BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns believe all Baker Mayfield has in common with Johnny Manziel are height and a Heisman.
After months of dissection and debate, the Browns selected Mayfield, Oklahoma’s cocky and charismatic quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday, a somewhat surprising selection by a team that figured to play it safe with such an important decision.
But coming off a 0-16 season, the Browns are betting that Mayfield is a better player than USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen or UCLA’s Josh Rosen, a talented group regarded as the top QB class in years.
The Browns followed Mayfield’s selection with another surprise, taking Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward. Cleveland was thought to be high on North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, but instead opted for the speedy Ward, who skipped his senior season with the Buckeyes to turn pro.
Mayfield may have been college football’s top player last season, when he passed for 4,627 yards, 43 touchdowns and won the Heisman Trophy. But the 23-year-old is undersized (he’s just over 6-foot), and there are questions about his character following a 2017 arrest and some on-field antics which included him grabbing his crotch in a game at Kansas.
Those antics have led to the inevitable comparisons to Manziel, who was selected by the Browns in the first round in 2014 and flopped on the field while partying his way out of the league.
New Browns general manager John Dorsey has been enamored with Mayfield for some time, and believes his competitiveness and will eventually resolve the team’s decades-long quarterback dilemma. Cleveland has started 28 QBs since 1999.
Last week, Dorsey defended Mayfield’s character and called him “a pleasant fella. He is pretty sharp. He is fine. I have no problems with him.”
Still, Mayfield was seen as a longshot to go to the Browns before word leaked out in recent days that Dorsey had the support of assistant GM Eliot Wolf and Scot McCloughan, the former 49ers and Redskins GM now working with Cleveland as a consultant, to make the pick.
Mayfield, who went 33-6 as a three-year starter for the Sooners, is the fifth quarterback taken in the first round by the Browns in their expansion era — and first since Manziel.
And although he may be Cleveland’s quarterback of the future, the present belongs to Tyrod Taylor, who was acquired by the Browns in a trade from Buffalo. Coach Hue Jackson has already said Taylor is his starter in 2018, and the plan is for any rookie to sit and learn.
That might be tough for Mayfield, who walked on at Texas Tech but left the school before transferring to Oklahoma, where he became a legendary player and smashed most of the school’s career passing records.
It might be daunting to join a team that has gone 1-31 the past two seasons and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002. But at this year’s NFL combine, Mayfield said he’s the man for the Browns.
“I think if anybody’s going to turn that franchise around it would be me,” he said. “They’re close. They’re very close. They have the right pieces. I think they just need one guy, a quarterback to make that difference.”
This is the second straight year the Browns have picked first. Cleveland addressed a major defensive need and selected defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick a year ago.
But while Garrett is quiet and somewhat introverted, Mayfield craves attention and loves the camera.
On the eve of the draft, Mayfield re-created an iconic photo of Brett Favre lying in his home bedroom when the future Hall of Fame quarterback got the phone call from the Atlanta Falcons in 1991 that they had drafted him.
Mayfield copied details in Favre’s photo right down to wearing jean shorts. He’s also the subject of a new documentary series entitled, “Behind Baker”, which has given fans a closer look at his life leading up to the draft.
The New York Giants selected Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
The All-American with speed, power, shiftiness and excellent hands is considered this year’s best player. New York has had one of the NFL’s worst running games in recent years, and Barkley is expected to boost an offense that has a veteran quarterback in Eli Manning and star receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.
Barkley also is a sensational kick returner.
“It’s unreal, two of the biggest moments in my life in the same week,” said Barkley, whose girlfriend gave birth to a girl earlier in the week.
Not surprisingly in the Cowboys’ home, the pick generally was booed.
The New York Jets, another of the NFL teams desperate for a franchise quarterback, chose Sam Darnold with the third pick.
The Jets had traded up from sixth overall with Indianapolis with the expressed mission of finding that quarterback. Southern California’s Darnold, who had a superb 2016 season and was not quite so productive last year, was the choice.
Darnold might sit a while and learn behind veteran Josh McCown.
“There’s nothing better than being on this state,” Darnold said. “I think whatever the coaches what me to do, if they want me to sit, want me to play, I’ll do my role. That’s what I’ve done my whole life, not going to do any different.”
The Browns surprised the experts again, picking Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward No 4 overall.
After passing over more classic quarterbacks to take Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield with the top pick, Cleveland skipped over North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, the top pass rusher in the draft, to grab the top cornerback.
Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State, seen as the best pass rusher in this draft, was selected fifth overall by Denver.
Once Cleveland, with its second selection in the top four, went for Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, it left the dynamic Chubb for the Broncos.
Chubb will bolster a defense that already has one star in linebacker Von Miller. Denver ranked third in overall defense last season, but GM John Elway couldn’t pass on a game-changing end.
The Colts grabbed the best blocker in the draft, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson at No. 6.
The Colts had traded down from No. 3 with the New York Jets.
Indianapolis took Nelson to help protect quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.
The Buffalo Bills traded up to No. 7 to take Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, a 6-foot-5, strong-armed passer.
Allen had no major scholarship offers out of college and went to junior college before spending two seasons at Wyoming.
He needs some seasoning and to work on accuracy, but he could sit behind AJ McCarron in Buffalo for a year or two.
The Chicago Bears selected Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith with pick No. 8.
Smith was an All-American and Butkus Award winner for the Bulldogs in 2017.
The San Francisco 49ers bolstered their offensive line, picking tackle Mike McGlinchey from Notre Dame at No. 9.
McGlinchey was the second Fighting Irish lineman to go in the top 10 after Quenton Nelson went to the Colts.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen slipped a bit, but the Arizona Cardinals jumped up to No. 10 to get him.
Arizona traded with Oakland to get the 10th overall pick, moving up from No. 15.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer retired after the season. Arizona also signed former Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, who missed most of last season with an injury.
The Miami Dolphins had a top-10 talent fall to them at No. 11 and took Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The versatile All-American played safety, cornerback and nickel back in three seasons with the Crimson Tide and was one of coach Nick Saban’s favorite players.
Tampa Bay has plugged a major hole in its defensive line with nose tackle Vita Vea.
The Buccaneers had traded down from seventh to 12th — Buffalo grabbed Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in that deal — and found a 6-foot-4, 345-pound man-mountain adept at stopping the run. At Washington, he often occupied or even overpowered more than one blocker.
He’ll team with Tampa’s longtime defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy, in an attempt to improve a defense that ranked last in the league in 2017.