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The Browns nailed it with Baker Mayfield

Mayfield is what a No. 1 overall pick is supposed to look like.

Oklahoma v Oklahoma State Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Browns picked Baker Mayfield first overall in the NFL Draft on Thursday. Good for them, because they’re getting the quarterback who played better than all his peers in college. And it wasn’t even clear that the Browns were taking Mayfield until the moment they did it.

It’s possible that they could’ve wrung more value out of their two picks — first and fourth — at the top of the draft. The parity in this year’s crop of quarterbacks meant there were better years to have the first pick. Maybe they could’ve traded down and gotten Mayfield anyway while adding more picks. Maybe another QB they could’ve had will wind up being just as good. There are no guarantees in draft life. But it’s hard to gripe about Mayfield anyway.

It’s a pretty good idea to just pick the dude who put up amazing numbers.

That’s not an airtight, one-size-fits-all principle. Fans who just watch the NFL don’t remember Timmy Chang, because college football’s No. 2 in all-time yardage never played a down in the league. It’s possible to rack up extraordinary numbers on campus and be nothing in the pros, and it’s possible to be bad in college to be good in the pros.

That latter thing is rare, though. It’s extremely difficult to outpace your college numbers once you make it to the league. For most quarterbacks, what they accomplished in college is the ceiling of what they can do in the NFL. Almost nobody does better.

So maybe it’s smart, when all things are relatively equal, to just pick the guy who lit up everyone else over a sparkling college career. Mayfield was that guy. He set the all-time FBS single-season passer efficiency record in 2016, then broke his own mark in 2017 and got Oklahoma to within one unlucky overtime of the national championship game.

Every statistical metric by which you could evaluate this class’ quarterbacks points in Mayfield’s direction. Really, all of them — from his own counting and rate stats to schedule strength to an improved version of the Wonderlic test. Mayfield was better in college than all of his peers, and it wasn’t because he played in some system that hopped up his yardage totals and made him look like more than he was. Mayfield played in a somewhat pro-style system at Oklahoma, and he ran it to devastating effect against good teams.

Every draft pick carries risk, but Mayfield carries less than any other QB.

In college:

  • Josh Allen was a tall mediocrity.
  • Sam Darnold coughed up gobs and gobs of turnovers.
  • Lamar Jackson had a slight physique and got hit (and sacked) a lot.
  • Josh Rosen got crushed a lot and never had a chance to shine because of iffy line play and a bad running game, not that he can’t become a great NFL QB himself.

The knock on Mayfield is he’s ... a little short, I guess? He’s 6’1, which is on the smaller side for a quarterback, but he still had fewer passes swatted at the line than the 6’5 Allen did. He was one of the best college QBs ever, without anyone else’s warning signs.

Some have likened Mayfield to washout Johnny Manziel on the grounds that both are rambunctious Texans and have been arrested. But that’s not fair to Mayfield for a few reasons, the biggest being that his off-field wrongs don’t approach the severity of Manziel’s. The Browns aren’t worried about it, and neither is their new QB.

Acknowledging how it sounds to call the 0-16 Browns a good landing spot for any player, they might be a pretty good destination for Mayfield.

Hue Jackson has a career reputation for working well with quarterbacks, no matter how miserable his two Browns campaigns have been. Mayfield’s offensive line might be bad, and it’s best not to minimize the problem with nearly half of an offense being bad. But he has a couple of potentially strong running backs in Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.

His pass-catching corps has loads of as-yet unrealized potential. It includes two recent first-round picks in speedster Corey Coleman and tight end David Njoku. The team traded for Jarvis Landry and extended his contact, and Josh Gordon isn’t suspended as of this writing.

Tyrod Taylor cost the Browns a valuable draft pick, 65th overall. They probably didn’t trade for him to sit him immediately. But he might be just the right bridge to Mayfield, playing out the last days of the bad Browns before Mayfield slides into a superior situation. Mayfield says he plans to compete to play now, and of course he does. If he doesn’t, it’s OK.

Browns fans should be stoked, because it’s often the case that great college football players turn out to just be great football players, period.

Ask the Texans if they regret taking Deshaun Watson in 2017. They don’t.

Ask the Browns if they regret not taking Watson last year. Maybe they don’t, either. But now they don’t have to wonder.