I’d seen Baker Mayfield on tape.
I had never watched him in person until rookie minicamp over the weekend. Even as a low, low, low, low, low-level talent evaluator — my words, no one else’s — I know the importance of seeing a quarterback throw live.
It’s a different experience watching the ball come out of the hand up close and travel to different parts of the field. Gauging velocity and tightness of a spiral can’t be done completely on a laptop or TV.
Mayfield affirmed what seemed obvious on tape. The ball zips through the air and arrives at the receiver with pop worthy of the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The accuracy the Browns fell in love with was also apparent. Most throws were right on target, while the misses were largely within the catch radius. Although he was occasionally high or wide for an incompletion, they weren’t the DeShone Kizer or Josh Allen scattershots.
But we always knew Mayfield could throw it. The question is whether his success at Oklahoma will carry over to the NFL at 6-foot-0 5/8.
Obviously it’s way too early to tell, but rookie camp showed he’ll have to figure out a way to win from the pocket in a pro system against NFL defenses. The Oklahoma offense, with the help of Big 12 defenses, afforded Mayfield time to throw from a clean pocket to receivers running open. Those luxuries often disappear on Sundays.
The difficulty for Mayfield at minicamp came in 11-on-11 periods when the protection broke down. He looked small, disappearing in the mass of humanity and struggling to escape against a defense without Myles Garrett, Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey.
That’s to be expected. He’s inches shorter than most of his peers and lacks the elite athleticism to consistently run away from trouble. So it’s up to him, and the coaches, to come up with a way to compensate.
The Browns knew that when they drafted him No. 1. And it can be done. Drew Brees has made a Hall of Fame career in New Orleans with the same limitations.
Protecting Mayfield in the pocket will be at a premium. Getting him outside the tackles to create throwing lanes will be necessary.
Brees beat the odds to become one of the best ever with nearly unparalleled accuracy, intelligence and drive. He provided the blueprint, and Mayfield appears to have the tools to execute it.
So it’s time to get to work. And there’s plenty to be done.
A BIT OF EVERYTHING
The first look at the rookies confirmed the initial analysis of general manager John Dorsey’s first draft class in Cleveland: It was all over the place.
Trying to find a singular theme throughout the nine picks is futile. (Although Dorsey would say it’s talent.)
The draft opened with undersized overachievers in Mayfield, cornerback Denzel Ward and offensive lineman Austin Corbett. All talented, all productive in college, all well shy of the prototypical size for their positions. Linebacker Genard Avery, taken in the fifth round, also fits the mold.
Dorsey knows exceptions can’t be the rule, and he fell for the physical specimens of defensive end Chad Thomas in the third round and receiver Damion Ratley and cornerback Simeon Thomas in the sixth.
Not to be forgotten are the character risks of fourth-round receiver Antonio Callaway and Simeon Thomas. Both were suspended and arrested during their college careers and leave Dorsey susceptible to second-guessing.
He can handle the scrutiny. He’s supremely confident in his ability to identify talent and build a roster.
The previous regime led by Sashi Brown was criticized for acting like it was smarter than the rest of the league. Dorsey and his top lieutenants have a different type of ego: They believe they evaluate talent better than their counterparts.
They better be right.
Mayfield doesn’t have to be better than USC quarterback Sam Darnold, the favorite to be the No. 1 pick who went to the Jets at No. 3. But Mayfield does have to win games, lead the Browns to the playoffs and win games once there. Such are the expectations for the No. 1 pick.
Ward doesn’t have to be better than Bradley Chubb, the pass rusher the Browns could’ve had at No. 4 and the Broncos were eager to pounce on at No. 5. But Ward does need to be a Pro Bowl-caliber corner who can hold his own versus Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green.
It would also help if Corbett can settle in as the starting left tackle, second-round running back Nick Chubb makes an instant impact and Callaway stays out of trouble and proves to be better than Corey Coleman.
The Browns have a lot riding on this draft class. It starts with Mayfield but doesn’t end there.