Here comes Baker:
Browns’ top pick eager to learn from QB Taylor
A surprise No. 1 pick, Mayfield arrives in Cleveland with emotional baggage but an eagerness to learn on his way to starting.
BEREA, Ohio – Throughout the last year, during his senior season at Oklahoma and into his four-month-long march toward the NFL draft, Baker Mayfield’s mental makeup garnered much scrutiny.
Critics parsed through his words, studied his actions and tried to discern the difference between confidence and arrogance. Whenever asked, Mayfield called himself the best quarterback coming out of college and said if anyone had what it takes to end the Cleveland Browns’ decades of misery, he was the guy.
He sold himself well to Cleveland officials, because the night of April 26 they made him the first pick of the 2018 NFL draft. Now comes the true test, however, because, as Mayfield admitted, the slate has been wiped clean. None of his accomplishments in college matter. He’s about to take on a league that in reality he has no firsthand knowledge about.
The Browns wisely plan to relegate Mayfield to the bench as a rookie, believing the redshirt season will best ensure his development and transition to the pro ranks unfolds smoothly.
The Browns’ selection of Mayfield was met with a great deal of skepticism at the draft and in Cleveland. Members of the long-suffering fan base fully understood their team’s need for a top-flight quarterback. But they questioned whether Dorsey & Co. had gotten it right with Mayfield.
Minutes after the Browns selected him, local reporters asked Dorsey about potential concerns about Mayfield bucking at the idea of backing up Tyrod Taylor. Dorsey and coach Hue Jackson said absolutely not.
The question came up again last week at Mayfield’s introductory news conference. Could he really go from such great heights under the bright- est lights to life in the shadows of a journeyman such as Taylor?
Concerned individuals seem to forget Mayfield began his stints at Texas Tech and Oklahoma buried on the depth chart. He respected the process, scratched and clawed his way to the top, and he’ll do the same in Cleveland.
“It’ll be a great thing for me,” he said. “The best thing, and I say it all the time, was what happened at Oklahoma and sitting for a year when I transferred. To sit there and be able to focus on the physical parts of my body and develop it and the mental side of the game — learning.”
He added, “Learning from a guy that’s been in the league, that’s seen defenses and had to go through the process? I’ve never done it before, so I can’t say I know how it’s done. So I can learn from a guy like Tyrod and Drew Stanton.”
Mayfield’s best move is to nestle right up under Taylor and soak up as much as he can from him about NFL life on and off the field.
Under-appreciated throughout his career, Taylor is a pro. His study habits help ensure that he makes smart decisions and avoids getting tricked into mistakes by defenses. He takes care of the ball and knows how to use his mobility to extend plays or make something out of nothing when the coverage has eliminated his passing options.
But one of Taylor’s greatest strengths involves the blinders and ear plugs that he uses to tune out criticism. Although beloved at Virginia Tech and coveted by Buffalo after team officials saw flashes of his potential during spot duty for the Baltimore Ravens, Taylor has never been the most popular guy. Critics wanted more big plays, and Taylor has also had to deal with racially charged vitriol. But rather than lash out verbally in news conferences, while heading into tunnels as insults rain down on him, or on social media, he puts his head down, remains within himself and does his job.
For all of his talent and grit, few would consider Mayfield thick-skinned. He will agree that his competitive fire has gotten the best of him. He hears and reads the criticisms and, at times, has held grudges.
But after serving a short suspension (two plays) last season for yelling expletives and making an obscene gesture at Kansas opponents and coaches, Mayfield said he has started to learn he must better channel his frustrations.
“That was absolutely over the top,” he said. “There’s a fine line. You need to be competitive, but a lot of that you can internalize and use as motivation … behind the scenes, when no one’s around, in the film room. The other stuff, that can’t happen. … It’s a blessing to have this responsibility and be in this situation.”
Mayfield brought up Taylor’s focus when asked about the most important lessons the veterans can teach him.
“He’s a guy that he blocks out everything,” Mayfield explained. “Even with the visits with the Bills and now here, they talk about how he’s up here, he’s the earliest one and the last one to leave, so you can tell it’s all football. He’s focused, and that’s the kind of guy you want to be around. He can change the culture really quick, and that’s why I’m excited to be around him.”
It’s almost ironic Mayfield now comes to Ohio where he angered Ohio State fans when, after leading the Sooners to a 31-16 upset, he ran around the Buckeyes stadium with an Oklahoma flag and then planted it in the “O” at midfield.
The Browns’ other firstround pick, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward (drafted fourth overall), chuckled at the news conference and said Mayfield has work to do to win over the city. But he thinks his new quarterback has it in him to do so. “I think they will embrace Baker because he is a competitor and he loves to win,” Ward said. “Once we start winning, of course they will embrace him.”
Mayfield will eventually become the 30th Browns starting quarterback since 1999. But he’s not letting that prompt him to feel pressure or lose patience in the process the Browns have mapped out for him.
“The game of football doesn’t change no matter the stage you’re on,” he said, explaining the advice he always gives teammates and that he plans to follow himself. “It could be the practice field, it could be in front of the most people you’ve ever played in front of. It’s 11-on-11 when it comes down to it. It’s still a scheme on both sides. When it’s a pressure moment like that, I tried to get guys to focus on the basics. You do your 1/11th and don’t even focus on the rest.”
Browns first-round draft picks Denzel Ward, left, and Baker Mayfield pose with Indians mascot Slider before a baseball game between the Mariners and Cleveland at Progressive Field.