What makes Baker Mayfield tick? What about his character convinced the Browns to make him the No. 1 pick and their quarterback of the future? Robert Klemko and SI go behind the scenes with Mayfield in The Big Interview. You can now watch anytime, anywhere on SI TV. Learn more at SI.TV.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Back in March, during the NFL league meetings in Orlando, Hue Jackson was almost giddy as he relayed to reporters an occurrence during the Browns’ private workout of Baker Mayfield.
“When we walked into the building, he made this sound, he just kind of went, ‘Hee hee,’ and all the players in the building started going, ‘Hee hee,’” Jackson said, his eyes glinting. “It’s the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen. That shows you something about what he means to young men, and how he leads them. That’s who Baker Mayfield is.”
It was surprisingly effusive praise of a player during a lead-up to the draft that had been especially shrouded in mystery this year. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it looks like a clue as to just how much the Browns fancied the Oklahoma quarterback.
On Thursday night, ending months of speculation, Cleveland used its No. 1 pick on Mayfield. Despite the fact that the Browns, by virtue of an 0-16 season, would have their choice of any player on the board, GM John Dorsey kept the team’s preference closely guarded—until Tuesday morning, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Mayfield could be the guy. From there, buzz steadily built around the league that the Browns would in fact be turning in Mayfield’s name, triggering the inevitable Johnny Manziel comparisons that Mayfield has rebuked.
Within a little bit more than an hour, four quarterbacks had come off the board in the top 10 picks. The Jets, who made no secret of their intentions to draft a QB when they traded up from No. 6 to 3, were thrilled to get USC’s Sam Darnold, considered by many evaluators to be the best quarterback in this year’s class. Despite his past racist tweets surfacing the night before the draft, Wyoming’s Josh Allen didn’t appear to suffer the consequences, with the Bills trading up to take him at No. 7. And the Cardinals jumped up from 15 to 10, leapfrogging the Dolphins at 11, to take UCLA’s Josh Rosen. In no other draft this century have four QBs been taken in the top 10 picks.
Despite the quantity, opinions on the QBs in this class varied widely. Mayfield was the type of prospect that teams either loved or hated—and the Browns clearly loved him. Darnold was seen by many teams as the safest pick, with the highest floor. Some saw Allen as having the highest ceiling. But in Mayfield, the Browns saw a player who has the right arrogance to handle being the No. 1 pick, for a city that has endured a 1-31 ground-up rebuild and a franchise that has chewed up QBs faster than any other in the league—28 starters at the position since the team resumed operations in 1999.
Mayfield was by far the most successful college quarterback of this year’s group, amassing a 34-6 record as Oklahoma’s starter and leading his team to the college football playoff last season while winning the Heisman Trophy. Teams scrutinized his height (he’s a tick under 6’1”) but mostly if he’s mature enough to be the face of a franchise, from his college arrest to his taunting of opponents to his disclosure from The MMQB’s Robert Klemko that he didn’t really prepare for a pre-draft meeting with the Chargers because he figured they were picking too late to choose him. There’s also the fact that he keeps a list of media members who have crossed the line—which will no doubt include multiple local Cleveland reporters who have invoked the Manziel comparisons and whom he’ll now see daily.
• BAKER MAYFIELD—THE SCOUTING REPORT: Read The MMQB’s multipart pre-draft series on the Oklahoma quarterback
Browns consultant Scot McCloughan was in Seattle’s front office when they drafted Russell Wilson, another seemingly undersized QB who won a Super Bowl. Plus, as Klemko wrote in his Mayfield series, Dorsey teased Mayfield about the arrest more than once, asking him, “So, you like food trucks?”
In every way but the players’ height, the Manziel comparison is a lazy one, as Manziel struggled with addiction issues that landed him in rehab and, by his own admission, a deficient work ethic that doomed his Browns career just two years after the team drafted him No. 22 overall. Mayfield is cocksure and has shown immaturity off the field, but he’s beloved by his college teammates, a student of the game and in fact a very mature player on the field.
For the Browns, quarterback was the position they’ve been waiting to fill for two years, spending their past couple drafts hoarding picks and fleshing out the rest of the roster while drawing criticism for passing on QBs like Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson. Jackson has already said Tyrod Taylor, whom the organization traded for in March, will be the 2018 starter, but there will no doubt be pressure for the No. 1 pick to play as soon as possible.
Mayfield was to many a surprising selection. But Dorsey, in his first draft as Browns GM, wasn’t worried about the second-guessing that the Browns’ fateful history has earned the club. He’s betting on Mayfield being the most electrifying pick in the class.
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