What If…? Tim Couch.
In 1999, the Cleveland Browns selected Tim Couch with the 1st pick in the draft. He was selected over Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith as the cornerstone to the newly reestablished franchise. Cleveland fans were starving for football, and wanted to come back fast and furious, to show public enemy #1 Art Modell that he was wrong for tearing the heart out of a proud city. The rookie QB from Kentucky was supposed to be the foundation with which that franchise was built.
That was nine years ago.
Couch is now 30, and hasn’t played a down since 2003. He’s made attempts to return to the league, but has seen his health and ability slip away. But at 30, he could very well be in the prime of his career. Tom Brady is 30, and looks remains the best in the game. Payton Manning is 32, and the ageless wonder that is Brett Favre just retired, and many feel he can play another year or two, at 38.
A quick look at Couch’s statistics. During his short career with the Browns, from 1999 to 2003, Couch threw for 11,131 yards, a 59.8 completion percentage, played in 62 games, and threw 64 touchdowns and 67 interceptions, with a QB rating of 75.1. During those five years, Couch was able to play a full 16 game season ONCE. His rookie campaign saw him play in 15 games, and in 2001 he played in every one. In 2000, Couch played in only 7 games due to injury. In his best statistical year, 2002, Couch threw for 2,842 yards, 18 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, a 61.6 completion percentage and a QB rating of 76.8…in only 14 games. That was also the last time the Browns were in the playoffs.
In front of Couch for that season was a rag-tag group of offensive linemen and a weak supporting cast of skilled position starters. Ross Verba, Barry Stokes, Dave Wohlabaugh, Shaun O’Hara, and Ryan Tucker played most of the snaps on the line, and Quincy Morgan, Kevin Johnson, Jamel White and William Green were the key players on the offense. Now, I can’t take anything away from Shaun O’Hara and Ryan Tucker. Both have proved to be solid and dependable starters in the league, and both have had very nice careers. However, during that season Couch was sacked 30 times, down from the 117 times he’d been put in the turf the previous three seasons.
Unfortunately, after leading the team to the playoffs for the first time since 1994, a fluke game that saw Kelly Holcomb throw for over 400 yards in place of an injured Couch, pushed the former #1 pick into a pointless QB battle with the journeyman backup, ultimately ending Couch’s career.
During his time in Cleveland, unrealistic expectations and the venom of a city so starved for a winner hounded the QB; they would cheer as the one time savior of their team laid on the field with a concussion.
He played for inferior teams, and was thrown into the starting role immediately.
Taking Couch’s best year in 2002 and comparing it to this past season’s stats has him sitting 16th in passing yards, between Phillip Rivers and Jason Campbell. He is also ahead of Vince Young, David Garrard, Jeff Garcia, and Matt Schaub. His QB rating number is low, but has him still ahead of Eli Manning and Vince Young.
My question is what if Couch had a chance to blossom and mature into a NFL ready QB? What if Ty Detmer never hurt himself during a pre-season game and could have been a mentor to the young man from Kentucky? What if he had some proper protection and never became the gun-shy sack magnet that he became?
Looking back at Couch, there were some red flags, but also a ton of potential and talent. He rarely put the ball deep at UK, but he was accurate. He completed 67% of his passes during his college career, which was a record when he left school. He was a smart QB and could get the ball were it needed to be. His NFL tenure was short, but if he had been properly managed and coached, who knows.
He’d be entering his 10th season as a QB in 2008. And whether he would have been a Pro-Bowler is anyone’s guess. I don’t ever question that he loved the game and wanted to be “The Guy”. But like far too many before him, his body gave up on him. He took too many shots and was forced to do things he wasn’t capable of doing. The wrong team that could not ensure his maturation and protection drafted him. He was a victim of the system that places the most talented players on a team that has nothing more to offer than money and a chance to play right away.
Would he be listed among the current stars like Manning, Brady, and Rothlisberger? Probably not, but this is the same league that praises marginal talents like Tony Romo as top tier stars. Couch played on terrible teams, and the fact he reached the playoffs with any of them should stand as a testimate to what he was capable of. Had the Browns selected either McNabb or Smith and Couch fell to the Eagles or the Vikings who took Dante Culpepper, he may still be playing. It pains me to knock on my hometown team, but it is the biggest reason why Couch never had the chance to flourish. Take a look at what has happened with the Browns since they put together a real offensive line. Derrick Anderson made the Pro-Bowl because of who was around him and the same can be said about guys like Romo and Garrard.
His career was tragic with the way it was handled, and the way it ended. He was never given a fair chance, and it cost him everything.