The Cleveland Browns haven’t had the best track record when it comes to the draft — especially in the last two decades. Nonetheless, in this post, we’re talking to look at the best Browns picks in franchise history. Even if that means we had to first acknowledge our Browns NFL Draft record isn’t exactly all that and a bag of ships.
However, while there has been a plethora of draft misses in the franchise’s 72 years of existence, there have also been some great picks that turned into superstars for the Browns. Obviously, at the time of this writing, fans are hoping Baker Mayfield can one day etch his name in Browns history, becoming one of the team’s best pickers ever, but only time will tell.
With all the prefaces and caveats out of the way, let’s look at the best Browns picks in franchise history.
5. Myles Garrett
It seems crazy to put a player that has only played a few seasons on this list, but Garrett has already established himself as a bonafide star and I am basing this off of what I believe what he will become by the end of his career.
The Browns hit an absolute home run in the 2017 draft when they took the Texas A&M defensive end with their first overall selection. Through just his first 37 career games, Garrett has also racked up 104 tackles and 30.5 sacks. He’s obviously played some more since then, but that time was also mired in a bit of controversy.
He’s already seventh on the Browns’ all-time sacks list and if he keeps up his current production, he will blow by the others in no time.
4. Clay Matthews
No, kids. Not that Clay Matthews. This is his father and not the dude most known anchoring a Green Bay Packers defense. That guy happens to be his son. Talk about lineage!
Speaking of the Browns’ all-time sack list, Matthews sits atop it. The father of the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker that was recently released by the Los Angeles Rams, Matthews Sr. was a hell of a linebacker in his own right.
Matthews led the Cleveland linebacker core for 16 seasons. In those 16 seasons, the No. 12 pick of the 1978 draft recorded over 100 tackles eight times, surpassing five sacks seven times and was named to four Pro Bowls in his day.
3. Leroy Kelly
Dude was such a hidden gem, he was selected in a round of the NFL Draft that no longer exists. That alone makes him a Browns draft gem.
By far the biggest draft steal on this list, Kelly fell all the way to the eighth round (110th overall) in the 1964 draft. Excelling as a fullback, halfback, and a kick/punt returner. Following in the footsteps of Jim Brown before him, Kelly would make six-straight Pro Bowls between 1966 and 1971
Kelly also led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in both 1967 and 1968, where he put up a combined 2,444 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns while also adding 579 yards and six additional touchdowns as a receiver.
2. Joe Thomas
The man. The myth. The legend.
Let’s face it, drafting an offensive lineman with a top-five pick is boring. But when you get a player as good as Joe Thomas was, you make that pick 10 times out of 10.
When the Browns drafted Thomas third overall in 2007, I’m sure they expected great things. Thomas exceeded those expectations making 10 Pro Bowls in 11 seasons with the Browns — six of which he was named to an All-Pro team.
Thomas retired in March of 2018 and although the Browns as a whole weren’t very good during his tenure, you better believe Cleveland wishes it had an All-Pro left tackle that played 10,363 consecutive snaps on today’s team.
1. Jim Brown
Undoubtedly one of the best running backs in NFL history, Brown was the league’s biggest star during the late 50s and early 60s.
Cleveland drafted the 6-foot-2, 232-pound fullback with the sixth overall pick in the 1957 draft out of Syracuse and what they got in return was a dominant runner who used his size and speed to dominate the NFL for nearly a decade.
Brown made the Pro Bowl in all nine of his seasons and was named a first-team All-Pro in eight of them. Brown led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns nearly every season and by the time he retired, Brown was the league’s all-time leading rusher.
His career average of 104.3 rushing yards per game still stands as the best of all time, and that alone is enough to put him at number one on this list.