CLEVELAND, Ohio – In 2018 draft, the Browns were right about their biggest decision.
That was making Baker Mayfield the No. 1 pick.
You can argue that Lamar Jackson is better. Or perhaps, you’ll make the case for Josh Allen, two other first-round quarterback picks that night. But so were Josh Rosen (YIKES, my favorite!) and Sam Darnold.
I had to do a computer search to even find Rosen. He’s with the 49ers as a backup. San Francisco is his third team since Arizona made him the 10th pick in 2018. The No. 3 pick in that draft, Darnold was traded by the Jets to Carolina. It was a long, frustrating three years for Darnold in New York.
Jackson and Allen have led their teams to the playoffs.
For what it’s worth, my QB ranking in 2018: 1) Rosen. 2) Allen. 3) Mayfield. 4) Jackson. 5) Darnold. I didn’t think Darnold or Jackson would have significant NFL careers.
Why am I thinking about this on draft day, 2021? Because without the selection of Mayfield, it’s doubtful the Browns would be in the position where they don’t need a QB. They wouldn’t be coming off an 11-5 season and a playoff victory over Pittsburgh.
You know a team is in good shape when it quickly picks up the fifth-year option on its QB, as the Browns recently did. Then the big question isn’t if a long-term deal is wise. Rather, it’s how many millions should the QB be paid?
HE LOBBIED FOR CLEVELAND
At the 2018 NFL combine, Mayfield made his case to the media for wanting to be the No. 1 pick headed to Cleveland.
“First things first, they’d get a winner,” said Mayfield. “If anybody is going to turn that franchise around, it’s going to be me. They’re close. They’re very close. They’ve got the right pieces and they just need that one guy at quarterback to make the difference.”
Mayfield was mostly correct. The team was sort of close to no longer being an NFL joke. But it took more than a QB. Former GM John Dorsey not only drafted Mayfield, he also picked running back Nick Chubb in the second round. They traded for receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Dorsey gave Kareem Hunt a second chance. Then new GM Andrew Berry added key players on the offensive line.
Finally, Mayfield was hooked up with coach Kevin Stefanski, who once again demonstrated he could help a QB improve as he did in Minnesota with Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum.
But it also was important that Mayfield wanted to play in Cleveland. He embraced the challenge. He needed the confidence/cockiness because he had no idea what he was facing. Four head coaches, three offensive coordinators and two GMs later – all in three seasons – Mayfield has emerged as the QB this franchise needs.
Among other things, he’s durable, never missing an NFL start. He proved in 2021 to be adaptable to Stefanski’s offense. He’s been teachable, staying way from some of the immature things he’s said in the past.
“When it comes to looking back three years ago to this (draft) day, it’s been a life-changing moment for my family and friends,” Mayfield said in a Zoom call.
WHAT ABOUT THE UFO?
“So have I,” said my wife. “At Baldwin Wallace.” That was in the 1970s. Who knows what really is flying around up there?
Mayfield also has made the case for Sasquatch. Most of us have someone in our families or know someone who seems to have seen Sasquatch. I didn’t see him, but heard he had a lousy pro day.
As long as Mayfield doesn’t join the Flat Earth Society with Kyrie Irving. Nothing wrong with having a little fun.
NOW IT’S HARDER
The Browns have to learn something new – coping with success.
“This is the first time ever in my career where 11 guys who started at one point on offense are all coming back,” Mayfield said in a Zoom call. “That’s truly special.”
The Browns will be the “cool” pick to reach the Super Bowl by some in the media. Others will be looking for reasons for them to fail. They’ll mention 2019 when the hype train fell rudely off the tracks.
“The culture and anything related to our whole team, it’s nowhere near what it was (in 2019),” said Mayfield. “That’s a good thing. We have worked hard on setting a standard. … We will set our own expectations.”
Mayfield and the Browns are thinking big but determined to keep the bravado turned down. That’s good news. And for fans, that should be a relief as they watch what their favorite team does in the draft.
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This content was originally published here.