Baker Mayfield may be the latest in a long line of prospective franchise quarterbacks in Cleveland but veteran Tyrod Taylor, who was acquired this offseason in a trade with the Bills, heads into the 2018 season atop the Browns‘ depth chart.
We know this because coach Hue Jackson has said so, repeatedly — before the team drafted Mayfield with the first-overall pick in late April, and in the weeks since. But the reality is this: If the Browns stumble through the first month of the season with Taylor under center, there will be immense pressure to replace him with Mayfield. Taylor, who has been an underdog his entire career, isn’t concerned.
“I was drafted in 2011,” he said, according to Cleveland.com. “[Ten] quarterbacks were taken ahead of me. Two of them are playing now [Cam Newton and Andy Dalton]. And that’s not any disrespect to the guys who aren’t playing, but what drove me every day was remembering my mom and my parents’ faces and the feeling that I had on draft day, not being happy about that.”
There were four quarterbacks taken in the first round that year; in addition to Netwon, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder all went in Round 1. Dalton and Colin Kaepernick went in Round 2, Ryan Mallett and Ricky Stanzi in Round 3, T.J. Yates and Nathan Enderle in Round 5, and a 179 picks after Newton was the top-overall selection, Taylor heard his name called in the sixth round.
“So I’m going to continue to keep pushing, continue to keep working the way I do,” Taylor continued. “[I’m] ready to take my game to the next level. I think that I’ve been able to take steps in the right direction each year that I’ve been able to play the game. So I’m excited about the opportunity that I have here. There’s so much talent on this team and guys that are in the right mindset.”
For now, Mayfield’s professional journey will begin with him as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart behind Taylor and Drew Stanton. The speculation, meanwhile, continues unabated.
“I respect (the speculation),” Hue Jackson said shortly after Mayfield was drafted. “Anytime you draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall, everyone wants to see him play, but I’ve made a true commitment to our football team. Tyrod Taylor’s going to be the starter. Baker’s going to compete and however that unfolds it unfolds, but right now Tyrod is the starter.”
Presumably, Jackson has learned a lesson from the previous two seasons, when then-rookie Cody Kessler went winless in eight starts in 2016 and 2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer was 0-15 during his rookie campaign. Neither quarterback is on the Browns’ roster.
“If Baker can understand the National Football League and all the rigors and the grinding that you have to go through, I’m not going to ever stop a player from being the best he can be. But we have a plan and I want to work that plan as much as we can,” Jackson said. “Now, can a player supersede that? You never know. I haven’t had that happen, but right now this team is going to be led by Tyrod Taylor.”
That’s the company line for now. A slow start in September — the Browns have games against the Steelers, Saints, Jets and Raiders — could change all that. And through it all, Taylor remains unworried.
“He’s a competitor, as well as myself,” he said in response to a question about Mayfield saying he’s going to try to win the starting job. “I think that’s what drives us, that’s what gets us to the point that we’re at now in our career. Like I said, that doesn’t faze me.”