Last week, the Cleveland Browns used their No. 1 overall pick on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. This pick came as a surprise to many, as most people expected Sam Darnold or Josh Allen to go first overall. Some also found the pick strange because Mayfield was expected to be available when the Browns picked again at 4. But you have to admire the Browns for going with their instincts. They knew the guy they wanted, and rolled the dice. Moves like this have rarely panned out for the team in the past, but this time should be different, and here’s why.
Mayfield is a proven winner –with big-time guts. Mayfield was overlooked by nearly the entire nation coming out of high school. His only scholarship offers were from FAU, New Mexico, and Rice. Mayfield walked-on at Texas Tech instead. He may be the first true freshman walk-on in FBS history to start a season opener at QB. When it looked as if he wouldn’t earn a scholarship at Tech after an impressive freshman season, he left school, enrolled in Oklahoma and walked-on there as well. Self-doubt is nowhere to be found in this man’s being.
Mayfield doesn’t possess ideal size for the quarterback position, but he makes up for it with arm strength, athleticism, and confidence. He can fit the ball into tight windows, and excels at throwing on the run. These attributes are ideal for a quarterback in today’s NFL, and if the Browns play their cards right, they’ll make sure Mayfield doesn’t end up like Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, Tim Couch, or any of the countless other young QB’s whose careers floundered in Cleveland.
Mayfield may be the one to save the Cleveland Browns franchise, but in order to do so, he has to be disciplined and smart. This means no off-field issues, no distractions. It means he can’t be overwhelmed by the big stage (which has never been a problem for him). He must develop good relationships with his teammates early on. They need to trust him. They need to believe in him just as much, if not more, than he believes in himself. But most importantly, he needs to be himself. He needs to do what got him here in the first place, and be the player he looks to be capable of being.
Of course, it isn’t just Mayfield who needs to be disciplined and smart. Perhaps even more critical is the Browns organization. They already have Tyrod Taylor. While he’s no franchise quarterback, he’s proven perfectly capable of starting and winning games in this league. There’s no sense in rushing Mayfield along, especially with Taylor at your disposal. Let him sit for half a season and learn the ropes, and when Mayfield is ready, turn him loose.
Once Mayfield sees the field, he’ll be aided by a receiving core featuring Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry (the former of which returned to football last season after spending the previous two sidelined for violating the league’s substance abuse policy). He has yet to return to his pre-suspension form, but Mayfield should help with that. Landry led the NFL with 112 catches last year. Having two talented receiving targets upon entering the league is a great situation for any young quarterback, especially a Heisman winner and top draft pick.
The Browns’ futility won’t last forever. At some point, something has to work out. After the countless draft busts we’ve seen come and go in Cleveland, sooner or later, one of them will pan out. My money is on Baker Mayfield.