The Cleveland Browns selection of quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft surprised some. The 2017 Heisman winner measures just over 6 feet tall and doesn’t have the stature of fellow rookie quarterbacks Sam Darnold or Josh Allen. He doesn’t have the athleticism of Lamar Jackson or the highly touted football IQ of Josh Rosen either. The one thing that the rookie does have that many believed separated him from the pack was his perceived “x-factor.” The Oklahoma product was the most creative and hard to defend player in college football last season.
It did not take long for Mayfield to bring that creativity to the NFL level. The quarterback completed 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns and overall played a very clean game with little mistakes.
Cleveland handed the starting quarterback role to veteran Tyrod Taylor in their preseason opener against the New York Giants last week, and Mayfield played with the teams second offensive unit. This meant he was playing with a group of backup offensive linemen who were greatly outmatched by their competition.
Poor offensive line play led to him being under pressure on almost every drop back but the rookie was able to expertly navigate the pocket and effortlessly make plays.
Mayfield showed great pocket awareness and did a great job avoiding pressure while also keeping his eyes downfield. He avoided taking sacks but also wasn’t too overly eager to bail out of the pocket and run when he still had a chance to find an open receiver. His football instincts are off the charts and he very quickly got a feel for the NFL game.
While Mayfield was good at throwing out of a shifting pocket he also did a great job knowing when he had to tuck the ball and run it himself.
On both of those plays, Mayfield knew exactly how many yards he needed to convert the first down. He was put under pressure and kept his eyes downfield when he needed to. When he spotted an opportunity to take off and run he did so, getting just enough for the first down and safely getting out of bounds. His field awareness is amazing and it’s rare that a rookie looks this comfortable in his first game.
Mayfield made impressive plays from a clean pocket as well. His ball placement when throwing downfield was great. He knew when to throw back shoulder and he knew when to throw a pass that his receiver had a chance to high point. The Giants backup secondary had a pretty good day in coverage, but Mayfield was still able to pick them apart.
The quarterback wasn’t perfect but he was one of the most impressive rookies of the opening week of NFL preseason. Browns fans will know not to get ahead of themselves, though, as 2017 second round selection DeShone Kizer impressed in his preseason debut last season as well. For now, there is good reason to be excited for Mayfield and he looks as if he has a chance to finally end Cleveland’s desperate search for talent at the sports most valuable position.
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