Part 14 of our draft season series on Baker Mayfield, the 2018 draft’s most fascinating prospect on and off the field
I’ve been chronicling the life, times and prospects of Baker Mayfield for three months. In doing so I learned a good deal about how executives feel about him in relation to his competition at the top of the draft—that would be the “Big Four”: Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Mayfield and Josh Rosen. (That’s not to suggest Lamar Jackson of Louisville won’t be a tremendous pro or perhaps the best in this class; I just don’t believe he’ll be chosen during the first hour of the draft.)
What follows is my shot at forecasting that first hour, and more importantly, where these franchise-shaping passers will land. This is the result of conversations with numerous coaches, scouts, a handful of general managers, and two player agents. Yes, agents. Some of them are throwing darts at the wall when it comes to the draft, but several I've met have been in enough negotiations with these GMs to understand the positions they prioritize, and recognize a smokescreen when it floats into the ether.
Speaking of smokescreens, here’s my all-time favorite, and it began only a week ago. Two weeks ago I was on the phone with a member of the Browns scouting department to get an understanding of their feelings about Mayfield. The voice on the other end raised the specter of an outlandish scenario, then in the same breath shot it down: We’ve talked about taking two quarterbacks... He continued: But the people of Cleveland would probably rise up and burn the building down with us in it.
I laughed and didn't think much of it. No one has ever done it before, and no one ever will do it. Selecting quarterbacks at 1 and 4, when you have gaping holes at just about every position group on the roster, would be football malpractice. Sure enough, a few days later, there was Adam Schefter on ESPN touting the possibility the Browns take two passers at the top of the first. Kevin Clark at the Ringer offered a more nuanced discussion of the revelation that the Browns had looked at the possibility.
I believe the Browns are messing with us. John Dorsey is having all the fun, which is why you’ve seen each of the Big Four linked at one point or another to that No. 1 pick. The thing is, Dorsey has spent 21 years as a scouting director or higher in the NFL without the No. 1 pick, and now he has the No. 1 and No. 4 pick, and he's not discussing with just anybody which players he truly likes. Add to the equation a head coach who is 1-31 in two seasons at the helm, and it's no wonder his scouting department and coaching staff has been in the dark for weeks. But I believe Dorsey has a favorite. Let’s start there.
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
I don’t think Dorsey is relishing this pick, but I do think he knows who he wants. Of the Big Four, nobody fits the Dorsey mold to a T. He coveted the arm strength, experience, and football smarts of Patrick Mahomes in 2017, drafting Kansas City’s QB of the future before he was fired after five seasons at the helm. I think Dorsey has considered the possibility of picking Bradley Chubb or Saquon Barkley here, and taking the best available QB at 4, but he knows not to screw around with this pick. I almost bought the late Mayfield-to-Cleveland hype, but I'm going with my gut. It’s Darnold.
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
General manager Dave Gettleman will take a hard look at N.C. State edge defender Bradley Chubb here. But a year ago, when he was still in Carolina, Gettleman showed a willingness to draft a running back in the top 10 if a transformational athlete is available. Christian McCaffrey validated the No. 8 selection, though Gettleman wasn't in the building to see it, having been fired that July. Barkley is that athlete in this year’s draft, and Gettleman will take him at 2 in order to provide Eli Manning some relief at the end of his career and make life easier on Manning’s heir, whether that’s Davis Webb or a 2019 rookie.
3. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
I’ve been saying this will be Mayfield's landing spot for two weeks now, for a few reasons. I think the Jets would like somebody to come in and take command of that locker room from a leadership perspective in a way that Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg have not, and I think Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles have to be sick of drafted quarterbacks who require years of development to see the field. Mayfield had big responsibilities in a prolific offense, and has demanded the spotlight through personality and an uncanny ability to learn on the fly. OC Jeremy Bates, a branch off the Shanahan tree, will get Mayfield moving away from the pocket to deal with the height issue early on. I’m hearing Bates has already begun the work of installing some of Oklahoma’s most successful passing concepts into a playbook for Mayfield. In this scenario, I don’t see Josh McCown starting past the quarter-mark of the 2018 season.
4. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
Here’s a nickel package for you: Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Larry Ogunjobi and Chubb. That’s a fine foundation to build a defense around. The guy Dorsey considered at 1 falls into his lap at 4, and though the trade offers for this selection will be enticing, he stays put. Buffalo would be a candidate to trade into this spot, but it would take the 12th pick and both of the Bills’ second-rounders, or the 22nd pick and some change, picks I don't think Bills general manager Brandon Beane will ultimately part with.
5. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
This is widely agreed upon to be a major personality fit with general manager John Elway, who believes he can take a quarterback with ideal measurables and raw talent and mold him into something special. It didn’t work with Paxton Lynch, but that won’t stop anybody in Englewood from taking the passer who is probably the most controversial member of the Big Four, given his spotty on-field résumé. I could see the Broncos trading back and working to surround Case Keenum with offensive line help, but I think Allen is Denver’s guy at 5.
6. Buffalo Bills (trade with Indianapolis): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Bills are the last team here that absolutely must draft a quarterback, and in this scenario they make a deal with Indianapolis for the sixth pick and the right to the last man standing. I think there’s virtually no chance the Colts end up holding onto this pick; they're transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 with new DC Matt Eberflus, which means there are major needs across the front seven that must be addressed in this draft. If position players are the picks at 2 and 4, that leaves one of the four QBs available at 6. Buffalo will do everything in its power to bring in viable competition for AJ McCarron, even if it means settling for a player who might not be their first or second choice. I think Buffalo could get away with dealing picks 22 and 65, while holding on to 53 and 56 to move up six spots from 12.
Mayfield or Allen going No. 1 shakes things up considerably. Darnold would be available at 2 for the Giants, and they'd have to take a harder look, I believe, at the player considered the safest QB available. Then the Jets take another passer at 3, and Buffalo would feel considerably more pressure to trade up to 4 with the Browns (who are eager to move that pick) rather than wait until the Broncos pick at 5. In every scenario, it's virtually guaranteed to be must-see TV.
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