Football is back, and we couldn’t be more excited here at Trading Draft. As the preseason progresses, we will surely get more information about how teams view their roster and depth charts. And after an eventful first weekend of preseason action, the Cleveland Browns have a whole lot of storylines to go through on the slow but steady approach to Week 1.
Between free agency, trades and the draft, the Browns really loaded up the roster this offseason. It will certainly be an interesting season in Cleveland, with the additions of quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield, running backs Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb, and wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway. It’s quite the upgrade for a team that was offensively inept last season.
The biggest decision for the Browns is who will be the starting quarterback come Week 1 of the regular season. On the one hand, they gave up a third-round pick in order to acquire Taylor from the Buffalo Bills, so it makes sense they would prefer to make that transaction count, and let No. 1 overall pick Mayfield ride the bench as he learns the system and adjusts to the NFL game. But if the first preseason game is any indication, Mayfield could be ready to play right now. And sometimes it’s better to let players play on instinct, rather than letting them overthink the game from the sidelines.
So how did these two quarterbacks perform in the team’s first preseason game against the New York Giants? Taylor once again showed what he is capable of, completing all five of his passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. He also wisely avoided featuring his rushing ability in a meaningless preseason game.
But should we even be surprised by Taylor’s high level of play in such a limited sample size? After all, he has shown his ability to play well in the past, which is part of the reason the Browns wanted to trade for him. The issue with Taylor has always been consistency. He is able to play well at times, and then somehow he disappears and the offense tends to become stagnant. It’s quite possible that Buffalo simply didn’t surround him with enough playmakers to bring out the best in him.
And then there is No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who had a brilliant game in his own right. Mayfield showed well in his NFL debut, throwing for 212 yards and two touchdowns, on 11 of 20 passing. Mayfield brings another level of excitement to this team, but it’s important to remember he did this against the Giants’ second team defense. How will he perform when he faces some of the elite defensive players in the regular season?
The Browns had a good plan heading into training camp – let Taylor begin the year as the starter. If he plays well, there is no rush to throw Mayfield into the fire too soon, particularly if the Browns are able to win some games. If he doesn’t play well, they can always see what Mayfield can do for them. Mayfield brings a level of excitement to the team, with the element of the unknown. He definitely had the look of a franchise quarterback in his first outing.
Another reason the safe play for Cleveland would be to play Taylor in Week 1, is simply because if Mayfield doesn’t play well, benching him would be a huge detriment to his confidence level. But if Taylor doesn’t play well, and then the team inserts Mayfield into the lineup, there is already evidence of a struggling quarterback before him. Then it becomes a win-win situation for the rookie. If he plays well, Mayfield would look even better. But if he doesn’t, it would be much easier to justify his (would-be) poor performance.
With a full range of passing weapons at their disposal, including Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and tight end David Njoku, this offense should definitely have some success in 2018. And rookie receiver Antonio Callaway was a major bright spot in the preseason opener, with three catches for 87 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown grab from fellow rookie Mayfield.
Ultimately, the Browns are likely to start Taylor in Week 1, but stranger things have happened in the NFL than simply starting the No. 1 overall pick.