The NFL’s Hall of Fame Luncheon Club meets every Monday from the beginning of September through the middle of May, and this week it featured the Cleveland Browns’ Vice President of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith. And Highsmith was quite candid when discussing the process that led the Browns to select quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first-overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
The meal, at Tozzi’s on 12th, saw Highsmith asked by an attendee (via Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository) what determined that Mayfield was their choice over Darnold until the morning of the draft. Darnold was considered by most (yours truly included, to be fair) to be the team’s target for the No. 1 overall pick. And Highsmith conceded that “On our way through everything, you couldn’t tell me Darnold wasn’t the best.”
“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,” said Highsmith.
Highsmith, who came to the Browns in January after six years as a senior personnel executive for the Green Bay Packers, and who worked alongside current Browns general manager John Dorsey since the early 1990s, said, “From the start of this college football season to the end of the season, I had Darnold No. 1 and Baker No. 2, [Josh] Rosen No. 3, [Lamar] Jackson No. 4 and [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,” said Highsmith. So what changed? The intangibles. Highsmith elaborated:
“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.”
And then there’s what Dorsey revealed to the MMQB’s Peter King. First, there was the overall misdirection, keeping quarterbacks ordered their big board by their interview dates, thus revealing nothing:
“[T]hough he had a very good idea on March 22 after leaving Oklahoma that [Dorsey] wanted Mayfield. Back in Ohio, at the top of the quarterback list on the Browns’ magnetic draft board, Dorsey turned the magnetic rectangular quarterback nametags upright. And at the top of the QB list, while every other name on the massive board was horizontally magnetized, four vertical QB nametags were at the top.
Rosen one, Darnold two, Mayfield three, Allen four. From left to right.
‘Right in the order we visited them, and I kept them in that position until the day of the draft,’ Dorsey told me.”
Further, it appears that Dorsey upheld his own draft board omerta, with King continuing:
“Late Thursday morning, about nine hours before the draft, [Dorsey] gathered the senior staff to tell them the order of the quarterbacks, and what he was likely to do with the top pick—take Mayfield. He kept the board covered until early evening, and shortly before the draft began, the room knew the QB order.”
Highsmith also said he was among those who talked Dorsey out of Wyoming’s Josh Allen: Doerschuk wrote that “Dorsey supposedly was in love with Allen as a size-talent prospect along the lines of [Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback] Ben Roethlisberger. Allen supporters said his supporting cast helped explain his poor completion percentage. But, ‘Baker Mayfield lost two receivers and he was the same quarterback,’ said Highsmith.”
Meanwhile Allen, with his “big arm... he could throw the ball from here to the moon.” But, “When they have to make excuses... why are they not completing passes? That’s a problem.”
And regarding Rosen? Highsmith relayed this anecdote:
“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.”
To be fair, there were few indications that the Browns had any serious or even passing interest in Rosen, particularly at No. 1 overall. And while we’re quite a ways out from being able to judge the quarterbacks of this draft class against each other—especially if Hue Jackson is right about Tyrod Taylor being the 2018 starter—it does appear that the Browns examined all angles and made a consensus decision and determined that Mayfield was the ideal choice. While we know not where it will go, the decision to draft Mayfield took thought, time, consideration and a little bit of classic misdirection.