Cleveland Browns: 6 Predictions for Colt McCoy's 2011 NFL Season

Samantha BuntenAnalyst ISeptember 8, 2011

Cleveland Browns: 6 Predictions for Colt McCoy's 2011 NFL Season

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    Every season, millions of football fans suffer from false hope. There is no known cure. 

    Such is the case in Cleveland as in every football town, and there is no one in town weighed down by more false hope from his fans than second-year quarterback Colt McCoy

    Cleveland fans, starved for a championship and desperate for a hero, have often cast McCoy as a Herculean figure capable of just about any feat. Comparisons to Joe Montana and Drew Brees have rushed forth. McCoy has suddenly been put in the position of being unable to fill his own shoes, even if those shoes only existed in a mythical sense. 

    Thus, to say expectations for McCoy's sophomore season are exceedingly high is almost an understatement. Granted, there are plenty of fans who see McCoy's future in a much more realistic light (and even those who think he won't even be able to hack it at all), but for the most part the McCoy supporters seem to have gotten a bit overzealous. 

    Being a McCoy believer myself, I can certainly understand the temptation. He's smart. He's talented. He has an outstanding football mind. And mostly, he's a competitor who really, really wants to win. If you see a bit of Bernie in him, you're probably not off-base. 

    While a lot of the expectations for McCoy are downright absurd, there's a faction out there with the equally inaccurate belief that he isn't an NFL-caliber quarterback. Those of this persuasion, like those who have placed McCoy on a pedestal, have some valid points. But in reality, things probably lie much closer to the middle for McCoy. 

    Here are six predictions for McCoy's 2011 season as we count down the final hours until the Browns' opening game. Be sure to leave your own predictions for McCoy in the comments below!

1. McCoy Will Be Better out of the Gate Than Expected...

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    Over the course of the offseason, we've heard a lot of talk about how the Browns will have growing pains in the early weeks of the 2011 season, with new systems in place on offense and defense. Heck, half the time, I've been the one saying it. 

    But I'm not entirely certain this applies to McCoy, at least in terms of the elements of his game that he alone can directly control. 

    McCoy's preseason was what I'd call convincing but slightly inconclusive. In terms of the numbers he had his ups and downs (thankfully, it was mostly ups), but like most starting quarterbacks, he didn't log enough playing time, especially against full-strength defenses, to determine much for certain. 

    What I did see become clear through McCoy's preseason performances, though, was his leadership ability, decisiveness and focus.

    Regardless of factors he can't control or those sorts of technical mistakes young players like McCoy are prone to early in their careers, particularly in an offense rolling out a new system. But McCoy's brains, refusal to get rattled and solid football mind will make him better right off the bat this season than most young quarterbacks would be in this situation, even perhaps some of those whose physical tools are better suited to the job than his.

2. ...But His Numbers Will Suffer Early Due to Factors He Cannot Control

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    If I had a dollar for every minute I and everyone else in Cleveland spent complaining about the lack of talent in the Browns receiving corps, I could have bought every top-quality free agent wide receiver on the market this offseason and solved the problem myself. 

    Yes, we all spent an absurd amount of time griping about the wide receivers this offseason. But I guess that's OK. It gave us something to do during the lockout, and it was also unfortunately kind of true.

    McCoy was often a victim of his own teammates last season, whether it was his receivers dropping passes or the right side of his offensive line collapsing on him. We'll probably see some of that again this season. 

    While I think McCoy will adjust quickly and struggle with adapting to the new system early in the season very little, I have more concerns about the wide receivers and a few of the linemen. This may cause McCoy's numbers and success to suffer in early games, even though he can't strictly control these factors personally. 

    The good news is that as much as the wide receivers still have a long way to go, they probably won't be as bad as a lot of people seem to think they will be. Brian Robiskie is quietly getting better all the time. Josh Cribbs has enough talent, pride and heart for three players; he'll make sure he earns his paychecks and then some. Rookie Greg Little looks like he'll be a valuable asset right out of the gate. And tight end Evan Moore might just be the biggest offensive talent to emerge in the AFC North in a long time, if he can stay healthy. 

    McCoy can't control the receivers' adjustments to the new system, dropped passes or trouble getting separation any better than he can control when his line caves in on him. Like it or not, their growing pains will reflect on McCoy's performance, regardless of the fact that he can't do much about it. But the fact that they're much better than most think and improving all the time means these setbacks won't be nearly as decimating or as long-lived as once believed.

3. Projections by the Numbers: Overview

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    Here's one statistical prediction we can absolutely guarantee: Colt McCoy will never be a statistical juggernaut. 

    Unfortunate if you picked him early in your fantasy football draft, yes, but luckily for the Browns, for their system to work, he doesn't need to put up Dan Marino-esque stats. 

    The nature of the Browns' West Coast offense allows for good but not exceptional numbers for a quarterback. If it works, it won't result in McCoy throwing 40-plus touchdowns on the season or 400-yard games. That isn't what the system is designed to do. 

    What it is designed to do is take advantage of what McCoy's greatest strengths are accuracy, brains, quick thinking, field vision and the ability to keep a cool head. 

    That means we'll see a lot of slants, some dump passes and running backs acting as receivers, and we'll see very few Hail Marys, bombs and other deep plays that depend on the one thing that seems to keep McCoy notably behind his peers, which is the kind of arm strength required to make cannon throws downfield. 

    This certainly will curtail his yardage and the Browns' strong incorporation of the ground game into their system will curb McCoy's passing touchdowns. But he'll still put up good enough numbers by any standards and numbers that will be more than good enough in the type of offense the Browns will be running.

4. Projections by the Numbers: Completion Percentage

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    I'm not big on statistical projections for players at any position with less than three years' of NFL experience, but we can still make a few guesstimates as to how McCoy's 2011 will look on a stat sheet at the end of the season. Let's begin with completion percentage.

    Last season, McCoy played eight games and completed 135 of 222 attempts, resulting in a completion percentage of 60.8. Not terrible for a rookie, especially one thrust into a starting role earlier than scheduled and saddled with a group of receivers who dropped an ungodly number of passes. 

    This season, McCoy will only get better, and his receivers should be markedly improved as well, allowing for a higher completion percentage. I'd put the conservative estimate at 298 completions in 480 attempts for a 62.1 percentage. 

    If the receivers can get better separation than we've seen in the preseason and have truly kicked the persistent case of the dropsies they suffered from all last season, these numbers might turn out to be on the low side. 

5. Projections by the Numbers: Yardage

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    As previously mentioned, an offense whose passing game is dependent on short, quick passes won't make its quarterback the next one to post a 5,000-yard season. The only person in a relatively comparable type of system who logged over 4,500 yards in 2010 was Drew Brees. With all due respect to McCoy, he'll never be Brees, nor does he have the offensive weapons the Saints do. 

    Still, I believe McCoy can put up a solid amount of passing yardage in 2011, as long as we all accept that we're talking "solid" as it should be defined for the Browns' style of offense and the other players surrounding McCoy who will have an effect on his totals. 

    Last spring, I projected McCoy to log about 3,600 yards this season. Because I liked a lot of what I saw in the preseason and certainly in reports from Camp Colt, I'll give him a bump up to around 3,800 yards. 

    Granted, a lot of that will depend on whether McCoy's receivers get their jobs done or not, but you can bet he will do his own part to get to this particular mark. If he can get a little help from his teammates, I don't think he'll have much trouble posting 3,800 yards by the end of 2011.

6. Projections by the Numbers: Touchdowns

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    Back in May, I gave McCoy some admittedly generous estimates on TD/INT totals for 2011 at 25 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

    The projection provoked two very opposite reactions: one camp seemed to believe there was no way McCoy had a shot to throw 25 touchdowns (I recall one fan saying "16 if he's lucky"), and the other seemed to think he would have no trouble at all exceeding 30 touchdowns and keeping the interceptions under 15. 

    To that, I'll respectfully say to both sides that, well, I think you're nuts. Based on what I've seen at camp and in the preseason, I'm sticking with my 25/15 estimate for now, though I'll give some leeway on the touchdowns to the negative end and say it could be as low as 20, with only a small drop in the interceptions. 

    The good thing is that no matter what the exact totals will be, most of us all seem to agree on one thing about how McCoy projects in this particular area: He'll finish with a pretty respectable TD/INT ratio, regardless of exactly what the totals for each of those stats wind up being. 

    Overall, it's almost impossible to predict stats for the NFL. This is the reason fantasy football is such an intriguing hobby; it isn't easy to to predict outcomes for individual players in a given season before it begins. This is especially true for young players like McCoy, who have very little in terms of a track record for those making projections to go on. 

    But as much uncertainty as I and everyone else in Cleveland should have when it comes to nailing down the specifics of how McCoy will fare this season, I will say this with conviction: No matter the exact numbers, McCoy will not let the Browns' faithful down. McCoy is a competitor and a winner to be sure, and in football, that often matters more than the numbers. 

    McCoy can't turn the team around all by himself and the Browns still need a little more time before they become a true contender, but I doubt we'll hear many complaints about him as an individual by the end of the season.

    So even if the season isn't quite the miraculous turnaround for the team we all secretly hope for in the quiet and sometimes absurdly optimistic corners of our minds, you can bet McCoy won't disappoint. He's here to win. Just ask him. Or better yet, just watch him.