Baker Mayfield said confidently he wouldn’t be nervous for his NFL preseason debut.
He was right. The moment certainly wasn’t too big for the No. 1 pick.
Mayfield was beyond impressive Thursday night in a 20-10 road win over the New York Giants. He replaced starter Tyrod Taylor in the first quarter, played seven series and went 11-for-20 passing for 212 yards, two touchdowns, a sack and a 125.4 rating.
The solid stat line only tells part of the story. Perhaps most significant, Mayfield never really looked like a rookie.
He was in control and command from the outset. He got the second-team offense in and out of the huddle in a timely fashion. He knew where to go with the ball. He delivered it there.
“I’m not surprised by anything Baker does because I see him do it on the practice field,” coach Hue Jackson said. “Obviously the throws he makes, the poise he has, he demonstrated all of that in college, so I’m not surprised by it.
“This was his first opportunity and he will grow from it. There are things he will learn from and continue to get better at, but it was a good start for him.”
Jackson is right that Mayfield won a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and has looked capable throughout training camp. But the preseason is a different story, so Mayfield deserves plenty of credit for handling the stage and living up to the hype.
The touchdown passes were the headliners.
The 10-yarder to tight end David Njoku in the second quarter started with Mayfield in the shotgun, where he spent nearly all of his time with the Sooners. He stepped farther back in the pocket, waited for Njoku to come across the back of the end zone and found the gap between a pair of defenders.
“(Njoku) just did a great job winning,” Mayfield told reporters after the game. “(I was) going through my read and he won and he’s a big dude, so I put it up only where he could get it and he made a great play.”
The second touchdown ended Mayfield’s night early in the fourth quarter. He predicted the coverage the Giants were going to play, was patient enough to let the linebacker clear the middle and hit rookie receiver Antonio Callaway in stride on a slant. Callaway did the rest, breaking free to complete the 54-yard catch-and-run.
Mayfield’s night was about much more than a pair of throws. His poise in the pocket was completely un-rookie-like, making the analysts who called him the most NFL-ready passer in the draft seem wise.
When the protection held up, which was most of the night, Mayfield used subtle movements to buy extra time and find throwing windows. When he needed to get out, he got out on time and made something good happen.
He scrambled for two first downs, converting third-and-6 and fourth-and-2 with good awareness and enough speed. His best throw of the night came as he scrambled right and threw a dart to Callaway on a comeback on the sideline for 24 yards.
The great throw and catch came on third-and-7. That was a theme with Mayfield. He extended drives with clutch play on third and fourth down, which tells a lot about a quarterback.
On the first touchdown drive he converted two third downs and a fourth down. The possession would’ve ended prematurely in a punt if not for a 21-yard completion to receiver C.J. Board on third-and-18. Mayfield stepped up in the pocket, reset his feet and delivered to Board on an in route.
“I was just seeing it better,” Mayfield said of his improvement throughout the game. “I think just getting back there and just getting the ball out quick and just going through the reads, being comfortable, just settling in with my feet, too.”
He doesn’t have the league’s biggest arm but he continues to show it’s plenty strong. With defenders at his feet the pass lost zip, but when he could step into it, the ball arrived at the receiver with authority.
Mayfield drilled a 26-yard completion to receiver Rashard Higgins on a stop route off play-action. He delivered a quick strike to receiver Da’Mari Scott for 20 yards down the seam.
Browns fans should be treated to thousands of those types of throws over the next decade. That’s the hope and expectation with a No. 1 pick, and Mayfield did nothing to diminish either.
The excitement will only grow after such a successful debut, which will put increasing pressure on Taylor. The veteran went 5-for-5 for 99 yards, a touchdown and a perfect 158.3 rating, maintaining his firm grip on the starting job.
But the future is Mayfield. And the future looked bright after his first night.