History will not be Beau Bell’s greatest ally as he begins his professional football career with the Browns next month. Same can be said for Martin Rucker.
The likelihood of Bell and Rucker ascending to anything resembling star status in the National Football League will be severely challenged by their misfortune of being selected by Cleveland in the fourth round of the college draft several weeks ago.
Over the years, the fourth round has been a graveyard littered with failure for the Browns. For whatever reason, being picked in that round by Cleveland has been a precursor to disappointment and non-fulfillment.
The Browns have participated in the college lottery since 1950, whey they entered the NFL. Since then, they have drafted 56 players in the fourth round. Twelve other fourth-round picks were traded, including four in a row by Bill Belichick in his five-year Cleveland run. The only fourth-rounder who stuck with Belichick was defensive tackle Pio Sagapolutele.
Of the 56 drafted, only 38 suited up and played at one time or another. And just 17 started at least one game.
From wide receiver Bob (Red) Wilson in 1950 to Bell and Rucker, only one fourth-round selection developed into an All-Pro. A sad commentary on the drafting fortunes of the Browns.
In 1952, Browns coach Paul Brown selected a running back out of North Texas State with the first of two picks in the fourth round and turned him into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
The late Ray Renfro, a whippet of a runner with excellent hands, successfully made the conversion from running back and went on to play 12 productive seasons with the Browns, notching Pro Bowl honors on three occasions.
Renfro, nicknamed Rabbit because of his speed, is mentioned frequently in the records section of the club’s media guide. He still owns the club marks for most 100-yard receiving games (14, tied with Webster Slaughter), highest career receiving average (19.6 yards a catch) and highest receiving average in a season (28.05 yards in 1957). He is also second in career receiving yards with 5,508 and tied with eight others for most touchdown catches in a game (3).
Other than Renfro, no fourth-rounder has played quality football for the Browns beyond a four-year period. Not one.
You’d figure that over the years, the Browns would stumble blindly into some fourth-round luck. They haven’t come even close and their failure to do so has got to cause at least a little concern and wonderment.
The draft is considered by many to be a crapshoot to begin with, but this is carrying it a bit too far. You’d figure the blind-squirrel syndrome would kick in somewhere along the line.
Defensive backs Tony Peters and Oliver Davis and defensive end Mike St. Clair started for a few seasons in the mid-1970s; wide receiver Brian Brennan was a third receiver in the mid- to late-1980s; cornerback Anthony Henry intercepted 10 passes as a rookie nickelback in 2001, but had only seven additional picks in the next three seasons; and middle linebacker Wali Rainer started for three seasons in the embryonic stages of the new Browns. Only Brennan was a significant contributor on a consistent basis.
Other than that, the fourth round has been a barren wasteland of bad guesses and disappointment.
Carl Ward, a fourth-round selection in 1967, owns a place in the club’s record annals with a record 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in his rookie season against the Washington Redskins. It was his lone contribution in two seasons.
The Browns struck gold when they drafted defensive end Jim Marshall in 1960. Only one problem. The Ohio State star started several games as a rookie and then was dealt to the Minnesota Vikings. He started every game for the Vikings for 19 straight seasons as one of the famed Purple People Eaters on the defensive line. Overall, he started 282 consecutive games (an NFL record for non-kickers) in a 20-year career.
And middle linebacker Dave Lloyd, the second of two fourth-round picks by the Browns in 1959, enjoyed NFL success, but it wasn’t in Cleveland. He became a starter in his third season with the club before being shipped to Detroit, where he played a year before finishing up with eight strong seasons in Philadelphia, achieving Pro Bowl status in 1969.
Such lamentable selections as Jerry Hilgenberg (1954), Paul Camera (1957), Gary Prahst (1959), Don Shackelford (1964), Pete Duranko (1966), Bubba Pena (1971), Gene Swick (1976), Pete Pullara (1978), Ron Crews (1980), Andrew Stewart (1989), Lee Suggs (2003) and Antonio Perkins (2005) are a mute testament to the Browns’ dismal failure in round four.
Pullara was the last fourth-rounder who failed to make the final roster. Since 1979, every fourth-rounder has been under contract for at least one season, justifying their selection for at least the one season.
Now, it’s Bell’s and Rucker’s turn. And there is no guarantee they will solve the club’s problems. There’s a reason they lasted until the fourth round. There’s a decent chance they might not be good enough to be significant contributors in the NFL over the long haul. A majority of mid- to late-round picks wind up on practice squads or the waiver wire.
For all the good the scouts and general managers have done over the years, the Browns would have been better off bringing in a monkey in round four, blindfolding him, putting darts in his hand, pointing him in the direction of the draft board and prompting him to throw the darts.
Given their success with fourth-rounders, the next time it’s their turn to make a selection in that round, perhaps the Browns should politely decline and say, “Pass.”
Unless, of course, Bell and/or Rucker beat the odds. Who knows? If you believe in ghosts, maybe the spirit of Ray Renfro will look down favorably upon the Browns and help reverse what has turned into a colossal fourth-round hex.
They sure could use some help.