Baker Mayfield has been surprising people his entire life. He did it again on Thursday night when he became the No. 1 overall pick in the 83rd annual NFL Draft.
The Cleveland Browns have decided to stake their lot with the former Oklahoma quarterback to lead the rudderless Browns’ offense in the present and not just in the future. While the selection of Mayfield as the first player taken in the draft is a distinct honor or reward afforded to just one player every year, it does not come without an element of risk.
The way the NFL Draft process works. the team with the worst record the year before is awarded the first pick in the draft. The order of the draft flows in descending order from there, unless a draft pick is acquired through a player transaction or in compensation as part of a trade.
The benefits that come with being a No. 1 draft pick are fairly obvious: economic considerations, prestige, opportunity. But there is a potential downside, as well.
The higher draft picks every year generally go to NFL teams that aren’t very good — or, at least, teams that had worse records the year before than the top half of the league.
The Cleveland Browns have been the laughing stock of the NFL the last three season and among the worst team in the NFL for the better part of the last two decades. Since 2010, the Browns have won 29 games and lost 99, and they have produced a winning record just once this century.
By selecting Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, the Browns are saying that the former Oklahoma quarterback meets their most immediate need and is the best fit to fuel and lead an on-the-field football turnaround in Cleveland.
Those are the expectations being place on Mayfield’s broad shoulders. The question that needs to be answered is, will Mayfield be able to do what some pretty good college QBs coming out of the college ranks before him have not been able to do in Cleveland?
The Cleveland organization has developed the much-earned reputation of whiffing badly on quarterback selections in the draft. Tim Crouch (1999), Branden Weeden (2012) and Johnny Manziel (2014) were all drafted in the first round by the Browns, and each failed miserably under center in Cleveland. Crouch was actually a No. 1 overall pick.
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The naysayers, and people who don’t know Mayfield very well or what makes him tick, will tell you that the two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year has gotten himself into a no-win situation.
What the cynics don’t understand is that is exactly the kind of environment Mayfield thrives in.
Besides his extraordinary talent, Mayfield brings a fiery, competitive spirit and edge to the position, which is a big reason he was able to win 34 of the 40 games he started at quarterback at Oklahoma. What really separates him from his peers in an especially strong quarterback class this year, and was especially impressive to the Browns, are his exceptional football intellect and memory skills and his creative ability when plays break down.
No one knows Mayfield better than former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley, Mayfield’s position coach all three seasons he was at OU and his head coach last season. Both Stoops and Riley believe Cleveland made a great decision in taking Mayfield, and that he is the right choice to bring the Browns back and make them relevant again in the NFL.
“It’s exciting,” Stoops said after learning his prized pupil had been selected No. 1 in the draft and captured in an article on the OU athletic website.
“This is what should have happened for him. The last three years have been magical,” Stoops said. “What he did in my last two years with the two Big 12 championships, the leadership, the toughness and everything else, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone like him.”
Mayfield’s time as a Sooner starter coincided with Riley’s arrived in Norman, and he also won a Big 12 championship, OU’s third consecutive league title, in Riley’s first season as head coach. Mayfield thrived in the Air Raid offense brought to Oklahoma by Riley.
“I think he’ll do well,” Riley said. “They (Cleveland) showed they really wanted him. They believed in him, and they invested in him. They (the Browns) could have had anyone in America.
“I think if the Browns are invested in him as we were in Oklahoma, he’s going to work his tail off. I think it’s going to be a great fit.”
We’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out. But we know one thing for sure right now. Baker Mayfield will not be intimidated by the big stage.