BEREA — Baker Mayfield needed less than two months to win over coach Hue Jackson as being worthy of the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Mayfield has about four months to impress Jackson enough to go back on his commitment to start veteran Tyrod Taylor.
“Anytime you draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall everyone wants to see him play,” Jackson said Saturday after the Browns completed the draft with nine picks. “But I’ve made a true commitment to our football team. Tyrod Taylor’s going to be the starter, Baker’s going to compete, however that unfolds it unfolds, but right now Tyrod is the starter. If Baker can understand the National Football League and all the rigors and the grinding that you have to go through, I’m not going to ever stop a player from being the best he can be, but we have a plan and I want to work that plan as much as we can.
“Now, can a player supersede that? You never know. I haven’t had that happen. But right now this team is going to be led by Tyrod Taylor.”
The Browns have needed and drafted a quarterback in each of Jackson’s three years, so the qualities he desires are well-known, including a threshold height of 6-foot-2. Mayfield is 6-0 5/8, so Jackson started the process skeptical.
“I’m being very honest. It started at the combine, just talking to him and listening to some of the things he said, and I go, ‘OK, well, that still didn’t convince me yet,’” Jackson said. “And then going down and working him out in Norman (Okla.) and spending that time in Norman and watching him with his teammates and how he throws the football. The football jumps off his arm. He has a quick arm, he’s very accurate with the ball, and from there, then obviously spending some more time when he came here.
“Baker Mayfield, from a football IQ standpoint, is as good as I’ve been around. I really think he’s a tremendous leader, so he really has a lot of qualities that we look for and I think it’s now somewhat coming out that a lot of people had him as their best quarterback. So we’re very excited to have him and very glad that he’s going to be here in this organization.”
Dorsey, assistant general manager Eliot Wolf and consultant Scot McCloughan, a two-time former GM in the league, studied the quarterback class independently, as Wolf was still with the Packers, McCoughlan worked independently and Dorsey was unemployed. When they convened in Cleveland, they all had Mayfield No. 1 at the position.
“Baker was a guy I had an opportunity to watch play live last year against Texas and the thing you can really see with him was his presence on the field,” Wolf said Friday. “Pregame he would walk by a group of Oklahoma players and there was just that instant energy that everyone had and then once the game starts obviously he’s got all the tools you look for, a little bit shorter than everyone’s perfect idea of a quarterback, but we didn’t feel like that necessarily contributed to any negative play.”
Jackson said it wasn’t difficult to get past his initial hesitation.
“No, you have to think through it, because I know there are outliers to this,” he said. “This is not a cookie-cutter situation when you’re trying to find the right quarterback that fits for you. You have to let the tape tell the story for you and if you watch his tape, it says it all. The guy can play quarterback and play it well.”
Mayfield will enter organized team activities No. 3 on the depth chart behind Taylor and veteran Drew Stanton. How long he stays there is to be determined.
“He’s got to work his way up. He’s got to earn it,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to give anybody anything. Draft status is just that. You’ve still got to earn the right to play for the Cleveland Browns and that’s what we’re going to create here.”
The No. 1 pick carries certain expectations and excitement that Jackson has never experienced. But he does have fresh scars from being forced to play rookies Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer the last two years. They combined to go 0-23 as rookie starters.
“I just think I have to do what’s best for the football team and organization and the player and I don’t think you want to put a player out there too soon if they’re not ready to go,” Jackson said. “We have the luxury to do that and make sure that Baker’s in the right spot before we ever put him in that predicament.”
Jackson said Mayfield needs to understand NFL defenses and how to prepare for the daily grind. He also must adjust to taking snaps under center, after only seven of his 1,047 as a senior at Oklahoma weren’t in the shotgun.
“The biggest transition that Baker’s going to have is he’s going to have to play under center somewhat because we will put our quarterback under center,” Jackson said. “That’s going to be a big change for him.”
Mayfield said Friday he’s willing to sit and learn, but Jackson compared him to longtime Chargers starter Philip Rivers, who’s known for his fiery personality. Jackson said it won’t be easy for Mayfield to stand on the sideline.
“That’s where I have to help him,” Jackson said. “When his time comes, his time comes.
“He has to understand Tyrod is that leader right now and allow Tyrod to be the best he can be that way and sit and help when he can. But also I don’t want to muzzle him. I want him to be who he is as well. I think there’s a way to get those things done.”