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)