Saturday, May 5, 2018

Not yet

Talk about being premature.

After Baker Mayfield’s first practice with the Browns Friday, coach Hue Jackson declared Tyrod Taylor is his starting quarterback. Period.

Well of course he is. It’s early May. Nothing is set in stone in early May when it comes to rookies. These kids are barely getting their football feet wet.

“He (Mayfield) has a lot of characteristics we love,” Jackson said. “That’s why he’s here. (But) let’s pump the brakes a little bit because he’s got a ways to go and has a lot to learn.”

Why even suggest at this time that this is the case? Unless, of course, someone in the media broached the subject because the rookie looked good. Thinking like that now is either naïve or ignorant.

“I’m not going to back off of this,” Jackson stressed. And he shouldn’t. “We can keep writing this narrative. Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback of this team and that won’t change.”

So there.

But the coach had better get used to it as summer approaches and the seriousness of the situation heats up. He might eventually regret declaring now that there won’t be competition at the position once training camp begins and sticking with that notion.

A lot will depend on how quickly Mayfield, purported to be a quick study, absorbs offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s playbook.

It will be interesting to see whether Jackson gives Mayfield a chance in camp and exhibition games to unseat Taylor or rigidly rejects that possibility no matter how well he plays.

As suggested in this space a few columns ago, it would not be surprising if word comes down from on high (General Manager John Dorsey) to level the playing field if the rookie plays like a veteran early on.

It’s a situation that definitely bears watching, Jackson’s declaration notwithstanding..

Thursday, May 3, 2018

College draft leftovers . . .

It is becoming increasingly clear that Baker Mayfield talked his way into making himself the top pick in last week’s National Football League college draft.

There is no question the brash young man from Oklahoma University is not only a record-setting, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, he is also one terrific salesman.

When the Browns’ brass began narrowing a pretty good field of quarterbacks before the draft, two of those signal-callers separated themselves from the field because of their impressive statistics.

It eventually came down to Mayfield and Sam Darnold, polar opposites in many ways. And when the truth spilled out, one can understand why Mayfield was the clear choice. Not necessarily the correct choice, mind you, but the most logical one considering all the reasoning behind it.

Mayfield is 23 years old and a five-year veteran of college football. He played four seasons unlike many quarterbacks who turn pro, often times unwisely, as soon as they become eligible.

He is smart, savvy and knows how to say the right things. Combined with his outgoing personality, he is a very impressive young man, one who gets your attention right away. It’s difficult not to like him.

Combine that with his equally impressive statistical performance the last three years with the Sooners and it is understandable why it would be difficult to eliminate him from consideration because he is smallish at a half inch over six feet.

And that is what ultimately propelled him to the top of the Browns’ list, unanimously from what has been reported, as the days counted down toward the lottery.

Darnold, as it turned out, never had a chance. At 21 (he’ll be 22 next month), he is a nowhere near as smart and savvy and NFL ready as Mayfield. Yet.

He had an impressive two seasons at USC. His stats were every bit as good as Mayfield’s, plus he was a half inch shy of 6-4. Many signs pointed toward him being the slam-dunk choice to be the No. 1 choice of the Browns.

Two problems, both of which most likely cost Darnold his slippage to the New York Jets at three. The California kid is much more laid back than the effusive Mayfield. To the Browns, that apparently was a negative.

Darnold also reportedly did not do well with the white board when it came to testing his football IQ. Mayfield nailed it.

“He’s as good from a football IQ standpoint as I’ve ever been around,” said Browns front-office executive Alonzo Highsmith, who admitted he was in Darnold’s corner until evaluating Mayfield.

The great separator for Highsmith, who spoke recently at a Canton luncheon, was his initial impression of the new Browns quarterback. “You watch the workouts; you watch everything,” he said, “and Baker blew me away. Highly, highly intelligent. Highly competitive.”

But it was Mayfield’s “power to affect other people” that swayed Highsmith into the John Dorsey camp. “I thought of all the quarterbacks I watched, he stood out far and above the other guys,” Highsmith said. “When he walked into a room, you knew he was there.”

Impressive stuff. Gives greater understanding to the thinking behind a most controversial choice.

I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. The reasoning for taking Mayfield over Darnold makes logical sense. My only argument is that Darnold’s ceiling is much, much higher than Mayfield’s. I believe he will be the better player in the end.

Dorsey inherited a mess and wants to turn that around pronto. Not bit by bit, Now. And Mayfield gives him the best chance to do it now.

All the kid has to do is win the starting job in training camp, then go out and back up his bravado and prove all his detractors wrong.

Now let’s see how long it will take Browns fans, especially those who root for Ohio State, to forgive Mayfield for planting the Oklahoma flag in the ground at midfield following the Sooners’ victory over the Buckeyes last year in Columbus.
*       *       *
Never let it be said Dorsey is not a man of action. It hasn’t taken the Browns’ general manager long to retool this sad franchise’s roster in the image he envisions.

In the four months since the end of the 2017 regular season, there have been 27 departures from the list of 73 names that comprised the final roster and 20 new additions. That does not include the new nine-man draft class.

Leaving were six defensive backs, two defensive linemen, three linebackers, four offensive linemen, three quarterbacks, three running backs, two tight ends and four wide receivers.

Arriving are five defensive backs, three defensive linemen, one linebacker, three offensive linemen, three quarterbacks, one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. The current roster totals 75 with the new draftees.

And with the season still more than four months away, count on the roster dynamic changing even more as the restless Dorsey plows his way toward crafting the competitive team he believes Cleveland pro football fans deserve.
*       *       *
A not-so-sudden thought: Remembering what Dorsey said in his last news conference before the draft and the impact of the answer to one of the questions.

The GM was asked what he looks for in a quarterback. His reply went something like this: Accuracy, strong arm, red zone performance and does he win at the end of the game.

For some reason, maybe because I wanted to believe it, I thought he was talking about Darnold. Wrong. He was talking about Mayfield, but many of us were too dumb to realize it at the time. Darnold checks all those boxes, too, but falls short in the leadership category.
*       *       *
Here’s another thought to chew on: Mayfield is the second coming of Drew Brees, not Johnny Manziel. He’s a much more talented Manziel and has some of the positive characteristics of the New Orleans Saints quarterback.

First of all, both are from Austin, Texas, and played their high school football there. Both check in at a shade over six feet tall. Both are right-handed and have a strong arm. And both have that charisma and leadership coaches love. The only difference between the two is Brees was drafted in the second round in 2001.

Now 39, the former Purdue quarterback beat the too-small-to-play-in-the-NFL odds and has carved out a Hall of Fame career that has seen him throw for 488 touchdowns, more than 70,000 yards and win a Super Bowl.

Anyone who has watched how he gets his team emotionally and physically ready to play with a fiery speech in the huddle before each game sees how important leadership is to a team. He epitomizes New Orleans Saints football. If that’s what Dorsey sees in Mayfield, Browns Cleveland fans are in for a wild ride.
*       *       *
When defensive coordinator Gregg Williams urged Dorsey to draft Denzel Ward over Bradley Chubb with the fourth choice in the lottery, he sent two signals. One, he desperately wanted a shutdown corner. Two, he believed the pass rush will be better than last season.

For some reason, Williams loves defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who played the first 10 games last season before suffering a broken foot. The pro sophomore, drafted to be an edge rusher, has only 9½ sacks (four last season) in two years.

His problem is inconsistency. He’ll play well for two or three games in a row, then disappear for a few games. Maybe it’s the result of scheming, but he just doesn’t seem to stick out on a weekly basis.

There are no dangerous threats to opposing quarterbacks on the roster except Myles Garrett, far and away the club leader in sacks as a rookie last season with seven despite playing only 11 games. It appears as though Williams is counting on Ogbah to step up, which falls under the category of wishful thinking.
*       *       *
Finally . . . With the drafting of defensive end Chad Thomas in round three, it appears as though Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard are on notice to take their games to a higher level. Both were terrific pass rushers in college, but have been neutralized by NFL offensive linemen. . . . Speaking of offensive linemen, Spencer Drango, Rod Johnson and Shon Coleman fall into the same category with the drafting of Austin Corbett and arrival of free agents Donald Stephenson and Chris Hubbard. . . . Might as well place wide receivers Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins in the same boat now that Antonio Callaway was drafted and Jeff Janis was signed as a free agent. . . . Question of the week: What are the odds Hue Jackson remains as the Browns’ head coach for the entire season?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Too many gambles

John Dorsey wasn’t done gambling after stunning the world of professional football by taking quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick of the National Football League draft Thursday night.

The Browns’ general manager rolled the dice big time in round four, trading up higher into the round with the New England Patriots to take controversial wide receiver Antonio Callaway from the University of Florida.

And then with his final selection of the club’s nine-pick, three-day extravaganza in the sixth round, he took a chance on Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Simeon Thomas.

Both men arrive in the NFL with significant baggage, especially Callahan, whose off-the-field problems caused several teams to remove his name from their draft boards even before the lottery commenced.

Callahan, suspended by the school for the entire 2017 season after he and eight teammates were involved in a credit-card fraud scheme, also failed a drug test at the Indianapolis combine, became embroiled in a sexual assault case at school but was never criminally charged and has a history of smoking marijuana.

The speedy wideout, who probably would have been ranked as high as perhaps round one without the baggage, has been taken under the wing of Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, a fellow Floridian, as he attempts to straighten out his life.

Thomas had all kinds of problems staying eligible to play because of academic problems and a university suspension for being involved in an on-campus dormitory theft. He played what amounted to one full season in his four years there. He’s t tall (6-4), That’s all.

It seems as if Dorsey places more importance on what a player does on the field than off. He overlooked the numerous problems that have plagued these young men and apparently determined how they perform on a football takes precedence.

For example, his No. 1 pick pled guilty to public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest and had to serve 35 hours of community service for an incident in Fayetteville, Ark., 15 months ago. The resisting arrest charge was dropped and a plea bargain was reached on the other charges.

Drafting players with character issues is a risk not many general managers are willing to take because too much luck is involved. Dorsey got lucky, for example, when he grabbed the troubled Tyreek Hill in the fifth round for Kansas City a couple of years ago and he has turned into one of the NFL’s most dangerous (from a football standpoint) players.

As for the rest of Dorsey’s Cleveland haul, it’s not difficult arguing the selection of Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick. That call, as it turned out, was made by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Dorsey had Ward and North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb ranked equally on his board and Williams broke the tie because he desperately wanted a shutdown corner adept at press coverage and the Nordonia High School product fit the profile.

I don’t quarrel with the Ward pick, just where he was selected. I believe Chubb is a better, more impactful player and would have fit in very well along the defensive line.

He would have been the wiser choice, bookending with Myles Garrett to give the Browns arguably their pass rush since returning to the NFL in 1999. Forcing opposing quarterbacks to unload before they want makes it much easier on the secondary.

Williams believes with Ward ostensibly shutting down the opponent’s top receiver, he can scheme differently in an effort to confuse opposing quarterbacks.

The second round, probably Dorsey’s best overall round (loved both choices), produced offensive lineman Austin Corbett from Nevada and Georgia running back Nick Chubb, I see both men making significant contributions to an offense that will be decidedly improved.

Corbett, a Joel Bitonio physical clone at 6-4, 305 pounds, was the fastest rising offensive lineman on the board. He is versatile enough to play all five positions, but will be tried initially at left tackle in an attempt to fill the vacancy left with the retirement of Joe Thomas.

It would not surprise me if the Browns ask Bitonio to put on about 10 or 15 pounds, then move him over one spot to tackle from left guard and slip Barrett in next to him. Other than these two, the club has no one good enough to play the second-most important position on offense.

Chubb, taken two picks after Barrett, is the Browns’ future feature running back. The 5-11, 227-pound bulldozer, whose style is reminiscent of Earl Campbell, is a hard man to bring down. His rookie season will be spent alternating with Carlos Hyde.

After swapping the last pick of the second round, Dorsey nailed his edge rusher at the top of round three with Miami of Florida’s Chad Thomas, who has Bradley Chubb size but not the talent. He is more athlete than football player and figures to be a situational player.

The most intriguing third-day pick, other than the controversial Callahan, was Memphis inside linebacker Genard Avery in round five. At 6-1, 250 pounds with size 10 hands, amazing strength and a 4.59 clocking in the 40, look for him to give Joe Schobert a battle for the starting job at middle linebacker.

The most curious pick was Texas A&M wide receiver Damion Ratley at the top of round six. Ratley is big (6-3) and wiry (190 pounds), but not every productive with only 47 receptions in three seasons. Have no idea what Dorsey and his guys saw in him.

A much better choice there would have been 6-5 Notre Dame wideout Equanimeous St. Brown, who caught 58 passes for 961 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016 when DeShone Kizer was his quarterback at Notre Dame. His production fell to 31-468-4 last season when Kizer led the Browns. Green Bay took him near the bottom of the round.

Overall, Dorsey’s first Cleveland draft yielded some surprises, some puzzlers, a head scratcher or two and a lot of talent at the top. But that top pick, especially one so polarizing, adversely affects the final grade.

The selection of Mayfield and two other potential problem players knock down that grade a notch. While I like the Chubb, Barrett, Ward (even though it was too high) and Avery picks, Dorsey’s numerous gambles make me somewhat hesitant to reward his efforts with a higher grade.

Make it a C+

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

It all depends on Mayfield

Rarely does the success or failure of a college football draft hinge on the performance of one young man. Such is definitely the case with the Browns.

Three years hence, the time frame usually allotted to render final judgments of the efforts of those in charge of the future, we will know whether John Dorsey and his cohorts were correct when they boldly selected a polarizing young quarterback to craft the fortunes of this franchise.

There is absolutely no question whatsoever that when the Browns made Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield their choice with the prestigious top pick of the draft last Thursday night in Arlington, Texas, a great many residents of Browns Nation recoiled.

Trusting an undersized, brash to the point of being cocky, troubled-off-the-field, extremely talented young man from Austin, Texas, was without question a bold move, one that caught most of the professional football world by surprise.

After the initial shock subsided and Dorsey explained the reasons behind the move, it came across as more or less a plea to “trust us, we know what we are doing, Have faith.” It had a familiar ring.

We have heard that before from the too-numerous previous Browns front offices in the last 19 years that implored fans to be patient. Trust us, they all said. And it has wound up as 19 years of frustration because that trust was never rewarded.

So why, then, should we trust this crew, especially after such a controversial start? Well because this crew has something the others did not: Impressive résumés. They bring a wealth of not only experience to Cleveland, but success as well.

So when Dorsey & Co. (Messrs. Eliot Wolf, Alonzo Highsmith and Scot McCloughan) made Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward (and not defensive end Bradley Chubb) their top two picks in round one, benefit of the doubt nevertheless creeps in.

And then when they hit on ten strikes with their first two picks in round two with Nevada offensive lineman Austin Corbett and Georgia running back Nick Chubb, seeds of doubt rapidly fade away.

There is an excellent chance all four young men will become strong contributors to the cause. Ward and Corbett will start, while Chubb (Nick, that is) figures to be in the mix at running back with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr.

And then there is Mayfield, who says he understands why coach Hue Jackson has slotted him behind Tyrod Taylor and Drew Stanton on the quarterback depth chart. Caution: Do not take Mayfield’s acquiescence to that notion seriously.

As ludicrous as this sounds, it would not surprise more than a few Browns fans if Mayfield is the starting quarterback in the season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 9 at home.

Jackson has already declared Taylor is his starting quarterback in that game. Period. And the veteran Stanton is his backup. Period. He did not say that is subject to change.

If in training camp this summer Mayfield displays the same energetic approach to football that appealed to Dorsey and is provided the opportunity to show what he can do in camp and exhibition games, anything goes.

It will be interesting to see how much exposure Jackson gives his rookie quarterback. How many reps he’ll get as opposed to the two men in front of him. How fair will the quarterback competition be?

Or will there be a competition at all? Depends, in large part, how close-minded Jackson is.

Methinks pressure from on high will filter down to Jackson and Mayfield will get the chance to do what Russell Wilson did in Seattle when he was a rookie in 2012: Surprise everyone and win the starting job, dramatically changing the culture of the Seahawks.

The original thought by just about everyone except Dorsey and Mayfield supporters was that whoever the general manager grabbed as his quarterback of the future with the initial pick would be just that. He would sit a year, learn and be ready to go in his second year.

I get the impression Dorsey would like nothing better than to watch Mayfield come right in and take immediate charge of the situation. A large part of his football personality is his strong leadership qualities, probably one of the main factors that led to the decision to draft him.

The GM does not want to tamp down the kid’s enthusiasm, his desire to come right in and play well enough to take the starting job away from Taylor. That would please him no end if that occurs.

It has been too long since fans of the Browns have had good reason to be optimistic. Dorsey is gambling big time that Mayfield is that gifted quarterback who can come in and make an immediate impact on not just the offense, but the entire team.

Mayfield, who relished the idea of coming to Cleveland and reversing the fortunes of this woebegone franchise, has a good shot at doing just that.

Regardless of how the other eight players selected behind him perform as the Browns undergo a dramatic change from the Sashi Brown regime, how the kid from Texas performs will determine whether this draft was a success or failure.

Tomorrow: Thoughts on the other eight picks and the final grade.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


Expect the unexpected with Dorsey

Never let it be said John Dorsey is afraid of taking chances or keeping everyone guessing, usually incorrectly.

He gambled big time in the opening round of the National Football League college football draft by selecting the shortest quarterback in the lottery with the first pick and reaching for a cornerback, a need pick instead of the best player available, with his second.

So when the final four rounds of the draft began Saturday, one could only wonder what the unpredictable Dorsey would attempt. He did not disappoint. It took only five picks to find out.

Antonio Callaway is a super talented wide receiver at the University of Florida and regarded at one time as one of the best wideouts in this draft. He was regarded by many to be good enough to be no worse than a second-round certainty, if not higher.

But off-the-field baggage, which included failing a drug test at the Indy Combine, dropped his value so low, many teams erased his name from their draft boards.

Not the Browns. Not Dorsey. Five picks into the fourth round, the GM, fearful other clubs were about to make a move on Callahan, could wait no longer. He traded up with the New England Patriots and pulled the trigger.

Never mind that Callahan missed the entire 2017 season at Florida after being suspended along with several teammates for alleged credit card fraud. He previously faced sexual assault allegations and was ultimately found not responsible, and was cited a year ago for marijuana possession.

The young man was trouble. And didn’t the Browns have enough problems with Josh Gordon, who is just one step away from receiving a lifetime suspension from the NFL due to drug abuse? Numerous red flags surrounded him. Dorsey did not care

He arrived in Cleveland several months ago as the Browns’ general manager with the reputation of being fearless when stocking a franchise. If he was a quality football player, Dorsey did not hesitate to target him and eventually select him in the NFL’s annual college football draft regardless of personal problems.

Perfect example was wide receiver Tyreek Hill in Kansas City. Hill, who was involved in a nasty domestic assault incident at the time, lasted until the fifth round of the 2016 draft. And that’s when Dorsey pounced.

Hill rewarded Dorsey with two scintillating seasons as a wide receiver and kick returner, gaining the reputation as one of the most dangerous players in the league.

There is no question Dorsey is hoping lightning can strike twice with the 5-11, 200-pound Callahan, who would give the Browns a solid and potentially dangerous deep threat.  

 A wide receiver corps of Gordon, free-agent signee Jarvis Landry and Callahan would give the Browns strength at a position that has sorely lack the last several seasons.

Callahan, in an effort to turn his life around, has leaned on veteran Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown for guidance as he begins his professional football career.

Dorsey made three other picks in rounds five and six – Memphis linebacker Genard Avery, Texas A&M wide receiver Damion Ratley and Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Simeon Thomas – but none had the impact of the Callahan pick.

Dorsey justified his controversial move. “He’ll understand what it means to be a Cleveland Brown,” he said without defining what that meant. “Once he understands 100% . . .. the Cleveland Browns are 100% committed to make this man a football player.”

The Browns’ support system was one of the key factors in the decision he believes will help turn this young man’s life in the right direction.

Callaway, who recently became a father for the first time, said, “I’m not this bad person the media portrays. I can’t stress it enough. I just have to let my actions speak for me. . . . It ain’t too much about athletics, just really about life and how you have to make good decisions.”

Avery, Ratley and Thomas most likely will be special teamers at best if they make the final roster. At worst, they could wind up a training camp fodder.

All in all, an interesting – to say the least – three days for Dorsey’s first draft with the Browns. I’ll share my final thoughts and the final grade in a couple of days.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Much better evening

Their names might not have been atop the Browns’ board entering night two of the National Football League’s draft extravaganza, but rest assured Austin Corbett and Nick Chubb will become well known to Brown fans during the 2018 season.

There is no question that when General Manager John Dorsey made Corbett, a versatile offensive lineman, his first pick to kick off the second round Friday night, many members of Browns Nation blinked and declared, “Who?”

Not so with Chubb, who went two picks later. The bulldozing Georgia running back’s exploits made him a desired target in this year’s lottery. Most followers of college football know all about the rugged 5-11, 227-pounder.

With the likes of Connor Williams, Brian O’Neill, Will Hernandez and Braden Smith still on the board, Dorsey opted for the lesser-known Corbett in hopes he would be in the mix to replace retired left tackle Joe Thomas.

As it turns out, Corbett has a shirt-tail relationship with the Browns. He operated in near anonymity for four seasons with the Wolf Pack after taking over for Joel Bitonio, who was scooped up by Cleveland in the 2014 draft.

Both men are 6-4, 305-pounders, both were drafted by the Browns in the second round and they very well might wind up playing side by side along the offensive line this season.

Corbett, who has played mostly left tackle but has seen action at guard and center, is thought by some to be the heir apparent to Thomas. But that might necessarily be the case by the time the season begins.

The Browns indicate Corbett and Shon Coleman would battle for the starting job initially, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the club eventually plugs Corbett in at left guard and shifts Bitonio, who played the position in college, back to tackle.

Chubb, meanwhile, joins a backfield that includes free-agent signee Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson Jr. and Matthew Dayes, giving the club their best infantry in many seasons.

Many fans hope Dorsey strikes running back gold like he did last season as GM of the Kansas City Chiefs when he drafted Kareem Hunt, who ran for more than 1,300 yards.

Chubb figures to be in the rotation with Hyde, freeing Johnson to do what he does best as a third-down back or flanking out in passing formations. Look for offensive coordinator Todd Haley to take advantage of his versatility.

The selections of Corbett and Chubb – too bad Dorsey didn’t draft the other Chubb Thursday night – provide quality depth at positions that are key to the success of an offense that has stagnated in the two years under head coach/offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

The GM traded down a few places to gain a third sixth-round selection Saturday to grab defensive end Chad Thomas, ostensibly to help a pass rush that begs for improvement. However, Thomas’ numbers for Miami of Florida do not provide much hope there.

Nevertheless, it was definitely a much better night in the war room for Dorsey and his guys after Thursday night’s puzzling opening salvo.

Final grade for the evening: B

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A nightmare in Berea

It is now official. The Cleveland Browns proved once again Thursday they have trouble getting out of their own way. Another invasion of Murphy's Law torpedoed yet another attempt at restarting this franchise.

The National Football League team that has tortured its extraordinary fan base beyond all reason with baffling moves since returning in 1999, had a chance for redemption in this year’s college draft and blew it in the first round.

Sitting pretty at draft positions one and four, the Browns and their new front office had an opportunity to mine solid gold and instead came away with fool’s gold with selections practically no one saw coming.

With a wealth of talent at the top of the board and a terrific opportunity to recruit that talent, General Manager John Dorsey sadly and disappointingly chose instead to draft a couple of players who did not deserve such lofty status.

It all began at 8:17 p.m. when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed what most people learned late  through social media. In selecting quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick and Cleveland-area cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth, Dorsey clearly went against the grain.

The stunned reaction by most of those who attended the Browns’ draft party in downtown Cleveland said it all. While a select few rejoiced the Mayfield selection, most stood silently and wore puzzled expressions.

The two whiffs at the top, which caught numerous draft experts by surprise, took the air out of the notion that quarterback Sam Darnold and edge rusher Bradley Chubb were all but slam dunks to wear Seal Brown and Orange this year.

Dorsey obviously saw it quite differently. His selections were met initially with a great deal of skepticism, if not downright anger, to the point where some fans are already looking forward to next season’s rebuild.

For a while there, I thought Sashi Brown had sneaked back into the war room and made the picks himself.  Didn’t the Browns fire him? This sure looks like this might be his revenge for being cashiered.

It makes one wonder did the Browns lose every game last season and 34 of the last 35 for this? For a pair of Smurfish football players whose contributions will have little or no impact this season?

It was reminiscent of the 2014 lottery when the Browns drafted a cornerback (Justin Gilbert) who failed miserably and a smallish mercurial quarterback (Johnny Manziel) who couldn’t control himself off the field.

Mayfield, who checks in just three-quarters of an inch taller than Manziel, arrives with a boatload of talent, tons of confidence, a Heisman Trophy and plenty of off-the-field baggage. Sound familiar?

It naturally evokes a natural comparison with Manziel, that other too-short-for-the-NFL quarterback who arrived with great fanfare, a Heisman Trophy and loads of off-the-field baggage. Is history repeating itself?

Even though he reportedly loves to party and has had several scraps with the law, Mayfield chafes at the notion that anyone would compare him to his fellow Texan, whose professional career was flushed by his erratic behavior.

Dorsey, it would appear, loves Mayfield’s brashness, his ability to be a leader of men and his outgoing personality. “I have no qualms about him as a man or as a football player,” he said.

The GM declared Mayfield “was the best player available. I felt this was the best fit for the organization moving forward.” Sounds like a business executive making excuses for a questionable decision.

Mayfield’s curious selection as the best player on Cleveland’s draft board culminates an impressive climb to the top for Mayfield, who began his collegiate career as a walk-on at Texas Tech.

After sitting out a season and transferring to Oklahoma, Mayfield dazzled with 119 scoring passes and only 21 interceptions in three seasons with the Sooners. He appeared on Dorsey’s radar last fall and, at least in the GM’s mind, fought off all comers in a very strong class.

His beat-the-odds approach impressed Dorsey and Hue Jackson. "This guy has a chip on his shoulder,” the coach said. “I think we all know that. What I saw was a leader of men.”

Advisor Scot McCloughan, who championed Dorsey’s choice, labeled Mayfield “a smaller version of (Hall of Famer) Brett Favre.” One significant difference, though. The kind of football played in Favre’s days is no longer played today.

Today’s game is faster, quicker and much more sophisticated. It has become a cerebral game for quarterbacks. How well Mayfield adapts to that style remains to be seen.

Preparing for NFL defenses is not nearly the same as preparing for the more simplistic defenses in the Big 12 Conference. The throwing windows are a lot tighter and close much quicker, and the coverages are much more complex.

And don’t count out the possibility of Mayfield lobbying for the starting job despite Jackson’s contention that veteran Tyrod Taylor will be his starter this season. His personality suggests his ambition is to open the season against Pittsburgh on Sept. 9.

Troy Aikman, working as a commentator for Fox and the NFL Network, went so far as to say he “wouldn’t be surprised if Mayfield starts week one.”

Russell Wilson, another small quarterback (but much more athletic than Mayfield) stunned the pro football world in 2012 when he won the starting job in Seattle as a rookie, beating out Matt Flynn. He made his debut on Sept. 9 (there’s that date) against Arizona.

Also trying and failing to tap into Dorsey’s thinking here with regard to the Ward selection with Chubb still on the board. The Browns believe he was the best shutdown corner in the draft.

One of the main reasons the Browns had trouble shutting down opposing receivers last season was their inability to get to the quarterback. The best friends of the secondary are defensive linemen who make opposing quarterbacks’ lives miserable.

Many fans envisioned Chubb and Myles Garrett as bookend pass rushers, which would have taken pressure off the secondary. Dorsey saw it differently and now Ward, who went to Nordonia (Northfield/Macedonia) High School, faces a huge challenge.

Ward’s selection was also curious because Dorsey brought in four new cornerbacks in free agency in addition to welcoming back corner Howard Wilson, who missed all last season with a knee injury.

All in all, it was a disappointing debut for Dorsey as the Browns’ general manager considering his strong reputation as a solid judge of talent. Based on that, one can only imagine what day two Friday will look like.

Final grade: C- (and that’s being charitable)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The intrigue ends

The intrigue is almost overwhelming as we finally arrive at draft day Thursday. Almost, but not quite.

The scenarios that have attached themselves to the Browns’ first two selections in the annual National Football League college draft have multiplied to the point where whatever unfolds will come as no surprise,

Just about anything can happen within the boundaries of the picks the Browns own at 1 and 4. All of which means most likely – quite probably, in fact – nothing out of the ordinary will happen.

But the numerous possibilities in the run-up to the draft sure are buckle-your-seat-belt intoxicating and definitely make this one of the most mysterious and yet exciting beginnings of the lottery in many years.

The Browns sit right in the middle of the building drama as to which of the four quarterbacks General Manager John Dorsey takes with the first pick and who will be on the board for him at 4.

That, of course, is if he plans to stay at 4 with the distinct possibility several teams will try to move up to get whichever quarterbacks remain on the board. That’s one of the many possible scenarios that can still unfold.

As for what Dorsey does at 1, the only thing chiseled is it will be a quarterback. That is the only absolute certainty. Who that quarterback is is anyone’s guess right now.

A few days ago, Sam Darnold (my personal choice) appeared to be the favorite in the clubhouse after Josh Allen commanded much of the attention in the previous several weeks. Now Baker Mayfield has emerged as a possibility.

What we think we know for certain now is Josh Rosen will not wind up in the Seal Brown and Orange. Or will he? Talk about smokescreens.

Only Dorsey knows for certain and now that he has emerged from the dark world he inhabits mere weeks before the draft, the only people he says he has shared his decision with are owner Jimmy Haslam III, coach Hue Jackson and the major occupants of the front office. And maybe his wife.

Unless there is a major leak in the organization, fans and the media will not know what name will be written on that initial card for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to read except the aforementioned.

Not knowing until that moment when Goodell utters the lucky guy’s name has driven Browns Nation to the brink of perplexity. Dorsey’s wondrous ability to keep it a secret for this long has given this event more drama than a soap opera.

As for the fourth pick, just about anything is possible there, including the possibility of a trade involving the New York Giants, who sit at 2, that could knock down highly ranked players to Cleveland.

Dorsey will have numerous interesting options once the Browns are placed on the clock after the New York Jets finally arrive to make their pick at 3.

Let’s examine some of them. All are based on hypotheticals.

If the Giants trade out, Dorsey will have a shot at the best non-quarterback on the board. If he leans offense, it probably would be running back Saquon Barkley. On defense, the overwhelming choice is edge rusher Bradley Chubb.

If the Giants stay put, they can go two ways. They can take a quarterback (Eli Manning’s eventual successor) or they can grab Barkley or Chubb, which would remove the difficult choice factor for Dorsey and enable him to draft whoever falls. What they do will heavily influence Dorsey’s thinking.

If Barkley and Chubb wind up in Dorsey’s lap at 4, it really is the best of all worlds. He cannot lose no matter whom he chooses because both young men are on the precipice of a terrific pro career. Both are solid can’t-miss products. It is a win-win situation.

Conventional wisdom suggests he goes with Chubb, the absolute best pass rusher by far in a draft where there is a significant drop-off to the next tier of edge rushers.

Barkley is decidedly the best running back, but this year’s crop of runners is just as deep as last year’s. (I can’t believe what I’m about to type since I’m a huge Barkley fan.)  That being the case, unless the Giants take Chubb off the board, he should be a no-brainer for Dorsey at 4.

There is one other option for the GM. He could pull a Sashi Brown and trade down, stockpiling future draft capital if he could find the right partner. That, however, would be a mistake.

There is no good reason to pass on either Chubb or Barkley at 4. Brown and his minions worked hard to put the Browns in position to draft high quality talent. The time to implement is now. It should not be squandered. Dorsey might not get this opportunity again.

The opportunity to select (choose between Mayfield, Darnold and Allen) and (Chubb or Barkley) puts him in a unique position to finally launch his plan to make this franchise not only relevant again after nearly two decades, but extremely competitive for a long time.

Fans of this franchise have been through football hell for way too long. They are fiercely loyal and passionate enough to deserve a lot better than they have received.

And now we are just hours away from discovering what Dorsey has been planning in his quest to give the Cleveland Browns brand a whole new meaning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

If it’s Tuesday . . .

Let’s see. It’s Tuesday of draft week and the flavor of the day is Baker Mayfield.

Yep, the smallish quarterback from Oklahoma became the latest draft darling of the National Football League’s college football draft nation as we careen toward D-Day Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.

On Monday, noted draft expert Mike Mayock had a “gut feeling” the Browns were going to take USC quarterback Sam Darnold with the top pick in this year’s lottery and everyone got excited because, well, because Darnold has become a fan favorite.

Then Tuesday arrived and Mayfield, who has impressed with his aggressive attitude and leadership qualities, has seemingly supplanted Darnold on the draft guru throne at the top.

The esteemed Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted – and this is where the rumor gained legs – that Mayfield, according to a NFL executive, is “definitely” in the mix by the Browns and being strongly considered with the precious first choice.

Being considered, mind you, is not the same as having his first name already scribbled on the card NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will intone when he launches this year’s draft.

It is not chiseled, either, because as we have all learned over the years, just about anything can happen at the top of the draft. It doesn’t take much to cause little belches early that can severely alter the course many believe it will take.

The equally esteemed Peter King of Sports Illustrated in his one and only mock draft a few days ago had the Browns grabbing Darnold, which eased the fears of Darnold supporters for at least a day.

Now along comes Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report who drops a creative little nugget into the laps of Browns Nation with his final mock draft. It’s a thought-provoking eye opener.

He has the club taking Darnold with the initial pick, then trading down twice with Buffalo and New England to take offensive tackle Kolton Miller, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and cornerback Josh Jackson in the bottom third of the round.

That means no Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb, rated in many quarters as the two best players in this draft regardless of position.

It must be a Tuesday thing.

Actually, that’s not a bad haul because it fills important holes with three well-regarded prospects and strengthens the roster. But the likelihood of General Manager John Dorsey working the opening round with such dexterity is unlikely.

Who knows what Wednesday will bring? By Thursday night, it will all seem anticlimactic.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Silly comparison

Mike Bath is the running backs and fullbacks coach at the University of Wyoming, which means he knows all about Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen.

Allen, who became legendary at Wyoming because of his freakish throwing arm, is a hot candidate to be selected by the Browns with the first overall pick of the college football draft Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.

Since he emerged front and center as a distinct possibility several months ago, it is only natural to compare him to other NFL quarterbacks.

This is where it becomes silly, and somewhat ludicrous, especially after Bath drew a favorable comparison between Allen and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, who has a been gigantic annoyance to Cleveland pro football for the last 14 seasons.

Bath knows Roethlisberger. They were teammates for one season at Miami of Ohio before Big Ben began carving out a career that will lead to his enshrinement in Canton five years after he retires.

“(Allen) has the same competitive nature Ben has which has served Ben extremely well in his career,” Bath told Mary Kay Cabot of recently. “But he’s also got some of those field characteristics and football characteristics as Ben, like the ability to throw on the run and make a play with his feet at an extremely high level.

“People probably look at their stature. But he’s bigger than Ben (was) coming out. From a size perspective, arm perspective and athleticism, there are a lot of similarities.”

Let’s look at those similarities. Actually, there are only two, both of a physical nature.

Both are a legitimate 6-5. Allen checks in at 237 pounds, nearly 17 pounds more than Roethlisberger weighed when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 (the Browns grabbed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. that season).

Both men own terrific throwing arms, although Roethlisberger couldn’t chuck a football 80 yards on the fly like Allen can without ripping his arm out of its shoulder socket.

That’s it.

The big difference was Big Ben was ready for the NFL. He stepped right in and guided the Steelers to a 15-1 record as a rookie. For an encore, he won the first of his two Super Bowl rings in his second season and has led his team to the postseason 10 times.

His statistics at Miami dwarf, almost embarrassingly, what Allen has accomplished at Wyoming. It’s not even close.

In his two full seasons with the Cowboys, Allen completed 56.1 % of his passes for 5,015 yards, 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions and was sacked 49 times in 25 games.

Roethlisberger in three full seasons completed 65.5% of his passes (69% in his final year) for 10,829 yards, 84 touchdowns, 34 picks and was sacked 88 times in 38 games. In his final season, he threw for 4,486 yards (about 520 yards shy of Allen’s total output for two seasons), connecting on 37 scoring passes with just 10 interceptions.

What Bath has unwisely – and unfairly – done to Allen is compare a wet-behind-the-ears, not-even-close-to-being-ready-for-prime-time quarterback to one whose collegiate résumé was spectacular.

(One can only imagine what direction the Cleveland franchise would have taken had Butch Davis ignored his Miami of Florida bias and instead taken the quarterback from the other Miami.)

It very well could turn out that Allen, based on his mediocre success on the collegiate level, turns out to be nothing more than a larger version of DeShone Kizer, Tim Couch and Charlie Frye.

All had problems with anticipation and timing in delivering the football on time. Sound familiar with regard to Allen’s problems at Wyoming? That aspect of quarterbacking cannot be taught or acquired. Roethlisberger never had that problem, either in college or the NFL.

It’s all about coordination between the feet, the arm and the eyes. Either you have it or you don’t. If Allen has slow eyes, all the coaching in the world won’t help.

Not only is Bath’s comparison incorrect, it is absurd.