The Cleveland Browns have been the laughing stock of professional American football for decades. For as long as I can remember, they have been seeking their quarterback of the future. The one man who could lift them from the abyssal depths of disappointment. The one man who could remove their designation as the team that opposing fans consider a second bye week.
After the Browns finished 0-16 in 2017, they held two top 5 picks in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. It was the second straight year where they held the #1 pick in the draft. In the 2017 NFL Draft, they passed on Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson, all of whom are now established starters. To be fair, Cleveland’s selection of defensive end Myles Garrett was never in doubt. He was the consensus top prospect and they certainly do not regret their decision considering Garrett has performed well. However, going into the 2018 NFL Draft, it was clear that the Browns needed to finally find their future quarterback. They did just that.
Baker Mayfield has always been a controversial figure.
Back in 2017 when the Sooners quarterback led his team to a 31-16 victory over the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, in a game where he threw for 386 yards and 3 touchdowns, Mayfield chose to make a statement. Remembering the previous year when Ohio State players sang their fight song on Oklahoma’s turf, Mayfield planted a Sooners flag in the middle of the Buckeyes’ logo at midfield. He quickly apologized for his actions, although it’s silly that he needed to in the first place.
The next month, Mayfield once again found himself in the spotlight of the national media for the wrong reasons. In a game against the Kansas Jayhawks, Mayfield grabbed his crotch and mouthed “F*** you!” to the opposing sideline. Naturally, this prompted another public apology and also resulted in him being punished by his team by benching him against West Virginia.
Unsurprisingly, these controversies along with an off-the-field incident (public intoxication arrest in early 2017) led to many wondering if Mayfield deserved to be the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, even though he had just won the Heisman Award and led the Sooners to their second playoff berth in three years. People feared that Mayfield was another Johnny Manziel, who the Browns selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Manziel was also a very polarizing prospect. The Browns took a gamble, and it didn’t pay off.
Mayfield didn’t even emerge as the betting favorite until the day of the draft. Unlike 2017, it wasn’t obvious to the general public who the Browns were going to select with their pick. Mayfield only overtook Sam Darnold as the betting favorite on the day of the draft. However, according to general manager John Dorsey, the decision was made long ago.
“Personally, when I knew is when I left the private workout in Norman, Oklahoma, I knew in my gut that [Baker Mayfield] was gonna be the guy … you know this guy’s got a little bit of the ‘it’ factor.”
It was announced that Tyrod Taylor would be the starting quarterback for the Browns to start the 2018 NFL season. It isn’t uncommon for a rookie quarterback to sit behind a veteran while they develop, but this is not common for a #1 overall pick. Taylor had a poor start to the season and the people wanted to see Mayfield play. In Week 3, after Taylor went down with an injury and the New York Jets up 14-0, the stage was set for the rookie quarterback to come in and end a 635 day winning drought.
He finished his first career start completing 17 of 23 attempts for 200 yards and a 100.1 passer rating. Most importantly, down 17-14 in the 4th quarter, Mayfield led a 15 play, 75 yard touchdown drive to take a 4 point lead which they went on to hold, snapping a 19 game win-less streak.
Fast forward to the present and the Browns hold a much improved 4-7-1 record. Mayfield has had his highs and lows.
In Week 10 against the Falcons, Mayfield completed 17 of his 20 attempts for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns, good for a 151.1 passer rating in a 28-16 win. In the following game after a bye week, the Browns traveled to Cincinnati, where Mayfield posted 4 touchdowns in a 15 point win over the Bengals.
Like everybody that came before him and everybody that will come after him, rookie quarterbacks make mistakes. Mayfield could have been better last week in Houston. Throwing 3 interceptions in the first half contributed to his team’s defeat, but Mayfield bounced back in the second half and threw for 351 yards and a touchdown. That is what you are looking for in a franchise quarterback. Like star Texans defensive back Tyran Mathieu said after the game, “That’s why the kid is going to be really special, you know?’’
Going 1-31 over a two year span means that you’re going to get good draft picks. The key is using those picks well, which the Browns don’t have a great history of.
|Year||First Round Pick|
None of these players are currently on the Cleveland Browns roster.
In the past two drafts, their luck has shifted for the better. Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku, Denzel Ward, Antonio Callaway and Larry Ogunjobi have all been significant contributors.
Another successful pick has been Nick Chub, who the Browns picked 35th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. Chubb, a running back out of the University of Georgia, has faced defenses with 8+ men in the box on 30.53% of his rushes. He is running for 5.3 yards per carry. For perspective, league leader Todd Gurley is averaging 5 yards per carry while defenses stack 8+ players in the box on just 8.58% of his rushes. As the Browns’ offense progresses and becomes capable of taking the top off defenses, Chubb will have even greater opportunities on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, while the run defense has regressed statistically, the secondary has improved.
|Year||Passer Rating Allowed|
The Browns have many of flaws and areas for improvement. However, it is clear that the front office did not blow the past two drafts. They’ve found their quarterback for the future and have established a young core with huge potential around him.
The Cleveland Browns aren’t going to play in the playoffs this year. No one expected them to. Still, they have as many wins this season as they’ve gotten in the past 3 years combined.
A quote from Baker Mayfield himself sums up the Browns’ current situation well.
“You don’t build a great castle just all at once.”
Image Source: Getty Images