The Cleveland Browns surprised some fans when they selected former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall selection in the NFL draft last week.
Many experts had ranked USC’s Sam Darnold as the top quarterback in the draft.
It turns out the Browns also had Darnold at No. 1 — before Mayfield changed their minds.
Cleveland Vice President of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith spoke frankly about the team’s thinking Monday when he addressed a crowd at a Hall of Fame luncheon in Canton, Ohio, according to The Canton Repository.
“Here’s the honest to God’s truth,” said Highsmith, who joined the Browns front office in January after five years with Green Bay. “From the start of this college football season to the end of the season, I had Darnold No. 1 and Baker No. 2, [UCLA’s Josh] Rosen No. 3, [Louisville’s Lamar] Jackson No. 4 and [Wyoming’s Josh] Allen after that. On our way through everything, you couldn’t tell me Darnold wasn’t the best. I did all my evaluations of the season.
“Then comes the part where you meet them off the field. You watch their workouts. You watch everything. And Baker blew me away. Highly, highly intelligent. Highly competitive.
“And he had a trait that some of the good ones have. I call it efficacy. That includes the power to effect other people. I thought that of all the quarterbacks I watched, he stood out far and above the other guys. When he walked into a room, you knew he was there.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson said it also took him a while to warm up to Mayfield, but the Heisman Trophy winner eventually won him over.
“I’m being very honest, it started at the combine,” he said Saturday on the NFL Network. “Just talking to him and listening to some of the things he has said, and I go, ‘OK, well, that still didn’t convince me yet.’ Then going down and working him out in Norman [Oklahoma] … watching him with his teammates, and how he throws the football. The ball jumps off his arm. He has a quick arm. He’s very accurate with the ball.
“Baker Mayfield is, from a football IQ standpoint, as good as I have been around. He has tremendous arm talent, more so than anybody knows. Obviously, he has proved that he is very accurate with the football. I really think he is a tremendous leader. He has a lot of qualities that we look for.”
Highsmith, a former Miami Hurricanes fullback who was drafted third overall by the Houston Oilers in 1987, didn’t discuss any negatives about Darnold, who was also drafted third overall, going to the New York Jets.
However, he did open up about Rosen and Allen.
“I was at an airport,” Highsmith said. “UCLA’s volleyball team was in front of me. You heard so much about Rosen. He’s this or that. We all know how people talk. So I asked one of the volleyball coaches, ‘What’s Rosen like?’ He said, ‘Aaaaa, you should probably ask his girlfriend. She’s one of the players. She’s over there.’ I’m like, ‘All right coach. That’s good enough.’
“I don’t know what all this means, but there was something about him that bothered me.”
Highsmith was more precise when talking about Allen. The strong-armed quarterback had a poor completion percentage at Wyoming (56.2 percent), which his supporters explained away by pointing to his supporting cast.
“Baker Mayfield lost two receivers and he was the same quarterback,” Highsmith said. “Josh Allen … big arm … he could throw the ball from here to the moon. When they have to make excuses … why are they not completing passes? That’s a problem.”
The Bills traded up to get Allen at No. 7, and the Cardinals did the same to grab Rosen at No. 10. The Ravens drafted Jackson at No. 32.
All of the quarterbacks in the Class of 2018 have doubters, and all of them will be looking to prove that their teams made the right call on draft day. Only time will tell which of them, if any, will be Peyton Mannings and which will be Ryan Leafs.
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