Browns Have a Franchise-Changing Star in Baker Mayfield, and We All Missed It

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 12, 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 07: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns seen at the game against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield had one of his best moments of the season last week, and it didn't show up on the stat sheet.

Mayfield was playing Baltimore, and the Ravens were attempting to get under his skin with some of the usual tricks. There was the occasional trash talk. The extra shove after he threw a pass. All were designed to irritate the rookie QB and knock him out of any potential comfort zone.

There was a problem: It didn't work.

Mayfield responded several times but never got sucked totally in. He remained pretty calm, I was told by one Ravens player, who added that he walked away from Baltimore's 12-9 overtime loss in Cleveland extremely impressed with Mayfield. In the player's opinion, Mayfield is a future star.

He was far from the only Raven who was impressed.

"Baker is one of those guys," safety Tony Jefferson told BaltimoreRavens.com after the game. "We talked about it all week. He's a fighter, he's a playmaker. He's got that 'it' factor to him."

Mayfield finished the game 25-of-43 for 342 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It was a solid performance against one of the best defenses in football.

To say that Mayfield has been a success so far would be a dramatic understatement. In leading the Browns to two wins, and a near win in Oakland, he has become one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year.

It's early, but to people in the NFL, he already has shown maturity and skill they believed they'd never see. Barring some unforeseen calamity, like an alien invasion or Mayfield going on a party boat with Johnny Manziel, it is safe to say the Browns got this one right.

They got it very right.

Many in the media (including me—big time), though, got this one wrong. So, too, did many inside the NFL. Oh, sure, his name was bandied about as a possibility to go No. 1 in the draft, but more than a few of us (media, fans, execs) were genuinely surprised when the Browns tabbed Mayfield ahead of Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen or Josh Allen.

What did so many of us miss about Mayfield? In speaking with a number of league sources, there appear to be five reasons why Mayfield beat many of the predictions of gloom:

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 07: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

   

Height is irrelevant. The NFL (and many in the football media) still believe shorter quarterbacks struggle in the pros, despite the success of players like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.

Mayfield is listed at 6'1". (Brees and Wilson are about 6'0"). The NFL (and many in the media) believe a quarterback has to be in the 6'3" range and higher to be especially successful.

What NFL teams continue to underestimate is the importance of athleticism in a quarterback, the ability to roll out of the pocket, or just take a few steps in one direction to clear a passing lane. Height is no longer the issue it once was—if it ever was a real issue.

   

He's no Manziel. Several league sources said that Mayfield—unfairly—was compared to failed Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.

"To some teams," one scout said, "the failure of Manziel in a Browns uniform stuck to Baker."

Mayfield is no Manziel. He's made plays within the offense. He hasn't created any off-field drama. And he appears to have earned the trust of his teammates.

   

Factory of Happiness. The Browns have long been terrible at picking quarterbacks. So bad, in fact, that some teams believed the Browns would never get it right.

Their reason for feeling that was the horrid Browns culture, that the franchise was so soaked in misery no single player could change it. So, the thinking went, taking a risk on Mayfield first overall was a waste.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns fans hold up letters spelling BAKER in support of quarterback Baker Mayfield during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns won 12-9 in ove
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It turns out the Browns already had players who were helping to change (Myles Garrett, chief among them) the culture, added some more in the offseason (Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor), and with Mayfield, it has all come together.

   

The Saquon Barkley factor. There was a strong feeling (and with lots of merit) that Barkley was a better pick in the draft with a lot less risk. Barkley has been excellent for the Giants (racking up 71 carries for 308 yards and three touchdowns), who selected him second overall behind Mayfield.

But given with the rapid decline of Giants quarterback Eli Manning, it may turn out it's the Giants who made the draft mistake in not selecting a quarterback, not the Browns.

   

The Browns front office. It is far better than teams expected. Remember, with the fourth overall pick, the team took defensive back Denzel Ward. There were some curious looks, even private mocking from teams, about taking Ward that high.

Ward is now considered one of the best young corners in football. He is tied for the lead in interceptions with three. Last week against Baltimore, he had a pick and blocked a Justin Tucker kick, earning himself AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

With Ward and Mayfield on his resume, general manager John Dorsey can now boast of having drafted a who's who of up-and-coming stars: from Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City to Mayfield, Ward, Nick Chubb and Antonio Callaway in Cleveland.

That has the makings of not just a good front office but potentially a great one.

Rub your eyes all you want, but it looks like the Browns finally may know what they're doing.

There's a lesson in there for all of us that with just a few right decisions, any team can change its fate, no matter what everyone else expects.

       

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.  

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