never developed consistency as well as horrific injuries, including his neck and an ACL. Higgins had a big impact in 2018, but for reasons that still aren't exactly clear, disappeared in 2019 after an injury, seemingly finding himself in the dog house of Freddie Kitchens.
Payton had a tremendous profile and simply didn't work. Caldwell was drafted to a team with a ton of corners and couldn't do enough to earn a spot among them. Kindred is still floating around the league and DeValve flashed big time talent, but couldn't stay healthy. He's now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango and Scooby Wright were not backed by data. Coleman turned 25 in his rookie year and had no athletic data due to a MCL injury.Age is important in projecting outcomes from the NFL Draft. Oddly enough, he was the swing tackle for the San Francisco 49ers before a knee injury before the season started took him out for the year. Spencer Drango's athleticism was abysmal. Even his build was peculiar. Wright's production was outstanding, but he couldn't move and couldn't contribute on special teams as a result, so he had to start or he was dead weight. Wright proved to be dead weight.
In addition to the players they selected, this draft also netted the Browns additional draft assets for the future. 2017 was subjected to more compromise than 2016, which proved incredibly frustrating and hurt them in the draft process.
The 2017 NFL Draft started with Myles Garrett, who is one of the best defensive players in the league. His data was ridiculous. After trading down from 12th pick when they didn't get Patrick Mahomes and Hue didn't want Deshaun Watson, preferring Malik Hooker, the Browns added a first round pick for 2018 and then picked Jabrill Peppers.
Peppers had a solid draft profile from a data perspective, but Gregg Williams pounded the table for him. After struggling for the first half of his rookie year, he started getting better despite playing at free safety, which is completely different from anything he'd ever done. He played very well in his second season at strong safety and was part of the deal to acquire Odell Beckham from the New York Giants.
The Browns traded up, moving in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers to get David Njoku, who is another player that really did well with data, particularly because he was so young. Njoku had a good second year and his third season was derailed by an injury. Still, he only turns 24 years old this coming season and he can be a very productive player.
DeShone Kizer represents the official divorce of Hue Jackson from the analytics side of the organization. Not only was Kizer's data profile abominable and his chances of being successful almost zero, Jackson chose to ignore the rest of the front office, doing his own scouting on Kizer, believing himself to be a quarterback whisperer.
Even when people working with Kizer in his draft prep tried to call Jackson to give them some insight, Jackson refused to speak with them. That continued when Jackson ignored the front office's desire as well as his own quarterback coach, who Jackson would later fire, to let Kizer sit and develop. That arrogance killed whatever chance, however small, Kizer had to succeed in the NFL and why Jackson shouldn't be allowed anywhere near kids in a coaching capacity.
Larry Ogunjobi was another dynamo when it came to data, putting together an excellent profile. His rookie year has been his best to this point, but there's still a ton of ability with him and he can be a good player. He makes his share of splash plays, but he needs to be more consistent, particularly against the run.
Howard Wilson's draft profile with data was fine, but not for what the Browns intended him to do. He was built to be a nickel corner and they were hoping he could play the boundary. Sadly for Wilson, he never got to put on a Browns uniform in even a preseason game as injuries to his knees killed his career before it started.
Rod Johnson was awful when it came to data and his tape was even worse. Everything about this pick had disaster written all over it. Caleb Brantley was a similar deal in that he didn't produce, wasn't athletic with the added bonus of being lazy.
Their best pick from day three of that draft was Zane Gonzalez, who made the Pro Bowl this year as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Matthew Dayes had great production, but his athleticism wasn't great. Still, for where they picked him, he was a solid selection and was okay in his time as a Brown.
Out of the 24 selections made in two drafts, at least six of them or 25 percent completely ignored any concept of analytics or data. And of those six, exactly none of them panned out for the Browns, so they were effectively wasted in the name of compromise. Shon Coleman has a chance to improve that record to one.
Of the 18 selections rooted in data, three of them have made the Pro Bowl (Garrett, Schobert, Gonzalez), one was a massive bust (Corey Coleman), three are contributing for other teams (Nassib, Ogbah, Peppers), three are or have contributed on the Browns roster (Njoku, Ogunjobi, Higgins) and the remaining eight are either at the bottom of a roster, a free agent or out of the league entirely (Kessler, Kindred, Louis, Payton, DeValve, Caldwell, Wilson, Dayes).
In all, the Browns whiffed on nine of the 18 picks they made rooted in data while selecting nine players that contributed to the Browns or another team in the 2019 season. For all of the hand wringing over how badly analytics performed, the Browns were able to pick nine contributors out of 18 picks with three Pro Bowlers. Had they not been forced to throw away picks to pay the Hue tax, the Browns would've had another second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh round pick; effectively an extra draft.
Keep in mind, while they were hamstrung by Jackson, they were still able to acquire the first, two extra seconds, a third, and fourth round picks that would be utilized by Dorsey, mostly poorly, in 2018.
This is why alignment is so critical. With Berry and Stefanski seemingly operating in tandem, that is one of the areas that should be vastly improved. They both believe in embracing data, understanding that knowledge is power, so even if they won't be perfect in the upcoming NFL Draft, they should at least be able to use 100 percent of their picks as opposed to 75 on players with good data profiles, reducing their chances of blowing picks. If they can carry over that 50 percent hit rate on contributors as well as a 16.6 percent rate of hitting a Pro Bowl player or improve upon them, the Browns will be in good shape going forward, potentially able to make up some of the ground lost under Dorsey's leadership.
One of the potential benefits as well as the risks with Berry and Stefanski is the fact they are young. It could result in some missteps, but it also means they aren't fully formed and still have room to grow, improving in their roles. That has the potential to give the Browns one of the better football organizations in the league as well as putting them on the cutting edge, which they briefly flirted with in making the Brock Osweiler trade.
Nothing guarantees this setup will work, but just eliminating the rift and working as part of an organization that is all headed in the same direction provides more opportunities to make smart decisions, which is already a significant improvement. Energy that isn't spent fighting another camp can instead be spent looking for additional avenues for the team to get better. Iron sharpens iron, so to speak. Morale should be higher within the building as well, which along with a unified message, would hopefully proliferate into the locker room, improving the energy around the organization as a whole.
The Browns are finally doing what almost every other organization in the NFL is already doing and the fact it took this long is what should frustrate people the most. People may read this and still hate the hire of Andrew Berry, but they should at least acknowledge that the organization that was put together for 2016 and 2017 was not an accurate representation of an organization thoroughly invested in analytics.