INDIANAPOLIS — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield turned the corner, climbed the couple of steps to the podium and ran right into a question about being drafted by the Browns.
The franchise that doesn’t win games and devours quarterbacks.
“I think if anybody’s going to turn that franchise around it would be me,” Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, said Friday at the scouting combine. “They’re very close. They have the right pieces. I think they just need one guy, a quarterback to make that difference.”
UCLA’s Josh Rosen followed 15 minutes later, then USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen in the parade of quarterbacks in consideration for the Browns with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The afternoon was a study in contrasts. The contenders vary widely in size, strengths, weaknesses and, most obvious behind a microphone, personality.
But they have at least two things in common. They all proclaimed themselves the best quarterback in the draft, and how they’d love the chance to be the top pick and play for the Browns — despite their 0-16 finish in 2017 and 1-31 record under coach Hue Jackson.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL and I think turning a franchise around is obviously a hard thing to do but I’m always accepting of a challenge and I think it would be an amazing thing to do,” Darnold said. “It’s another opportunity to show why I’m a good quarterback.”
“It’s every kid’s dream to be drafted No. 1,” Allen said. “I think Cleveland’s got things going in the right direction, they’ve got all the pieces, a lot of draft picks early on, a lot of cap space to go get guys in free agency. So I definitely think that it’s a good spot to be in if you’re fortunate enough to be taken by them. I definitely would embrace that opportunity to be the No. 1 overall pick.”
The difference in deliveries was entertaining and enlightening. Similar to when they have a ball in their right hands.
Mayfield oozed confidence for the entirety of the session.
“Accuracy. I can make any throw,” he said when asked to explain why he’s the right guy for the job. “Winning is most important, but the way I’ve been able to get my guys around me to play, not just the offensive players around, the 10 guys, but the defensive players, special teams. The energy I bring, the passion I bring, it’s infectious. You can ask anybody on that Oklahoma staff.”
The interview ended with him saying he wanted to be the “best ever to play.” Earlier, he said he was “not going to settle for a backup job” and turned up his nose at the idea his size (6-foot-0 5/8) was a negative.
“You see guys like Tyrod Taylor, Drew Brees, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ve got three years of tape you can watch.”
Mayfield was arrested in February 2017 and pleaded guilty to charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing. He planted an Oklahoma flag at midfield of Ohio Stadium after beating Ohio State and grabbed his crotch in a gesture toward the Kansas sideline.
He said he’s being “brutally honest” when teams ask about the incidents.
“When I got tackled by the cops in Arkansas, I tell them a true story,” he said. “When I talk about planting the flag at Ohio State, I tell them a true story, about the fact that was an emotional win, that was one we worked over a year for after they embarrassed us in our home stadium. And you want to talk about the Kansas thing, it’s about where you draw the line and being professional. If you want to be a franchise guy, there are certain things I can’t do, but I’m still going to be competitive and passionate. That’s gotten me to this point.”
Darnold (6-3 3/8, 221 pounds) was “California cool” when blitzed with questions. He said his decision not to throw Saturday at the combine was best for him. He said he’s not tweaking his long throwing motion, noting he gets rid of the ball quickly, but is trying to use his hips better to improve ball speed and accuracy.
His main focus is eliminating the alarming turnover rate. He threw 22 interceptions and fumbled 21 times, losing 14, in two seasons.
“I let myself down and my teammates down last season when I turned it over so much,” said Darnold, who’s 20 years old. “The No. 1 priority of a quarterback is to protect the football. I’m aware of that and I’m aware of how much I turn the ball over and that it’s not OK. I’ve been addressing it this offseason and I’ve been working on keeping two hands (on the ball) in the pocket at all times. The only time I let go of the ball is to throw it.”
Allen has prototypical size at 6-4 7/8, 237 pounds with a 10 1/8-inch hand and said he can throw the ball nearly 90 yards. He was careful not to sound cocky when asked about his attributes and was down-to-earth, as would be expected for a guy raised on a farm.
His issue is accuracy — he completed 56.2 percent at Wyoming — and he’s training with former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer to tighten his mechanics.
“Just working on consistent footwork,” Allen said. “I feel improvement and I feel like whenever my feet are set I’m as accurate as anybody. I’m extremely confident in myself and we’re working on it and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll figure it out.”
Rosen (6-4, 226 pounds) gave answers that were long, thoughtful, full of nuance and fit with the scouting report of being highly intelligent.
“Every team you go to has its own unique set of challenges. The Browns have their unique set of their own challenges,” he said. “Wherever I end up, I’m excited to take on those challenges and overcome some obstacles.”
He said he makes quick decisions on the field, which allows him to get through his progressions and attack downfield.
“I can sit in the pocket and really pick defenses apart,” he said.
Some have questioned whether Rosen loves football. He said he “kind of” thinks he needs to convince teams he does.
“I love football, all of my heart and soul,” he said. “And if I didn’t, I just don’t think I’d be able to have made it through the grind of college. Football is an unbelievable team sport, and that’s what’s so cool about it is that I’m not playing for my own passions, for exclusively for my own passions, I’m playing for all of my teammates. So it’s cool when you can throw a touchdown at the Rose Bowl and turn to the sideline and see 120 of your best friends all jump in joy.
He insisted he’s not bothered that it’s even a question.
“No. That’s why I’m excited to be here,” he said. “If teams still questioned my love for the game after this week and after they actually really got to know me, then it might bother me a little bit more, but I think that coaches can really see what I care about.”