On April 26th, John Dorsey and the Browns shocked the football universe when they selected Heisman trophy winner and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall selection of the 2018 NFL draft. This decision came after months of delegation by Browns brass on who was the right choice to bring their franchise back from years of turmoil and a 1-31 record in the past two seasons. Through these months of discussions, many experts and insiders believed the choice would come down to USC quarterback Sam Darold or Wyoming QB Josh Allen to lead the Browns and their rebuild. It wasn’t until draft night when the league was shocked by Dorsey’s call, as he opted for the 6’0 hotheaded gunslinger out of Oklahoma to build his franchise around, and while Baker is yet to throw a single professional pass for the Cleveland Browns, this selection only continues to look better and better.
Mayfield, like the Browns hasn’t had the brightest past. He was arrested and charged in 2017 for public intoxication and fleeing an officer after a night out of drinking that left him “unable to stand straight.” This charge created several character questions for Mayfield entering his senior season at Oklahoma as many analysts before the 2017 season described the incident as “A major red flag for any teams interested” despite this, Mayfield would shine and win the Heisman trophy, recording 732 first place votes and the third largest vote share in the award’s history. Along with this personal accolade, he led the Sooners to a 12-1 regular season and a place in the 2018 College Football Playoff where they eventually lost 54-48 to runner-up Georgia in overtime at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Following his senior season, Mayfield was expected to be a late first round draft pick due to a plethora of reasons including his shorter stature and these past issues and general concerns with his character, this didn’t hold true however as Baker blew teams away in workouts and the pre-draft process. As he shot up draft boards prior to draft night, experts believed he’d fall between picks 5-10 with quarterback needy teams like the New York Jets and Denver Broncos seeming like the most likely suitors, leading to such shock when he was selected first overall. After the pick, the Browns doubled down on this trend with the fourth pick they’d acquired from Houston in the Deshaun Watson trade last season, as Dorsey selected Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward to the continued surprise to so many analysts and casual fans alike. Don’t get me wrong, Ward is an incredible talent and through the pre-draft process he proved himself to be the best corner among a middling class of college secondary prospects and was a lock to be a top-10 pick, but to Cleveland few predicted that, especially with pass-rusher Bradley Chubb still on the board. Chubb, now in Denver, was a predicted shoe in to play across Cleveland stud defensive end Myles Garrett and form one of the best young pass-rushing duos the league has ever seen, but Dorsey explained that with his current pass rushing depth and need for a number one corner, the choice for Ward was “clear as day.”
The Browns completed the draft process by adding more consistent talent on days two and three including; University of Nevada guard Austin Corbett, Georgia running back Nick Chubb and Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway. This draft haul, paired with their stellar free agent class of All-Pro receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Carlos Hyde, and new bridge quarterback Tyrod Taylor gave long-suffering Browns fans a reason to believe. Paired with Ward and Mayfield, this young Browns roster and it’s new additions could easily win 6-8 games this season if they put it together, as the team is far more talented than it’s past 0-16 record leads on. This infusion of talent along with a year of growth from past draft picks like sack leader Myles Garrett, tight end David Njoku, and running back Duke Johnson could propel the Browns to success, but the main difference we’ll see and what really will be a catalyst for change is at the quarterback position.
After a 2017 season that was marred by three different starting quarterbacks and incredible inconsistency, the Browns look to take a step forward, as this winter they shipped out quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan and opted for more talented and experienced options in an attempt to reboot the troubled franchise and it’s past at the quarterback position.This turnaround will more than likely begin with veteran Tyrod Taylor, who was acquired from Buffalo for a 3rd round pick this offseason as he provides a bridge and a chance for Mayfield to develop behind the scenes. Taylor is coming off a season in which he ended the longest playoff drought in North American sports for the Buffalo Bills (since 2000) when he led them to a 9-7 record and a wild-card berth before losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars 10-3. Taylor will provide stability and a launching pad for the Browns and was a brilliant low-risk move with only a single year remaining on his contract, as in each of his past three seasons as Buffalo’s starter he’s accumulated at least 2,800 passing yards along with 400 rushing yards to boot. Next comes Mayfield, who will most likely see the field as the Browns starter later in 2018, but seems to be the real deal after reports out of Browns camp that he’s “exceeded all expectations” and that Cleveland has been “over the moon with their selection to this point.”
Despite this early optimism, these reports are only the beginning. Mayfield has a long way to go and a lot to learn if he wants to be the quarterback to bring Cleveland back from the brink. He needs to recapture the magic that made him such a special player at the University of Oklahoma and find a way to translate that to the pro level, and finally he needs to shake any and all comparisons to Cleveland’s last high level quarterback, Johnny Manziel. As despite a clear difference in character and poise, Mayfield is still discussed in the same circles as Johnny Football and the only way to remove this stigma is to win football games, plain and simple. I believe Mayfield is ready, and understands the work thats cut out for him if he wants to achieve his goals. He’s elevated a team to new heights before and it’s not out of the question if he’ll do it again. At the end of the day, his leadership and his genius are what made John Dorsey roll the dice on him in the first place, now it’s time to see if his roll is a fortunate one.