25 of the Most Undervalued Players in Cleveland Browns History

Samantha BuntenAnalyst IOctober 10, 2011

25 of the Most Undervalued Players in Cleveland Browns History

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    Cleveland, like many other fiercely dedicated and loyal, but often ignored small market sports towns with little success in terms of championships, knows a thing or two about being undervalued. After all, the biggest nationally attention getting sports story to come out of Cleveland in the last 10 years was about somebody leaving town. 

    So of course, it's not too tough to come up with a laundry list of local athletes who are either undervalued, under-appreciated or just plain forgotten. And the Browns undoubtedly have the longest such list of any team in town. 

    The following, in no particular order, are 25 Browns who fit that description. Some are beloved in Cleveland but under-appreciated or forgotten everywhere else, some are undervalued even in Browns' Town and some just simply don't get enough credit for their accomplishments locally or nationally. 

    These are 25 of my picks, but there are far more candidates than that among Browns alumni, so please be sure to share your own nominees for this somewhat dubious distinction in the comments below!

1. Mac Speedie

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    Together with fellow end Dante Lavelli, Mac Speedie was part of what is arguably one of the best receiving tandems in football history.

    But while Lavelli enjoys the distinction of having been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Speedie remains unrecognized by the league for his accomplishments and often even forgotten by the Cleveland fanbase. 

    While his stats couldn't quite match Lavelli's the numbers he put up during his career with the Browns from 1946-1952 were still spectacular. Speedie had 5,602 receiving yards (a huge total for that era), and 33 TDs. 

    And part of what made Lavelli so good was that he had Speedie playing beside him. Both benefited tremendously from the other's presence, yet Speedie hasn't gotten as much credit for his contributions as Lavelli has. 

    Speedie was on the Hall of Fame ballot three times (one of which was as a senior candidate in 1983), but unfortunately he passed away before ever being enshrined. 

2. Bob Golic

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    When I published a piece on the Top 50 Browns Players of All Time back in June, some readers were disappointed to see NT Bob Golic left off the list.

    And indeed, there is a good argument that he just might be among the Browns 50 all-time greatest, and I personally was the one who undervalued him. 

    Still, my own opinions aside, Golic is a guy who gets a lot of love in Cleveland, but little recognition elsewhere except perhaps in Raider Nation, as he spent the last four years of his career as a Raider. 

    But Golic had his most productive years with the Browns, where he made the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons from 1985-1987. 

    It's tough to quantify performance for a nose tackle, particularly because in Golic's era, defensive stats weren't tracked as closely as they are now. But anyone who saw Golic on the field for the Browns can certainly speak to the presence he exuded and how valuable he was to Cleveland's vaunted mid 1980s defense. 

3. Mike Baab

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    Centers tend not to get much of the credit for the success of their offense, and that was especially true for Mike Baab, the Browns' center from 1982-87 and 1990-91. 

    It's easy even for some Cleveland fans to forget the talents of Baab, whose contributions often get lost in the shuffle of an era where the Browns had so many great players at more, let's say "memorable" positions on the field. 

    But Baab was not only memorable, he was excellent at his job. In his time snapping the ball for the Browns, Baab fumbled just twice. 

    Surprisingly, Baab never made a Pro Bowl or received any major distinctions in the league at all, perhaps suggesting that he was under-appreciated even at the peak of his career. 

4. Clay Matthews Jr.

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    Among Cleveland fans, Clay Matthews Jr. certainly isn't forgotten or under-appreciated. In fact, he's one of the most beloved figures in the history of the franchise, even to this day. But when it comes to how he's seen by the football world in general, the story is a little different. 

    While Matthews certainly hasn't been completely forgotten (due largely in part to the success of his son Clay III for the Green Bay Packers), he is considered by Browns fans and other supporters to be the team's biggest Hall of Fame snub ever. 

    Matthews, known for his superior play despite his relative small size for his position, played for the Browns from 1978-1993. In his impressive 16 years with the Browns, he had 62 sacks, 14 interception, 13 fumble recoveries and 1,561 tackles.

    His numbers are especially impressive when considering his unusually small size for his position. Most expect that Matthews will earn a Hall of Fame spot eventually and finally get the recognition he deserves from the league and NFL nation as a whole.

5. Hanford Dixon

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    Much like Matthews, CB Hanford Dixon and his partner in crime, Frank Minnifield, are still very much loved in Cleveland, despite having retired more than 20 years ago. 

    Dixon, who is credited with inventing the Dawg Pound, thanks to his habit of barking at the Browns fans in the end zone seating area after great plays, was more than just a colorful character. 

    His value on the field is tough to quantify, particularly because so much of it was about the combination of he and Minnifield, but many argue that his play was Hall of Fame worthy. 

    Unfortunately with numbers that don't really back up the argument (Dixon had just 26 interceptions in his career with the Browns), he hasn't received much consideration for the Hall of Fame and is rarely mentioned outside of Cleveland as one of the NFL's great secondary players. 

6. Frank Minnifield

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    For Dixon's other half, CB Frank Minnifield, the story is much the same. 

    Cleveland fans from the 1980s still cite Minnifield as an outstanding CB, but he's largely forgotten outside of the local market.

    As was the case with Dixon, while some of this is just the unfortunate product of playing for a city whose sports figures are largely undervalued by the football world in general, the lack of credit Minnifield receives these days may have even more to to do with the fact that what really made him remarkable was not his play alone, but what he and Dixon did together. 

    Also like Dixon, he had a low interception total for a top-tier CB (20) that probably factors into why he has never received serious Hall of Fame consideration. And his disappointing performance, like Dixon's, in the 1987 playoffs probably didn't help either. 

    In Cleveland, it has been suggested that the two really should qualify for the Hall of Fame as a tandem rather than individuals, an idea that, if you had the pleasure of seeing these two play, is not nearly as absurd as it sounds. 

7. John Wooten

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    Old time great John Wooten, an OG for the Browns from 1959-67, is an oft-forgotten player in Browns lore. 

    Wooten, a player praised by Jim Brown for his blocking abilities but largely forgotten by others, did have two Pro Bowl seasons in 1965-66, but was otherwise mostly unrecognized for his accomplishments. 

    Some of this may have to do with the fact that he played along side the great Gene Hickerson, a Hall of Famer, though some (including Brown) have argued that Wooten was just as important to the Browns offensive line at the time. 

8. Gerald McNeil

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    I can't imagine there are too many Browns fans from the 1980s who could forget Gerald "The Ice Cube" McNeil. Conversely, I can't imagine there are too many football fans outside of Cleveland who would actually remember him. 

    McNeil had a short career spent almost exclusively as a punt returner from 1986-1990. He had one Pro Bowl season in 1987 and had a career high 49 returns in 1989. 

    The Ice Cube was my favorite Browns player as a kid, so perhaps I've actually overvalued him all these years later, but whether he's been forgotten by football as a whole or not, I imagine most Browns fans of the era still think quite highly of his value as a remarkably speedy special teams player. 

9. Chip Banks

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    LB Chip Banks is another player who many argued should have made the Top 50 All-Time Greatest Players list for the Browns, and they have an excellent case to support it. 

    Part of what left Banks' off my (and other Cleveland fans') radar may have been that he spent just five years with the Browns before moving on to San Diego and then Indianapolis

    Still, Banks made his time in Cleveland count, making the Pro Bowl four times in five years and ringing up an impressive career his 11 sacks in 1985. 

10. Brian Sipe

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    To say Brian Sipe is undervalued or under-appreciated requires a bit of explanation. It isn't that Sipe's talent went unnoticed or that his numbers don't truly support what he had to offer. 

    It's more that Sipe is unfortunately largely remembered, especially outside of Cleveland, for something negative. That would of course be the infamous disaster that was Red Right 88. 

    Most Cleveland fans are aware that Red Right 88 wasn't really Sipe's fault for the most part, but his name and the disastrous play that cost the Browns a Super Bowl bid are forever inextricably linked. 

    Sipe leads the Browns in most statistical passing categories and spent his entire career in Cleveland. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, all of Sipe's accomplishments have been overshadowed by one key mistake, making him one of the most hugely undervalued players in Browns history. 

11. Reggie Rucker

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    Another player left off the top 50 list who had a good case for being included is WR Reggie Rucker, who played for the Brown from 1975-1981. 

    Rucker, who spent 14 years in the NFL, oddly never logged a single Pro Bowl or All-Pro nomination, despite his excellent play. 

    The under-appreciation of Rucker may relate to the fact that he failed to hit certain NFL benchmarks (he never logged a 1,000 yard season), but his consistency and longevity did net him a total of 7,065 yards (4,953 of which were recorded in his seven years with Cleveland) and 44 TDs, 32 of which came in a Browns uniform. 

12. Dub Jones

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    William Augustus "Dub" Jones, No. 39 on my All-Time list for the Browns, was a WR for Cleveland from 1948-1955 with Pro Bowl and All Pro distinctions in his eight years with the Browns, yet many fans, even those in Cleveland, have never even heard of him. 

    Obviously, it's been a long time since Jones graced the field, and to be fair, his numbers (1,910 yards and 20 TDs) look unremarkable by today's standards, but he was among the game's best during his era.

    When we discussed Jones as a member of the Browns' Top 50 All-Time, one reader astutely pointed out a piece of great statistical trivia about Jones that is worth mentioning here as well: In 1951, Jones logged a six-touchdown game against the Chicago Bears, tied for a record that still stands today.  

13. Marion Motley

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    It's a bit difficult to call FB Marion Motley underrated, as he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. He appears here more because he receives so little mention today among the great FBs in history than because he never got the recognition he deserved. 

    Motley, who paved the way for today's big, bulldozing RBs, logged 4,712 rushing yards and 31 TDs as well as 1,107 receiving yards and seven TDs in his eight years with the Browns. 

14. Brian Brennan

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    WR Brian Brennan is undoubtedly one of the most beloved Browns in history in Cleveland, but has been mostly forgotten elsewhere. 

    Despite cracking the Top 50 All Time for the Browns (ranking 49th overall), Brennan's name mostly evokes a blank stare lacking any recognition outside of Cleveland. 

    Perhaps this is because Brennan was what you might call a statistical underachiever. His remarkable talent was in his unquantifiable skill as a playmaker, rather than in amassing great numbers. 

    Brennan never amassed any gaudy stats, but those who saw him play remember him fondly for his ability to get open in seemingly impossible situations and talent for coming through in the clutch when the Browns needed him the most. 

15. Milt Morin

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    Tight end Milt Morin, who spent his entire 10-year career with the Browns, recorded an 4,208 yards and 20 TDs from 1966-1975. 

    Browns fans think highly of Morin, though it seems that football as a whole never quite felt the same. Morin, despite the argument from many Browns fans that he belonged in the Hall of Fame, never got the nod for it. 

    Unfortunately Morin passed away last Summer, dashing any hopes he might be enshrined during his lifetime.

16. Eric Turner

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    Most of the days S Eric Turner spent in Cleveland—from 1991-1995—weren't good ones for the Browns. It was an era of disappointment for the team, capped off by Art Modell's traitorous decision to move the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season. 

    Turner, like the other players on the Browns roster immediately prior to the move, was taken to Baltimore in 1996. The fact that he ended up in Raven purple, and that he played during a disappointing time for the Browns, may explain why he doesn't get much mention among the Browns faithful today despite his impressive play for Cleveland. 

    Turner, starting as a SS and converted to FS after two seasons, logged five impressive years with the Browns, including one standout season in 1994 when he pulled down a hugely impressive nine interceptions.

17. Kevin Mack

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    RB Kevin Mack, a Brown for his entire career from 1985-1993, is well-regarded among Cleveland fans but lost to history outside the local area. 

    Even at the time, Mack was considered an underrated player on a national scale by most Cleveland supporters, who were always surprised Mack didn't get more accolades considering his accomplishments. 

    And Mack certainly wasn't short on those, amassing 5,123 rushing yards and 46 rushing TDs as well as 1,602 receiving yards and eight receiving TD over the course of his career. 

    He remains one of the most underrated and undervalued players of his era, for the Browns or any other team. 

18. Don Cockroft

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    Kickers, even when they're among the league's best, never get a lot of credit for what they do. And the Browns Don Cockroft is no exception to that rule. 

    Cockroft ranks among the Browns top all-time scorers, and spent his entire career in Cleveland from 1968-1980. His career field-goal percentage was 65.9, and he is third all-time in points scored for the Browns with 1,080. 

    He was first-team All-Pro in 1972 and was second-team all-conference in 1978.

19. Ray Renfro

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    WR Ray Renfro, another player who spent his entire career with the Browns (1952-63), in fondly remembered in Cleveland but mostly forgotten elsewhere. Like many others on this list, Browns fans have argued for him as a possible Hall of Fame candidate, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. 

    Renfro made the Pro Bowl three times and posted 5,508 career receiving yards and 50 receiving TDs. 

    He led the league in yds/reception in 1955 with 20.8 and also had 682 rushing yards and four rushing TDs.

20. Michael Dean Perry

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    DT Michael Dean Perry was among the league's most feared defenders during his time with the Browns from 1988-1994. 

    Perry enjoyed decent notoriety at the time, landing an endorsement with McDonald's and making the Pro Bowl five times, but he has been almost  completely forgotten outside of Cleveland since shortly after his retirement. 

    Perry racked up 51.5 sacks for the Browns along with 470 tackles and seven fumble recoveries. He was also first-team All-Pro in 1989 and 1990.

21. Frank Gatski

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    As discussed earlier with Mike Baab, centers don't often get a lot of credit for what they do, and are certainly rarely among the NFL's most beloved and remembered players. 

    Frank Gatski is no exception to that unfortunate fact about his position. 

    Gatski was the Browns center from 1946 to 1957, and was a standout even on a team that was stacked with talent in that era and even despite playing a traditionally unglamorous position.

    One of the things that made Gatski stand out? He never,ever fumbled the snap. Not a single time during his entire career.

    Gatski was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, after failing to make it in as a finalist in 1976, so he has gotten some credit retrospectively for his accomplishments, but still has been mostly forgotten by football history. 

22. Gary Collins

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    Wide Receiver/Punter Gary Collins was something of the early version of what we call a "dual threat" today, not only playing two positions, but playing both remarkably well. 

    Collins handled punting and receiving duties for the Browns from 1962-1971. He had 13,764 punting yards and 5,299 receiving yards along with an impressive 70 receiving TDs.

    Though he made the Pro Bowl in 1965 and 1966, Collins' receiving career was tarnished by the fact that he never recorded a 1,000-yard season and came close just once in 1966 when he accrued 946 yards.

    Despite his tremendous accomplishments and versatility, Collins has been denied Hall of Fame entry, making him perhaps the greatest Hall snub for the Browns aside from Clay Matthews Jr. 

23. Reggie Langhorne

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    WR Reggie Langhorne, a Browns standout from 1985-1991, will always be fondly remembered in Cleveland, but is mostly forgotten elsewhere except maybe Indianapolis, where he spent the final two years of his career. 

    Some of Langhorne's underrated status may relate to the fact that he logged just one 1,000-yard season in his career (and that was in Indianapolis, not Cleveland). 

    Still, his numbers for the Browns were respectable (3,597 receiving yards and 15 TDs), and he, like Brian Brennan, was a player whose value often didn't truly come through in the numbers he posted. 

24. Bernie Kosar

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    In Cleveland, there is probably no single human being as beloved as QB Bernie Kosar. Within the confines of our fair city, No. 19 is in no danger of being forgotten. Ever. 

    But that doesn't mean he gets the credit he deserves from the football world as a whole, or for that matter, that he ever really did. 

    Statistically, Kosar was admittedly unspectacular. And watching him execute was downright painful at times. But Kosar had a quality that matter much more than either of those things: He was a winner. 

    Kosar, despite his mostly unimpressive numbers and awkward, sometimes truly ugly style of passing, just knew how to win. His value was tremendous but unquantifiable, which is one of the many reasons Kosar never gets the credit or recognition he deserves on a national scale, and never did. 

    Additionally, Kosar was actually a far more accurate passer than what is generally believed, one more accolade to add for a player who was never seen by the football world outside of Cleveland as anywhere near as valuable as he truly was.

25. Bonus: The Most Underrated Current Browns Players

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    Given that not much has changed for Cleveland in recent years as far as how much respect the city, its fanbase and its players get on a national scale, Browns fans had best brace themselves for the next round of players to come through town who probably won't get the credit they deserve from football as a whole. 

    Because we don't know yet how any of the Browns' current standout players will be remembered (or in some cases, forgotten) in the future, we can't truly say who, if any of them, will qualify as forgotten, undervalued, or under-appreciated on the whole. 

    But in terms of which players are probably the most undervalued currently, the honors should probably go to K Phil Dawson and C Alex Mack. 

    Both, like others mentioned on this list who lined up for the Browns at the same spots they do, are to an extent victims of their oft-undervalued positions.

    Dawson is among the Browns top scorers of all-time, yet few in Cleveland would count him among their favorite players and he receives little distinction outside the local area. 

    Mack has gotten some attention, certainly locally and even, to a degree, on a national scale (in the form of a Pro Bowl nod), but like most Centers, doesn't get the credit he truly deserves. Mack has also been overshadowed by LT Joe Thomas. Thomas certainly deserves the recognition he's garnered, but it's a shame that there hasn't been a little left over for the underrated Mack as well.