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NFL Draft: The 13 best Cleveland Browns draft picks all-time are ranked

With the first pick in the 1936 NFL draft — the first NFL draft — the Philadelphia Eagles selected University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger.

I wasn't there.

Nor was I alive when the Cleveland Browns joined the NFL in 1950 and, with their top pick, at No. 8 overall, took Oregon State halfback Ken Carpenter, whom Paul Brown preferred over the next two selections, Bud Grant (Eagles) and Muscles Campbell (Colts).

It was close. I was born in 1954, by which time my dad was following "PB's" Cleveland dynasty.

By the early 1960s, I preferred the Browns to Captain Kangaroo as a television program. I first covered games in the '70s and in 1999 began a run of 20-plus years as a Browns beat writer.

Whether or not this qualifies me to list the franchise's best and worst draft picks, it's my background. And it's my assignment, so I went over all of the names, took two Excedrins, and made best and worst lists.

Rankings reflect draft value relative to expectations, what else was available and other factors. These are NOT views of the best and worst players, although some show up in assorted spots.

With the 2024 draft at hand, we begin with our view of the Browns' best choices since 1950. We'll save Johnny Manziel for the next list.

1. Running back Jim Brown No. 6 overall, 1957

Browns running back Jim Brown tries to pull away from Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly at Cleveland Stadium in an undated photo.
Browns running back Jim Brown tries to pull away from Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly at Cleveland Stadium in an undated photo.

Quick thought: The Steelers were doing stupid stuff in that era, things like passing on Jim Brown and drafting quarterback Len Dawson at No. 5 ... and then barely playing Dawson for three years before letting him go. Black players generally weren't high picks in those days. Paul Brown, more enlightened than many of his peers, went ahead and took the best ballcarrier of all time.

2. Quarterback Bernie Kosar, supplemental draft 1985

Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar looks for a receiver against the Kansas City Chiefs, Oct. 12, 1986, in Cleveland. Kosar threw for 287 yards and two TDs in a 20-7 win.
Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar looks for a receiver against the Kansas City Chiefs, Oct. 12, 1986, in Cleveland. Kosar threw for 287 yards and two TDs in a 20-7 win.

Quick thought: Fishing for a franchise quarterback while using a boatload of draft picks as bait can be unpopular and ineffective. No names, please. On the flip side, it cost the Browns four picks in regular drafts, including two first-rounders, to weasel away Kosar from a few furious suitors. At a time the franchise was slipping, landing Kosar was overwhelmingly popular and immediately effective.

3. Running back Leroy Kelly, No. 110 overall, 1964

Browns running back Leroy Kelly carries the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Nov. 17, 1968, at Pitt Stadium.
Browns running back Leroy Kelly carries the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Nov. 17, 1968, at Pitt Stadium.

Quick thought: Kelly's best work lasted just four years, but consider 1968. Those were the days. In a 14-game season, No. 44 led the league with 1,239 rushing yards; no one else had more than 967. He led the league with 20 touchdowns and was second only to Gale Sayers in yards per carry. The Browns reached the NFL championship game.

4. Linebacker Walt Michaels, No. 86 overall, 1951

Quick thought: Part of Paul Brown's history is utterly strange. He drafted future Hall of Famers Art Donovan (No. 86, 1951), Doug Atkins (No. 11, 1953), Willie Davis (No. 181, 1956), Henry Jordan (No. 52, 1957), ) and Dick LeBeau (No. 58, 1959) but didn't keep any of them very long. Traded as a rookie, Michaels fit into this pattern. However, he was brought back the next year, and, from 1952-57, he made five Pro Bowls and played in five NFL championship games.

5. Defensive lineman Michael Dean Perry, No. 50 overall, 1988

Quick thought: This beefy fan favorite inspired the best-selling "MDP" — a McDonald's triple cheeseburger with bacon. The ex-Clemson Tiger made Pro Bowls in a six-year span under three Browns head coaches. In 2020, Hall of Fame voter Clark Judge wrote on whether Perry belongs in Canton. Judge: "He deserves to be discussed."

6. Defensive tackle Jerry Sherk, No. 47 overall, 1970

Quick thought: Sherk was often underrated, but not by Newspaper Enterprise Association, which named him NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 (Associated Press picked Jack Lambert). Sherk might be in the Hall of Fame if not for bouts with illness and injury late in his prime. He was sidelined for most of 1980, when he might have put "The Kardiac Kids" over the top.

7. Running back Nick Chubb, No. 35 overall, 2018

Browns running back Nick Chubb runs with the ball as Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson (55) and safety Dax Hill (23) defend during the first half, Sept. 10, 2023.
Browns running back Nick Chubb runs with the ball as Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson (55) and safety Dax Hill (23) defend during the first half, Sept. 10, 2023.

Quick thought: It's almost as if you're not allowed to say so-and-so is as good as Jim Brown. We're not saying Chubb is as good as Brown, but then Chubb's career per-carry average is better, 5.3-5.2. Chubb's downside is the chinks, injuries leading to 21 games lost in the last four years. Brown never missed a start. Chubb's approach is beloved. It would have been criminal not to bring him back for 2024.

8. Running back/receiver Bobby Mitchell, No. 84, 1958

Quick thought: Linebacker Vince Costello thought the Browns should use Mitchell at receiver. Paul Brown couldn't resist using a sidekick runner who averaged more yards per carry than Jim Brown. Mitchell changed positions after he was traded to Washington in 1962. While he amassed 2,820 receiving yards in '62 and '63, no one else in the NFL had as much as 2,200. Mitchell would have been off the charts in today's offenses.

9. Receiver Paul Warfield, No. 11 overall, 1964.

Browns receiver Paul Warfield catches a pass in front of St. Louis Cardinals defensive back Jimmy Burson (49) at Busch Stadium, Dec. 6, 1964.
Browns receiver Paul Warfield catches a pass in front of St. Louis Cardinals defensive back Jimmy Burson (49) at Busch Stadium, Dec. 6, 1964.

Quick thought: Under Woody Hayes' thumb in three years as an Ohio State running back, Warfield averaged seven carries and a catch or two a game. The Browns moved him to wideout, where he was a Cowboys killer in 1967, '68 and '69 playoff games. A brutal 1970 trade put him on Miami teams that went to three straight Super Bowls. He averaged 20.1 yards a catch en route to Canton.

10. Linebacker Clay Matthews, No. 12 overall, 1978

Cleveland Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer talks to linebackers Clay Matthews (57) and Chip Banks (56) during the 1985 AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Miami Dolphins at the Orange Bowl. Miami defeated Cleveland 24-21.
Cleveland Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer talks to linebackers Clay Matthews (57) and Chip Banks (56) during the 1985 AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Miami Dolphins at the Orange Bowl. Miami defeated Cleveland 24-21.

Quick thought: This spot could have gone to tight end Ozzie Newsome, who was drafted a bit later and is in the Hall of Fame. Matthews gets the nod because he was a Brown longer than Newsome, 16 years to 13, and because Newsome's impact ebbed in his latter years, whereas Matthews was still going strong in his late 30s, with Atlanta. Both were on Browns playoff teams in the 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989 seasons. Anybody else miss those days?

11. Myles Garrett, No. 1 overall, 2017

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett celebrates after a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Dec. 10, 2023.
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett celebrates after a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Dec. 10, 2023.

Quick thought: Garrett was the obvious top pick in the 2017 draft if not choosing a quarterback. Opinions varied as to whether any QB was even worth considering. It's all good that Garrett is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. It's too bad the Browns didn't see, as the Chiefs did, Patrick Mahomes' future. His postseason record wouldn't be 15-3 in Cleveland, but he likely would have been a star anywhere.

12 (tie). Quarterback Brian Sipe, No. 330 overall, 1972

Browns quarterback Brian Sipe drops back to pass against the New York Jets at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Dec. 7, 1980.
Browns quarterback Brian Sipe drops back to pass against the New York Jets at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Dec. 7, 1980.

Quick thought: Some might place him higher, based on Sipe's NFL MVP season of 1980. Some might place him lower, based on his 46-50 record outside that "Kardiac Kids" season. In the big picture, he was a competent NFL starter who was a steal at a draft spot that doesn't exist now — the 2024 draft will include 257 picks.

12 (tie). Tight end Ozzie Newsome, No. 23 overall, 1978

Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome carries the ball upfield against the San Diego Chargers, Sept. 14,1990.
Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome carries the ball upfield against the San Diego Chargers, Sept. 14,1990.

Quick thought: None of the next 16 picks after Newsome ever went a Pro Bowl. Newsome made first-team All Pro in his second season, and he was just getting started. His late, long catch in the 1980 playoffs should have led to a win instead of the infamous "Red Right 88" loss to the Raiders. He starred in a famous win over the Jets in the 1986 postseason.

Browns offensive tackle (73) Doug Dieken during the 1972 Season.
Browns offensive tackle (73) Doug Dieken during the 1972 Season.

Other Cleveland Browns draft picks considered

Guard Gene Hickerson, No. 78 overall, 1957; left tackle Dick Schafrath, No. 23 overall, 1959; left tackle Joe Thomas, No. 3 overall, 2007; left tackle Doug Dieken, No. 142 overall, 1971; cornerback Hanford Dixon, No. 22 overall, 1981; receiver Webster Slaughter, No. 43 overall, 1986; receiver Gary Collins, No. 4 overall, 1962; guard Joel Bitonio, No. 35 overall, 2014

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Ranking the Cleveland Browns 13 best NFL draft picks all-time