At the start of the 2010 season, Colt McCoy's rookie year, no one expected to see much of the newly-drafted QB on the field that year. McCoy was supposed to be watching from the bench, learning the ropes by observation.
But things didn't quite work out as planned, as they often don't in football, and injuries to both Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace forced the Browns to put the young McCoy into action before they had intended.
The results were a mixed bag—McCoy held his own despite how green he was, but didn't turn out to be the miracle worker we all had hoped he would be right out of the gate. McCoy showed he had the potential to lead the franchise, but he also showed he still had a lot of work to do.
In 2011, McCoy will begin the year as the Browns starting QB. But will he become the franchise quarterback that we all hope he can be for now and the future? At this point, it's far too early to say for certain that he is or isn't capable of filling that role, but we can go ahead and take a look at the factors that might contribute to how McCoy's career with the Browns will ultimately play out.
The thing cited most often by McCoy's doubters as the reason he won't pan out as a franchise QB is generally the information that shows up on a scouting report. His physical makeup and pure football skills are the things that seem to provoke the most doubt for future success.
McCoy is certainly small for an NFL quarterback; there's no denying that. But whether that's something he can overcome with his other abilities remains to be seen.
Another knock on McCoy is his arm strength. No one has ever claimed that McCoy has anything close to a cannon arm, nor should they. But whether it will matter may depend more on whether the Browns are smart enough to gear their play-calling toward passes that don't require a true gunslinger of a quarterback than whether McCoy's arm is truly viable. In the right system, the fact that he's not exactly wielding a bazooka arm won't matter.
On the plus side, scouts tout McCoy's field vision, football smarts and accuracy as above average. McCoy is clearly a smart guy; or at least plenty smart enough for the job. His field vision seems to be good, shortness of stature notwithstanding, and his accuracy has always been better than most.
Last season he didn't look like the accurate passer the Browns thought they were drafting based on his track record at the University of Texas, but that likely had more to do with external factors and McCoy's adjustment to the NFL than an actual lack of accuracy.
To answer the earlier question of whether the Browns will accurately gear their offense toward allowing McCoy to succeed given his strengths and weaknesses, so far it looks like a yes.
Cleveland's move toward a traditional West Coast Offense this season was the right decision for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest ones was that it's a system that plays well to McCoy's strengths. It benefits accuracy over arm strength and smarts over pure athleticism alone.
Obviously, a West Coast Offense still requires a great deal of athletic ability from its quarterback, but it also gives an advantage to a somewhat cerebral QB like McCoy, and makes good use of his accuracy while not requiring a cannon arm.
The adoption of the system is also a sign of good faith from the Browns that they believe there's a good chance he can be their franchise QB. Again, there were of course other reasons to make the transition, but playing to McCoy's strengths was undoubtedly one of the biggest justifications for doing so.
To me, leadership is the one category where McCoy has already unquestionably knocked it out of the park.
He did a tremendous job of stepping in as a rookie and commanding an offense with zero experience and on no advance notice when injuries forced him to take over last season. He wasn't perfect and wasn't what you would call a polished, decisive leader, but he was far, far better than expected and far, far better than most players would be in the same situation.
But this offseason, McCoy got to a whole new level in terms of being what could truly be called a team leader in the strongest sense. His "Camp Colt" in Texas during the lockout for his offensive teammates gave McCoy a chance to show he is the undisputed leader of the Browns offense, and it paid off.
A quarterback (especially a young, inexperienced one) running practices during a lockout without a coach or professional facilities can't ever hone his offense to achieve their maximum potential in terms of pure football results on the field.
What he can do, however, is establish himself as the team's leader and create chemistry and unity with his teammates. Every report out of "Camp Colt" indicates that McCoy more than delivered on both of those counts.
While a quarterback—perhaps more than a player at any other position—has a huge amount of control over his own fate and success in the NFL, he can still only get so far alone.
McCoy's teammates on offense will play a huge role into whether he finds success or failure in the coming seasons.
He'll be dependent on his receivers, for one thing. Perfectly accurate passes still count as incomplete if the targeted receiver drops them, no matter how flawless the placement.
Browns receivers have struggled with the dropsies in recent years. If they continue to do so, while it won't be McCoy's fault, it will still have a negative effect on both his numbers and his success at leading the team to victories.
Further, McCoy will be equally dependent on his line to get the job done as well. A sack still counts as a sack even if a QB only winds up taking a hit for a loss because his line collapsed on him.
This is an area of particular concern for McCoy and the Browns offense this season. McCoy can be reasonably confident that he won't take many hits coming through the left side of his line, which has been and should continue to be fantastic.
The right side of the line is unfortunately another story. Things didn't go too well over there last season, and while they are expected to improve in 2011, there are no guarantees that they will improve enough to keep McCoy from being perpetually harassed by opposing defenses.
Taking into account the aforementioned factors that will play into McCoy's future (as well as a host of other, smaller factors), does the outlook seem favorable over all for McCoy's chances to become a bona fide franchise QB?
Again, given that McCoy has, to date, just eight NFL games under his belt, it is impossible to say for certain. But is it likely? To me, the answer is yes.
McCoy seems to display strengths that are hugely important to his ability to fill this role, and his shortcomings are mostly of the sort that can either be overcome or circumvented if he and the team handle them correctly.
McCoy was far from perfect his rookie year, but his numbers still weren't bad. In those eight games, he was 135 of 222 for a 60.8 completion percentage, logged 1,576 yards and at an average of 7.10 yards per pass and posted six TD's against nine INT's.
Not stellar numbers, but not too shabby for the most part either, especially considering he was a rookie who didn't have much help from his receiving corps or 50 percent of his offensive line.
The minus-three TD/INT ration isn't too great, granted, but don't forget that three of those INT's came in the last game of the season when the Browns were being crushed by the Steelers and McCoy was desperate to make something, anything happen in the hopes of ending the season on a good note. Take away those three INT's, and he breaks even at six TD's and six INT's.
Obviously he needs to be in the black on that stat, especially as a QB who relies heavily on his accuracy, but the stat is deceptive for McCoy's performance overall, and he isn't likely to repeat it this season or any season in the future either.
If the Browns plan for their offense works, he won't need to be a Hall of Fame-caliber QB to get his job done and lead the team to success. There are no guarantees, but from where I'm sitting, McCoy has an excellent chance to become the Browns franchise QB for years to come.