They passed on Carson Wentz and Jared Goff and DeShaun Watson. They thought Johnny Manziel was a better idea than Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater. They didn’t want Patrick Mahomes II. There was the Brandon Weeden experiment … when Russell Wilson could’ve been had.
Regimes change in Cleveland. General managers and coaches and philosophies come and go. Finding a quarterback remains elusive, especially of late, when the franchise felt gun shy as much as anything, paralysis by analysis, trades down born of uncertainty.
If nothing else, John Dorsey, the Cleveland Browns new general manager, wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, a monster of a gamble at the very top of the draft.
Mayfield threw for 12,292 yards and 119 touchdowns the last three years at OU, winning a Heisman and leading them to the college football playoffs along the way.
He’s also just over 6-feet tall. He doesn’t wow anyone in a sprint. He can get overemotional. He’s been benched for on-field and off-field antics – most notably after he was arrested after getting drunk and running from the cops just 14 months ago.
Dorsey, an old Green Bay Packer linebacker, just shrugged. What others saw as warning flags, Dorsey clearly saw as a planting of the flag (if you will), a way to build a culture that Cleveland isn’t going to back down.
Does it work? No one knows. Same as no one knows if it will work with the more conventional choices – USC’s Sam Darnold, who went to the New York Jets at No. 3, Josh Allen, who Buffalo traded up for to take at No. 7, and Josh Rosen, who went 10th to Arizona, which also traded up.
Dorsey is convinced. His career will be determined by if he’s right.
There were other options, even ones that included Baker. Dorsey could have taken Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, the surest bet in the draft, at No. 1 and figured Mayfield would drop to the fourth pick (which certainly seemed a possibility) that the Browns also owned.
Cleveland got that pick from Houston after trading down last year when plenty of good quarterback options were available. Terrified of being wrong, they were. The Texans used it to take DeShaun Watson, who looked as a rookie like the kind of keeper the Browns hope Mayfield becomes.
Those days are apparently over. Dorsey took the guy he believed in.
Then he used the fourth pick grab Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward. That pick, too, eschewed much of the draft wisdom (whatever that’s worth). Many thought pass rusher Bradley Chubb from N.C. State was a better choice. Some mock drafts had Ward, who measured in at just 5-10, as a mid-first rounder.
So, with the No. 1 and No. 4 pick, the Browns got two guys that many analysts didn’t rank among their top 10 available players.
That’s bold. That’s confident. It may prove spectacularly wrong, but it may prove brilliantly right, too.
Mayfield certainly gives the team a jolt of personality. He’s an unapologetic competitor, a bit of a rebel, a guy who plays on the edge but almost always comes out on top. In Cleveland, which has endured a listless, terrible stretch, capped by last year’s 0-16 season, he’ll arrive with the belief he can deliver the impossible dream of a Super Bowl.
His faith is born from accomplishment. The guy was a walk-on at Texas Tech, yet earned the season-opener starting job as a true freshman, believed to be the only time a freshman walk-on has done that in major college history. He later transferred (and walked on) to OU and kept proving doubters wrong. He’s now the No. 1 pick overall.
The theatrics, such as sticking an OU flag into the 50-yard line of Ohio Stadium after a victory over Ohio State, or taunting Kansas players who wouldn’t shake his hand pregame … maybe that’s some of what the Browns need.
The public intoxication and winding up at the wrong end of a police Taser, they’ve seen enough.
Baker will be interesting. Cleveland will be interesting. Only if they win, though. Only if he lasts. Manziel was interesting, too, until he wrecked his career and is no longer in the league.
John Dorsey is the new boss in Berea and he clearly isn’t worried about what anyone else thinks. He wanted Mayfield and he got him. He wanted Ward and he got him.
It’s certainly a new day in Cleveland. If they aren’t right though, it’ll feel like the old days.
More NFL draft coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Browns draft Mayfield with No. 1 pick
• Giants take Barkley with No. 2 pick instead of Darnold
• Watch: Best of the NFL draft red carpet
• NFL draft grades 2018: The emoji edition
• Allen on offensive tweets: ‘We were young and dumb’