To help preview the NFL Combine, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network held his annual conference call to discuss draft prospects for over two hours. The Cleveland Browns were the topic of conversation during several stretches of the call, specifically related to the quarterback position. Here are some of the highlights related to the Browns, starting with which quarterbacks he’d consider the most.
Q. With the Browns at No. 1, and specifically looking at quarterback, I know you talked about Darnold and Rosen a little bit earlier, but how close do you think it is? I’ve seen your positional rankings, and you have Darnold 1, but how close do you think it is in terms of the quarterbacks that could possibly be taken there? And who do you think the contenders are? Is it just Darnold and Rosen? Do you think Allen’s in the mix, Mayfield at all?
Mayock: “I’ve got Allen at No. 2, so, obviously, I think he’s in the mix more so than Josh Rosen. I think you have to look at it from John Dorsey’s point of view also and look at what he did a year ago in Kansas City when he traded up to No. 10 for the biggest arm quarterback in that draft in Patrick Mahomes. The biggest arm quarterback I’ve seen since JaMarcus Russell is Josh Allen.
I think when you’re the GM of Cleveland, you’ve got to be thinking about the weather, you’re playing outside, you need a big arm. His new offensive coordinator came over from Pittsburgh, and he’s used to Ben Roethlisberger. So, to me, Josh Allen has to be in that conversation at 1 or 4, along with Darnold, perhaps Rosen and Mason. But this is my gut. I think Darnold and Allen are the two guys they would consider the most highly.”
Later on, Mayock talked in-depth about Allen:
Q. When you’re talking about Josh Allen, how much of a concern is the completion percentage? Is that something you think could be fixed on the next level? Would the combine be important for him in that area?
Mayock: “I don’t think the combine’s important for him in that area. I kind of laugh because I’ve had quarterbacks over the years ask me and some of their agents, hey, should I throw at the combine? Jay Cutler’s dad asked me at the Senior Bowl. I’m like, if I had an arm like your son, then I would throw everywhere, anywhere, anytime, because it’s just going to help.
I was going to say the same thing about Josh Allen. I don’t care if he throws it eight yards over the guy’s head. The scouts know you’re not throwing to your receivers. They just want to see the ball come out of your hand and what it looks like. This kid has a huge arm. Get out there, rip it, have some fun. That’s all they want to see is the quarterbacks get out there loose and rip it.
Now, the Pro Day is a different conversation. The Pro Day is going to go out there and you want to see, and this is kind of part and parcel of the same question, the accuracy. It does worry me that he was a 56% guy. I was going for a bunch of stuff a few weeks ago, trying to figure out how many college quarterbacks with sub-60% accuracy or completion percentages ended up being significantly better in the NFL.
When you’re talking about high-level guys, I think Matthew Stafford was the only one guy I could find. I think he was fifty-five, six-seven, somewhere like that at Georgia. And obviously Matthew Stafford is a franchise quarterback.
So it’s a difficult conversation, and I think with this kid, it starts with the ground up, and I don’t think his feet and his eyes are connected. And that’s a big, big deal with quarterbacks. He’s the most physically gifted quarterback in this draft class, but he’s got a lot of work to do on his footwork. I know he’s doing it right now with Jordan Palmer who he’s working with.
And what I would hope to see is by the time he throws the ball on Pro Day, a more consistent thrower from the ground up. I don’t want to see every fourth or fifth ball get missiled somewhere and you go where did that come from? So his team wasn’t very good. He didn’t have a lot of receivers. You can make up excuses. But at the end of the day, if you’re taking a high pick on a kid with a 56% completion percentage, the anticipation better be that you think you can help that get over 60.”
Someone asked if there was any comparison between Allen and current Browns QB DeShone Kizer. The answer? No.
Q. Do you see any comparison with Kizer? I mean, he had the same accuracy issues once he got to Cleveland, and he’s a big kid with a big arm too?
Mayock: “I think Kizer was a different conversation. This kid’s got a bigger arm. He’s no Kizer. Kizer’s physical skill set was good. I thought he struggled in the fourth quarter of a bunch of games two years ago at Notre Dame. I think this kid is a better version, and I think their issues are completely different. I don’t see the comparison.”
It’s no secret that Mayfield wasn’t the highest-rated quarterback on Mayock’s list, so he talked more about his upside:
Q. You had Mayfield in your quarterback rankings. How did his Senior Bowl affect his draft stock, and what does he need to show at the combine to improve his standing even more?
Mayock: “His tape is really good. He’s close to a 70% completion guy. I’m not too worried about him being 6’ or 6’1”, even though there is a very small percentage of those quarterbacks. I think it really comes down to off the field, face-to-face, in the meeting rooms, with the decision-makers whether or not you’re going to buy into his character and him being the face of your franchise. I think there are going to be some teams that say no, I’ve seen some talent, but it’s not my guy. I think some other teams are going to say no biggy, maybe some emotional competitive immaturity, but outside of that I’m good.
But he still sparks that conversation with every team in the league. When you say what can he do, I think it’s less physically and more how we represent, and whether or not a team can look him in the eye and say, yeah, that’s my guy. That’s the face of the future for my franchise. Again, he’s a different cup of tea for everybody.”
The age-old “Mayfield vs. Manziel” comparison came up, which Mayock was having none of.
Q. I wish I had a different player to ask about, but I do want to touch on Baker for just a second, Baker Mayfield. Whether or not you agree with the Manziel comparison, and I know there’s a lot of debate whether that’s valid, is it sticking to him as he goes to the combine with NFL people?
Mayock: “Here’s what I would tell you, the world of 6’1”-and-under quarterbacks is a small one, to start with. When you compound that with some off-the-field issues and extend the athletic play on the field, there are going to be comparisons, whether he wants to distance himself or not.
I go back to what I said a moment ago, which is he’s going to have to prove in the meetings that he is a different guy than Johnny Manziel off the field, especially; that he has the character where he’s going to be the first guy in, the last to leave. You’re not going to see any of the BS you saw in college. He’s not going to be giving anybody the finger or whatever. He’s going to be about business.
It’s great to be exciting and it’s great to be excitable, but at the end of the day you have to be the leader of a football team. He’s got to convince people that not only is he dynamic and a positive leader, but he’s also going to be a great guy in the locker room in the face of your franchise. That’s his challenge.
Whether he likes it or not, being under 6’1 inches, having some off-the-field issues and having an athletic quarterback is going to throw him into the conversation with Manziel, just the way it is.”
Lastly, sticking with the quarterback position, here is what Mayock had to say about Darnold:
Q. I’m particularly interested in Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. Best I can tell, the only time that the UCLA and USC quarterback were selected in the same draft was back with Rodney Peete going in the sixth round after Troy Aikman went first. So this figures to be an historic draft in that regard. I wonder what your initial assessment is of these two guys. Could they both conceivably be Top 5 picks? Did Darnold make a mistake in coming out after sort of a sub-standard year for him?
Mayock: “Tough questions, especially when you look at what we do with the quarterback talent every year. We push it up crazy high. Last year I was really surprised at how quickly quarterbacks came off the board, and I probably shouldn’t be, given the history of that position.
So I look at Darnold, and right now I have him as my number one quarterback. And the reason I do is I think he’s got plus size, plus arm strength, outstanding athlete, and I really like the way he extends plays inside and outside of the pocket. If he scrambles or moves, it’s with the intent of getting the ball down the field. His eyes are always up.
Now, the flip side to Darnold are the turnovers, and not just interceptions, but fumbles. He’s got a history of fumbling going back to high school. But I think fumbling can be controlled in the pocket.
That’s one of the few things you can learn in the pocket as an NFL quarterback is how to keep both hands on the football and control some of the fumbling. He is a gunslinger, and he will put the ball up for grabs at times. But he can play in all 32 cities. He can play indoors, he can play outdoors.
As far as Rosen is concerned, he’s the best pure thrower, best pure passer I’ve seen in several years. I mean, he’s on balance on every throw. He’s accurate, short, intermediate and deep.
The problem I have with him is there is a durability issue. The shoulder issue in ‘16, two concussions in ’17, and when you combine that with an inability to escape from the pocket, I’m concerned. I’m concerned whether or not he can play enough games to make a significant dent in the NFL.
So I love his talent, but I’m very worried about his ability to survive. Having said all that, I think Darnold’s going to go in the first few picks. It’s way too early to even say that to him. I haven’t even met Sam Darnold yet. So I don’t really bang the table with quarterbacks until I’ve met the kid and get a feel for him, like a Carson Wentz. But that’s kind of my overview off watching five or six games of tape of each of them.”
You can read the full transcript of the pre-combine conference here.