Mayfield over Darnold the right move for confidence-starved Cleveland
The Cleveland Browns ensured the 2018 NFL Draft got off to a surprising start when they passed on Sam Darnold to select Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick but, though the selection raised eyebrows in some quarters, it is one that makes perfect sense as they look to finally escape from the league's cellar.
Cleveland did an excellent job of keeping their plans secret but, despite the mystery surrounding the pick, the prevailing opinion was that USC's Darnold would ultimately be the guy for the Browns.
Darnold was seen by many as the top quarterback in the class, but there are a multitude of reasons why Oklahoma star and Heisman Trophy winner Mayfield is not only the safer bet, but also carries greater upside for a team that went 0-16 last season and has developed an unwanted affinity for missing on signal-callers.
So often have the Browns whiffed on quarterbacks that a jersey in a Cleveland shop front baring the name of every quarterback since Tim Couch was selected first overall in 1999 has become the stuff of legend.
Mayfield will likely start his rookie year as a backup to Tyrod Taylor, who the Browns traded for in March, but has vowed to ensure no more names will be added to that jersey.
"For Cleveland right now, we are making the right moves. Tyrod and I, we are going to put an end to that list of the QB names on the back of the jersey," said Mayfield.
Browns fans likely stopped seeing the funny side of the jersey stunt after 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel's ill-fated spell with the team. Manziel was released in 2015 and is trying to work his way back into the league after a battling a host of off-field issues.
Mayfield, a shorter quarterback at 6'1" who can extend plays and make things happen with his legs as well as his arm, has predictably drawn parallels to Manziel.
"Hey -- let me ask you a question ... you want to be the first pick in the draft?" pic.twitter.com/Ll6z5UiVej-- Cleveland Browns (@Browns) April 27, 2018
But a comparison between Mayfield and Manziel is a lazy one to make.
Manziel often succeeded at Texas A&M by scrambling and chucking the ball hopefully downfield to hulking receiver Mike Evans. Mayfield also makes throws on the move but, unlike Manziel, can excel playing from the pocket. He gets the ball out sharply and delivers it with anticipation, leading his receivers to the football and hitting them in stride.
Capable of passing with a delicate touch, Mayfield lacks elite arm strength but has enough to be able to make all throws at the short, intermediate and deep levels, and also shows the ability to contort his feet to deliver the ball accurately even when facing interior pressure, which is the kryptonite of so many quarterbacks even at the NFL level.
That is something Manziel never looked capable of doing and that level of calm in the pocket is something Darnold, the newest member of the New York Jets after being taken third overall, also lacks.
Darnold too often left clean pockets in an effort to extend the play with his legs and was guilty of an alarming rise in turnovers in his final year at USC, throwing 13 interceptions as he regularly made poor decisions and threw into traffic.
Mayfield, by contrast, threw only 14 interceptions over his last two seasons with Oklahoma, with just six of them coming in 2017 as he led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff semi-finals.
It is of course possible to read too much into statistics but the comparison of those numbers provides a clear window into what the Browns will likely have been thinking when they decided to pull a draft-day stunner.
Mayfield is safer with the football than Darnold, can do more with his legs, is better in the pocket and, though Darnold has a better arm, can make all the same throws.
In addition to his physical skill set, Mayfield comes with a bravado that occasionally boiled over in college and is somewhat akin to that of the brash Manziel. However, unlike Manziel, he can back it up on the field.
After suffering the humiliation of a winless season, this is a franchise and a fanbase low on confidence. Whether Mayfield will be the last name to adorn the jersey remains to be seen, but in terms of restoring confidence to the organisation, the Browns have picked the right man.