Q: What are both the earliest and latest you see No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield starting an NFL game?
— Tommy Gosselin
A: It’s a hot topic, and will remain one until Mayfield starts a game or Tyrod Taylor wins a bunch of them.
The window for Mayfield opens Week 1 against Pittsburgh. I know everything coach Hue Jackson has said about committing to Taylor, but a lot can happen in four months. Mayfield could be awesome throughout the offseason, training camp and preseason and force Jackson to start him. Or Taylor could get hurt and change the dynamic.
I believe the latest Mayfield could start is Week 1 in 2019. Taylor would have to lead the Browns from winless to the playoffs to have any chance of keeping Mayfield on the bench for a second season.
As I handicap it today, Mayfield is 50-50 to start Week 1 this season and I would predict he starts by midseason — at the latest.
Q: In your prediction, what 2018 rookie, other than Baker Mayfield, will have the most impact right away this season?
A: Cornerback Denzel Ward, the No. 4 pick, without a doubt. He’s the only rookie seemingly guaranteed a starting spot when the season opens and could assume the No. 1 cornerback role immediately.
Running back Nick Chubb and offensive lineman Austin Corbett are the only candidates. Running backs don’t need long to adjust to the NFL, and Chubb had an impressive career at Georgia. If Corbett can win the left tackle job, he would be in the spotlight as Joe Thomas’ replacement and protector of the quarterback’s blind side.
Q: Is offensive coordinator Todd Haley a “Gregg Williams” in-your-face style coach, or is he more of the steady teacher type?
— Chris Crane
A: Williams is one of a kind, but after two days watching Haley in rookie minicamp, he certainly leans in that direction. Haley didn’t yell as consistently as Williams does, but when he did, it was loud and biting. There’s no doubt he has an edge to him on the field.
Q: In your opinion, why did the Bills let Tyrod Taylor leave via a trade with us?
A: Despite three years as their starter, a 22-21 record and a playoff trip last season, the Bills determined Taylor wasn’t the quarterback they wanted for the long term. He was also due $16 million this season, which expedited the decision. The knock on Taylor is he’s too conservative with the ball and will never rise to the level of the top quarterbacks in the league.
The Bills are prepared to take a step back this season, with AJ McCarron a stop-gap until rookie Josh Allen plays.
Q: Am I overly optimistic to think this team can win eight games? We have an average QB, average O-line, good receivers and RBs, and likely an average defense. An average team wins eight games, why not us?
A: Overly optimistic? Yes. Crazy? No.
I get your rationale and would argue that the offensive line and defense have the potential to be better than average. I just know how hard it is to make the jump from 1-31 over the last two seasons to 8-8, regardless of roster turnover.
The key to any jump in the standings — and I see 5-11 or 6-10 as the likely landing spot — is the quarterback play. So Tyrod Taylor must play like he did in Buffalo, or Baker Mayfield needs to be as “NFL ready” as analysts noted before the draft. Also, a good start is required to push 0-16 into the past.