MOBILE, Ala. – If Baker Mayfield’s flag wasn’t planted at the No. 1 pick in the draft a week ago, he’s squarely in play for the Cleveland Browns after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.
As practices wrapped Thursday and NFL personnel men flocked to catch flights out of town, a consensus had begun to form on Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, two quarterbacks who have first-round expectations in the upcoming draft. While critics of each continue to be easy to find, both had good showings in terms of building on performances each day. But Mayfield’s skills and on-field mentality left multiple evaluators believing Cleveland is heading into a debate between two players with the No. 1 pick in the draft: Mayfield and USC’s Sam Darnold, who will make his league-wide debut next month at the league’s annual scouting combine.
“A lot of what he is as a player fits with the mentality of [Cleveland Brown’s general manager] John Dorsey,” one source said. “Just his mental makeup as a player, John believes in building around those kinds of guys. … I think he’s a strong candidate [for the top pick] after this week.”
The rationale aligning Dorsey and Mayfield is sensible and intriguing. Those who have worked with Dorsey in past years laid out some compelling points that laid a strong foundation for Mayfield being in play for the top pick. Among them:
- One of Dorsey’s sounding boards and closest friends in the personnel community is former San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan. Both Dorsey and McCloughan are known to value many of the same traits mentally and physically in players. They also have similar team-building styles. And in this season’s draft process, few have been deeper into Mayfield’s corner than McCloughan, who has gone on record a handful of times stating that he would take Mayfield as the centerpiece to build around out of this class.
- For general managers, one of the underrated aspects of taking a quarterback No. 1 overall – or anywhere in the first round, really – is the ability to connect and establish belief. A general manager has to be able to look at skills and a mental makeup and believe he is seeing the kind of player they can connect to on a playing level and a culture-building perspective. Those who know Dorsey have suggested that Mayfield is very much in that wheelhouse, representing the kind of cocksure “never out of it” attitude. They also suggest that this is the kind of mindset Dorsey will be looking for in Cleveland, in hopes of reversing a culture of losing. Regardless of the odds, Mayfield goes after opponents and always seems to think he has a chance to turn things around. And he also is the kind of player who can lead a locker room of grown men and league veterans early in his career. That will play well with Dorsey.
- From a skills standpoint, Dorsey also values quarterbacks who can not only be accurate, but who also understand the nuances of ball placement. Mayfield excels at both, arguably more than any other quarterback in this draft. And while he is mobile, his movement is often predicated on creating passing plays downfield – something Dorsey is known to value in quarterbacks.
- Dorsey spent the larger part of his career as an evaluator with Brett Favre as the starting quarterback with the Green Bay Packers. One source who knows Dorsey and Favre’s history made this salient point: Favre was not easy off the field, particularly early in his NFL career. He had all kinds of quirks that could be stressful for the coaching staff and front office. For much of Favre’s career, there was an underplayed element of his off-field management. Dorsey was familiar with all of that. But he also came out of Green Bay with the belief that so long as the player isn’t a bad person or locker-room cancer, some of the extracurricular problems are worth dealing with early in a player’s career. Particularly with the knowledge that as most players get older, the more they settle down in their private lives.
None of those points suggest Mayfield is a lock for the Browns, but they all suggest that if there is a general manager who sees a special player and a tradeoff that’s worthwhile, it’s John Dorsey. But he’s also expected to be very deliberate in this process, taking his time to deconstruct not only Mayfield, but also Allen, Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Within that group, Mayfield has the least ideal size, which could become a pressing consideration in the AFC North.
That’s part of what makes Darnold a strong favorite at the top. Not only does he possess his own Favre-like qualities as a player, he has a combination of size, athleticism and arm strength that scream franchise cornerstone. He’s also a guy who – like Mayfield – brings natural leadership qualities to the table. And he could very well win plenty of interviews once he has a chance to sit down with NFL executives and break down his knowledge of the game.
At the very least, it’s a wide-open competition right now to become the top quarterback off the board. But Mayfield lives to compete – and he’ll leave the Senior Bowl having done exactly that. Not only climbing draft boards, but possibly in reach of the very top.