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What Browns draft picks Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel have in common, and what they don’t

Their similarities don’t have to include the worst of Manziel.

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Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel Getty Images

Before the Browns took him with the first overall pick on Thursday, Baker Mayfield fused two storied NFL Draft traditions together. One is the inclination to compare every player to someone from the past of the same physical stature and race. The other is the practice of anonymous scouts trashing players in newspapers.

The former Oklahoma quarterback’s purported draft doppelgänger is Johnny Manziel. You can find people drawing parallels between them in a lot of places, but here are a few:

“Baker has a pattern of disrespect,’’ said one scout. “Off-the-field, he’s Johnny Manziel.’’

Said one coach: “He needs work. He’s going to be a challenge.”

Said one high-level NFL personnel executive: “He has not shown anywhere near enough emotional maturity to handle what’s coming his way. ... A lot of Manziel characteristics.”

Mayfield went first overall four years after the Browns took Manziel 22nd overall and then saw him wash out of the league after two disastrous seasons, so Manziel comparisons aren’t meant as a compliment. The Browns, for their part, clearly aren’t worried:

Mayfield and pre-draft Manziel do have plenty in common, yeah.

Some of their similarities aren’t that deep. Both are pretty short for quarterbacks. Both are white. Both are from Texas. Both were great in college.

Beyond that, both are known for having brash personalities and talking all manners of shit. Manziel taunted opponents by telling them he wouldn’t give them autographs. Mayfield taunted them by grabbing his testicles and mouthing “fuck you” from his sideline.

Manziel once pleaded guilty to failing to properly identify himself to police, after he’d been charged with fake ID possession and disorderly conduct by fighting in 2012. In 2017, Mayfield went viral for getting tackled by a cop, and he later pleaded guilty to public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges.

The playing styles each rode to the Heisman Trophy are similar. Both were brilliant improvisors who could turn busted plays into big gainers. They both played in the same streamlined, pass-heavy spread offense.

But to assume Mayfield will bust like Manziel requires an unfair leap.

After Manziel turned pro, he was accused of hitting and threatening a former girlfriend. He was ordered to take anger management training, go through a substance-abuse program, and sit on a domestic violence impact panel to have a charge dropped. Manziel has struggled with addiction and gone to rehab.

Mayfield’s concerns aren’t exactly the same level.

When Manziel was a draft prospect, his arrest in College Station was the only known legal strike against him. He had a famously, um, proud father (as does Mayfield) and a personality that many considered difficult to read. He had a minor NCAA scandal. He played in a spread offense, and the NFL was less comfortable with spreads just a few years ago than it is now.

Teams could’ve red-flagged Manziel for any of those things, but those traits didn’t ensure he’d later face a domestic violence allegation and fall out of the league.

Just because Manziel had issues and later displayed serious problems doesn’t mean we should assume Mayfield will have serious problems, too.

For their part, the two QBs don’t think they’re all that alike.

Manziel:

We’re completely different people. We have a similar background. We’re both from Texas. We both played Texas high school football, but he’s not me, and I’m not him. The way my wires are in my head and the way that I’m built and my makeup is completely different than Baker.

The two are friends, Manziel said. He added:

I have all the faith in the world in him. I think he’s going to be a really good player, and if anything, people can compare him to me, but he can learn from what I did wrong.

Mayfield uses almost identical language:

We’re two completely different people. I’ve always been a team-oriented guy. Not saying that Johnny wasn’t, but I’ve quickly earned the respect of my teammates because of how I worked. I wasn’t given the natural talent that Johnny had. Because he’s a talent. And there’s a reason he got taken in the first round, amazing player. We’re just not the same mentally. Just wired differently.

There’s said to be at least one huge difference between their personalities.

Here’s Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko with an old friend of Mayfield’s from his hometown of Lake Travis, Texas:

“I honestly don’t understand the comparison off the field,” Austin says. “From what I heard, Johnny had a lot of issues. Knowing Baker, I can tell you right now, it’s not a good comparison.”

Austin, who has been one of Mayfield’s closest friends since middle school, says he often tried to convince Mayfield to enjoy the party scene at Lake Travis on the weekends, especially after football wins, but Mayfield would rather stay home and play Halo 3 on Xbox.

“He never went out,” says Austin, who is now working toward a graduate degree in personal finance. “He wanted to stay away from that scene. I know that sounds unbelievable, and it may sound like I’m trying to hide something, but he never went out.

Mayfield drew plenty of attention to himself for non-football things while he was at Oklahoma, but not particularly like Manziel.

Also, they’re not the same football player.

Manziel’s game was more built around running, in part because Manziel was a better athlete who put up better NFL Combine numbers than Mayfield. Mayfield was a slightly better college passer, according to their stats.

There are other comparisons that make sense for Mayfield. Here’s one:

Both Russell Wilson and Mayfield are short, are smart, excelled for multiple teams in college, have drawn praise from teammates for their leadership, and are pass-first QBs who can use their legs as needed.

Mayfield shares things with Manziel, but he also shares things with players who have enjoyed far better careers.

And either way, only Mayfield will determine how his NFL career goes. The Browns should be excited to have him.