For the past few weeks, NFL analysts have gone back and forth over the top pick in the draft: Will the Browns select Sam Darnold or boom-or-bust candidate Josh Allen? Normally as the draft approaches, the smoke begins to clear and a favorite takes hold, either because there is one player that is obviously the top prospect or the top team’s thinking gets leaked. Last year, Myles Garrett was the clear top choice despite some Mitch Trubisky smoke, Jared Goff emerged as the no. 1 selection in 2016, Jameis Winston was a no-brainer in 2015, Jadeveon Clowney was the consensus pick in 2014, and that’s generally how it goes. This year, just two days from the start of the draft on Thursday, there is still no clarity. And it’s not just that the smoke hasn’t cleared—things are cloudier than ever, as yet another candidate for the top pick emerged Monday: Baker Mayfield.
Dan Patrick on @dpshow citing a source who told him #Browns are choosing between Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen for No. 1 pick echoing what @DustinFox37 has said. Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold off the board.— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) April 23, 2018
There are plenty of reasons the Browns would consider Mayfield. As RotoGrinders’ Kevin Cole pointed out on Twitter, Andrew Healy, a senior strategist with Cleveland, created a statistical model, QBASE, that rates Mayfield as the fourth-best quarterback prospect since 1997. For all the arguments in Mayfield’s favor, his name is a surprise late addition to a race that theoretically should be narrowing as we get closer and closer to draft night.
Perhaps the driving factor behind all the uncertainty is that no one seems to know what Cleveland’s general manager, John Dorsey, is thinking. And recent history suggests he won’t leave any clues as to what he’ll do.
Dorsey, who was the general manager of the Chiefs from 2013 to 2017, played his last quarterback selection close to the vest. Trading up 17 spots to select Patrick Mahomes II with the 10th pick last year was a stunning move; Kansas City still had a 32-year-old Alex Smith and a roster primed for immediate success. Prior to the draft, there was no indication that the Chiefs were planning to be that aggressive, and this year nothing is leaking out again. Dorsey reportedly won’t even tell head coach Hue Jackson whom he’s selecting.
Meanwhile, guesses are hard to make because no quarterback has emerged as the consensus top pick. Each one has different skills and traits, but none is clearly head and shoulders above the field. But Dorsey’s history can’t even tell us what kind of quarterback he prefers. Mahomes, who was widely touted for his rocket arm strength coming into last year’s draft, has a clear analogue in this year’s QB crop: Allen. But that hardly means Dorsey loves big-armed passers. He began his tenure in Kansas City by trading a second-round pick for Smith, who before 2017 had a reputation as a check-down enthusiast. Are there two quarterbacks in the NFL more different than Smith and Mahomes?
Adding to the murkiness is the passer Dorsey brought to Cleveland in March: Tyrod Taylor. Dorsey traded a third-round pick for Taylor, who (like pre-2017 Smith) has a well-worn reputation as a game manager. In addition to bringing in the veteran this offseason, Dorsey traded away DeShone Kizer, last year’s second-round pick who has a big arm and all the physical tools but couldn’t find success as a rookie in Cleveland. The other quarterbacks Dorsey acquired in Kansas City (Chase Daniel, Aaron Murray, Kevin Hogan, and Nick Foles) are a mixed bag of strong-armed and mechanically flawed guys. The only common thread among all of these players is that they play quarterback.
Unsurprisingly, Dorsey’s few public comments leading up to this year’s draft have been cryptic. Last week, he said he thinks “hand size is important,” which would point toward Allen and his 10⅛-inch hands, but Mahomes’s relatively small 9¼-inch hands didn’t prevent Dorsey from selecting him. (For what it’s worth, Mayfield measured with 9¼-inch hands and Darnold has 9⅜-inch hands.)
In the same press conference, Dorsey mentioned the importance of a strong arm, which would also indicate Allen, but then he mentioned accuracy … which isn’t Allen’s strength, to say the least. He highlighted the importance of throwing into “red zone windows,” which Allen, Mayfield, and Darnold are all strong at, then also said, “At the end of the game, does he win? That’s what I look for.” (He made similar comments in January.) Well, no one at the top of this draft has won more than Mayfield (39-9 career record between Oklahoma and Texas Tech), but, then again, Mahomes and Smith weren’t exactly heralded as “winners” before heading to Kansas City. It’s time to get off the ride because we’re just going in circles.
Dorsey doesn’t seem to have a “type,” there is no consensus top quarterback in this draft, and nothing reliable is leaking out of Cleveland. It’s the perfect storm for a whirlwind of uncertainty, and based on his history, that’s exactly how Dorsey wants it to be.