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2018 NFL draft: Browns pick QB Baker Mayfield No. 1

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

ARLINGTON, Texas – It’s official: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield defied the odds and is now the Cleveland Browns‘ next great quarterback hope.

After months of speculation that penciled in an array of players with the Browns’ No. 1 overall pick, the top choice in the NFL draft ended up being the guy many had considered the longest shot of the elite quarterback group.

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Mayfield emerged from the flurry of conflicting draft punditry that had the Browns locked in on either him, USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen. The Oklahoma quarterback ended up being the selection, placing the Sooners star as the centerpiece of new general manager John Dorsey’s rebuild.

Baker Mayfield, celebrating a touchdown at the Rose Bowl, will get a chance to help turn around the Cleveland Browns as the franchise’s No. 1 pick. (AP)

For the Browns, the pick wrapped up one of the craziest quarterback evaluation merry-go-rounds in recent memory, with the aforementioned trio and UCLA’s Josh Rosen all being considered contenders for the top pick in this year’s draft.

Ultimately, Mayfield became the selection, winning out with pinpoint accuracy and a fiery brand of leadership that made him either a loved or hated commodity in personnel circles. His ascent to the top of the draft completes a wild football journey for Mayfield, who began his college career at Texas Tech before transferring to Oklahoma and eventually becoming the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. Much like his college football path, he had to clear a litany of hurdles to come off the board No. 1 overall – most notably his 6-foot stature and a handful of character questions that were posed during the evaluation process.

While the Browns’ decision has likely been in the books for weeks or longer, their choice ultimately ended up steering clear of at least one bit of last-minute hand-wringing when it came to Allen, who had a series of controversial tweets surface 24 hours before the draft.

In the end, Mayfield’s leadership intangibles and superior accuracy kept drawing the Browns in for a closer look, and that finally won out over his quarterback counterparts. It was no small feat, considering many evaluators saw Darnold as the safest pick at the position, with a combination of leadership, athleticism and playmaking ability that overrode turnover concerns. Even if Darnold wasn’t Cleveland’s flavor at the position, Mayfield still had strong competition from Allen, who brought a massive arm to the table along with significant boom-or-bust potential. And while Rosen never lingered long in the conversation for the No. 1 overall spot, his pure passing ability gave him an edge over Mayfield in some personnel departments.

All of that said, at least one thing was always crystal clear in the Browns’ draft process: The franchise was looking for a centerpiece player who had the mental fortitude to turn the franchise in the right direction. And that may ultimately be what kept Mayfield on a front-burner for the team – his unrelenting faith in his ability to turn fortunes around. Not to mention Mayfield’s personal history of starting at zero and then beating long odds in his own college career.

Whether he’ll ultimately be the right choice is just the first question in what is certain to be another long and anxious journey for Browns fans. Since the franchise was rebooted in the 1999 expansion, Cleveland has infamously started 28 different quarterbacks. That group includes four first-round picks at the position that ultimately fizzled in disappointment: Tim Couch in 1999, Brady Quinn in 2007, Brandon Weeden in 2012 and Johnny Manziel in 2014.

Coming off a 1-31 overall record the past two seasons, the latest heir apparent at the position will face a familiar uphill climb. Cleveland’s roster is still in a state of significant revamping, although the Browns could at the very least have a very respectable corps of pass-catchers, including a legitimate No. 1 wideout in Josh Gordon (assuming he can steer clear of suspension for a full season), a talented-but-developing No. 2 in Corey Coleman, a capably prolific slot wideout in trade acquisition Jarvis Landry, and one of the most athletic young tight ends in the league in David Njoku. The Browns also added Carlos Hyde in the backfield, giving the franchise one of its best running backs in years.

The downside to that equation: The offensive line lost its cornerstone with the retirement of All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, leaving the chemistry of the entire unit in flux. That will undoubtedly be one of the biggest hurdles going forward – not to mention vital for the development of a young quarterback. And it will be further complicated by whatever tweaks (or overhaul) that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley brings to the table.

To put it mildly, that’s a lot to chew on for the Browns – and it’s only one side of the ball. As always, there is plenty of work ahead. But the biggest decision of the new regime is now in the rearview mirror.

Luckily for Mayfield, he doesn’t have to be rushed into action and will have time to develop as Tyrod Taylor is the presumptive starter. The Browns acquired Taylor via trade from the Buffalo Bills in March.

Cleveland has yet another presumed franchise quarterback. And with him, no shortage of renewed hope for a franchise that hasn’t had much over the past two decades.

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