Can Baker Mayfield take Browns to new heights?

Credit: Tony Dejak

Credit: Tony Dejak

Baker Mayfield went from being a late first-round projection with height and character concerns, to a quarterback whose stock was rising, to a player coveted by teams in the top five of the NFL draft, to the Cleveland Browns' No. 1 overall selection as the future of their desperate franchise.

And it all happened in just a few short months.

Mayfield did win the Heisman Trophy last season at Oklahoma, so it wasn't a secret that he was talented. Still, there were, and still are, easy reasons to doubt him:

At his introductory press conference in Cleveland on April 27, Mayfield and No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, a stud Ohio State cornerback, stood side-by-side holding up their new white, brown and orange jerseys.

And they looked to be the same height.

Mayfield (6-0|) only measures slightly taller than Ward (5-10). The quarterback position is larger than life in the NFL. Often the players and personalities at the position are, too. And only rarely (Drew Brees 6-foot-0, Russell Wilson 5-foot-11) do short QBs play to great heights.

But what's interesting about Mayfield's meteoric rise in this draft process is just how many teams fell in love with him in spite of that historically dooming height disadvantage, and after he seemed such a consensus afterthought behind the Sam Darnolds and Josh Rosens of the world entering the combine/interview/visits process.

A week before the draft — after Mayfield by all accounts had interviewed impeccably with teams — I had concluded through discussions with league sources that if Mayfield were a couple inches taller, he would have been the clear best QB and No. 1 pick. Of course, though, that was a hypothetical that felt — no pun intended — out of reach.

By the night of April 26, though, it turned out that was true but without the height caveat: several NFL teams thought so highly of Mayfield that they were prepared to draft him in the top three — or trade up to draft him there — anyway.

The Browns at No. 1 pegged him as the top QB. The Jets were enamored enough that they were prepared to take him at No. 3, assuming the draft broke how most had predicted, with Darnold going first to Cleveland.

And the bombshell was Mayfield's agent, Jack Mills, telling Andrew Brandt in his "The Business of Sports with Andrew Brandt" podcast post-draft that the New England Patriots had told him they were prepared to trade all the way up to No. 2 with the Giants to get Mayfield.

"We knew (the Jets at No. 3) was the bottom line," Mills told Brandt. "We had another team, which is gonna surprise you. Another team had said you may get a big surprise on draft day at No. 2 if he's available. And it was the Patriots. They had (pick) 23, and they had 31, and they had two second (round picks). We thought that's gonna be a heck of a move to get up that high from where they are. And of course he wasn't available, so we never knew if that was a reality or not."

All of this, of course, begs an important question: how were the Giants the only one of these teams that wasn't enamored with Mayfield?

Well, it's complicated.

On the one hand, I can report with certainty that there were people in the Giants building who did like Mayfield a lot after his workouts and visit to East Rutherford. On the other, there were simply a few factors unique to the Giants — some out of Mayfield's control — that I believe ruled him out.

First, while other teams overlooked the height deficiency, it clearly mattered to the Giants. Head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Dave Gettleman both went on record pre-draft saying they prefer taller quarterbacks, and so does Gettleman's mentor and close friend, former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi.

But also, out of Mayfield's control was the Giants' desire to return to a more conservative, traditional — dare I say vanilla — approach on the player personality front, with the organization stung by such a lawless 2017 season. Mayfield's brash personality simply didn't fit.

Finally, Mayfield probably is the readiest of all rookie QBs to come in and start and also the least likely to accept a backup role without complaint, and the Giants' commitment to Eli Manning for "years" more to come made the latter a distinct possibility.

The Giants eventually, of course, did not intend to draft any of the top quarterbacks. But while Darnold, drafted by the Jets at No. 3, is now being billed as the franchise QB the Giants may have let pass, it also will be interesting to chronicle if Mayfield becomes the star that so many GMs — excluding Gettleman — had identified him to be.

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