If you’re wondering why the Browns are horrible year after year, just watch the Super Bowl. Better yet, don’t.
Yes, we know Bill Belichick first became a head coach in Cleveland and has blossomed into the greatest coach of all-time with New England. And that Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanaham ran the Cleveland offense not long ago.
But also in the game are several players the Browns either whiffed on in the draft or inexplicably fumbled away. At five, the Browns are tied with the Redskins for the most former players in Super Bow LI. Some of these guys actually could make a difference Sunday:
1. Alex Mack, Falcons center. Simply one of the game’s best at his position, a perennial Pro Bowler, Mack is a rare first-round draft pick the Browns got right (No. 21 overall, 2009) and also one who never should have gotten away. He joined the Falcons in free agency in March, signing a five-year, $45 million contract with $28.5 million guaranteed. The Browns held the door open for him and now he’s arguably the most important Falcon in the Super Bowl.
2. Taylor Gabriel, Falcons receiver. The Browns signed him as an undrafted player and released him after two seasons because they thought they had too many smallish receivers. While this may have been true, perhaps they should have parted with someone else. The Falcons scraped him off the scrap pile and he scored seven touchdown. His speed and quickness can be game-changing.
3. Barkevious Mingo, Patriots linebacker. Here’s an example of a draft pick gone horribly wrong. I mean, not just wrong, but Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert wrong. The Browns grabbed this guy No. 6 overall from LSU in 2012 thinking he might be the edge rusher they have been seeking since … well … Chip Banks in the 1980s? They ended up trading him to the Patriots for a mid-round draft pick, and while he hasn’t seized a starting role, he’s at least been useful on special teams.
4. Jabaal Sheard, Patriots defensive end. The Browns shrewdly took him in the second round out of Pitt in 2011, then watched him walk away in free agency after the 2014 season because he wasn’t Lawrence Taylor and they didn’t want to pay him. He signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Patriots and has been a key contributor with 13 sacks over the past two seasons. And now he’s 60 minutes from a ring.
5. Dion Lewis, Patriots running back. Showed flashes in a Cleveland audition that was cut short by injury. Nobody had the patience to stick with him and now he’s part of the Patriots’ three-headed backfield monster, every bit the “secret weapon” for them as Gabriel turned out to be for the Falcons.