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Report: Browns didn't see Wentz as top-20 QB talent

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Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz couldn't draw up a more fitting opponent than the Cleveland Browns for his NFL debut on Sunday.

Still in search of their 25th starting quarterback since being awarded a new franchise in 1999, the Browns bypassed Wentz at No. 2 overall in favor of a bundle of draft picks with which to rebuild a long-dormant operation.

As if that slight didn't sting enough, ESPN.com's Tony Grossi has reported Cleveland's braintrust had reached the conclusion that Wentz would not develop into a top 20 NFL quarterback.

"We have to make judgments on the individual players and we're not always going to be right," chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta told Grossi. "But in this particular case, we just didn't feel it was necessarily the right bet to make for us at this time. Again, it comes down to individual evaluation of a player. We will not always be right on those type of things.

"I think the hardest part, and where we have to stay the most disciplined, as much as you want a player, you can't invent him if he doesn't exist. In a given year, there may be two or three NFL-ready quarterbacks at the college level. In another year, there literally may be zero. There just may be not be anybody in that year who's good enough to be a top 20 quarterback in the NFL."

The Browns believed there was one NFL-ready passer in this year's class, as NFL.com columnist Michael Silver recently reported that coach Hue Jackson was "locked in on" Cal's Jared Goff with the draft's second pick. Once the Los Angeles Rams traded ahead of Cleveland to target the apple of Jackson's eye, though, the quarterback plans grew more complicated.

Jackson ultimately decided he would rather attempt to resurrect the moribund career of former No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III than pull the trigger on his own quarterback of the future once Goff was off the table.

What was it about Wentz that raised greater skepticism than buy-in?

While DePodesta predictably neglected to divulge specifics, a source close to the Browns' decision to pass on Wentz told Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson that game film was the primary factor. The North Dakota State star wasn't a consistently dominant force against opponents that will never play on Sundays.

The Browns simply didn't grade Wentz as a franchise-altering talent along the lines of Steve McNair, who eclipsed the lesser competition at small-school Alcorn State in the 1990s.

It didn't help that Wentz struggled in wet conditions during his pro day, not long after Jackson emphasized the importance of a quarterback capable of handling the harsh conditions on the shores of Lake Erie.

If the Browns' brass viewed Wentz as a fringe NFL starter, what convinced the Eagles that he was worth the exorbitant price of five draft picks from 2016 through 2018?

Senior director of player personnel Tom Donahoe had already developed a high opinion of Wentz prior to the breakout senior season at North Dakota State. By the time Howie Roseman replaced Chip Kelly in the team's power structure, per Robinson, Donahoe's analysis had made in-roads with the new executive vice president of football operations as well as owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Beyond Donahoe's influence, Philadelphia is putting as much faith in NFL projection as college game film. Because Wentz played in a multiple-style offense that married college spread elements with NFL staples such as play-action passes and power sweeps, the Eagles are confident that his physical gifts, exceptional classroom work and experience in complex schemes bode well for his development.

As Roseman recently explained to The Ringer's Kevin Clark, his new quarterback is steeped in "a pro-style concept that hints at where the sport is going."

Coach Doug Pederson has already determined that Wentz is ready to lead his own NFL offense.

"Just watching him in person throwing the ball, the zone-read game, the run-pass option things that we did in the spring and in training camp," Pederson said in Monday's press conference, "some of the wow-factor throws that he makes from unconventional positions just kind of make you go: All right, this guy is going to be something special."

Sunday will mark the first opportunity for Wentz to reward his own organization's faith at the expense of the team that passed on his potential as a franchise savior. As Griffin's own labyrinthine career has proven, though, declaring premature victory in pre-draft personnel evaluations can quickly devolve from an "era of unbridled optimism" to a debaculous fiasco.

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