The Cleveland Browns have signed South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw as an undrafted free agent. Considering that many draft analysts thought Shaw could be picked up in the mid-to-late rounds of the NFL Draft, this is a considerable bargain for the Browns. The news is made more interesting by the fact that Cleveland took Johnny Manziel in the first round. Like Manziel, Shaw is a gamer who fought through injuries to help his team win. Unlike Manziel, he is as straight-laced of a young man as there is.
The Browns get a player whose storied history as the South Carolina quarterback was frequently called the best ever by a Gamecock. Shaw entered the program in 2010 and quickly established himself as Stephen Garcia's backup. While Shaw challenged for playing time early in the season, Garcia solidified his role as the starter for the rest of the season with his performance against Alabama. Shaw again challenged for the starting spot coming into the 2011 season, earning a start in the opener against East Carolina, losing his spot to Garcia, and regaining it after Garcia's implosion against Auburn. Since then, Shaw has steadily evolved from a dangerous runner but limited passing threat to a dynamo who notched a 162 passer rating, a 24-1 TD-INT ratio, and 558 rushing yards in 2013. Other than a few games won by Garcia in 2011 and a few more by Dylan Thompson while Shaw was injured at various times in 2012 and 2013, Shaw is also the quarterback who started most of Carolina's 33 wins over the last three years, the most successful period in the history of the program.
Given concerns over his arm strength and height, Shaw was never going to be an early pick in the Draft. However, given his mental command of the game and reliability, he represents a good option as a backup quarterback. His mental understanding makes him a good choice to support the work of the starting quarterback, and his reliability suggests that he's someone you can trust to come in and run the offense without fear of a meltdown should the starter get hurt.
No team was going to draft Shaw with the plan to develop him into a starter, but that doesn't mean it won't eventually happen. What Shaw, a coach's son, lacks in physical tools, he makes up for with hard work and a relentless gamer mentality. Even if he never plays in a single game, he's a great guy to have in any locker room because of his team-first approach.
His work ethic will be a great influence on his teammates, perhaps including the guy they took in the first round.