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Baker Mayfield heads NFL draft's historic first-round haul of QBs

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In the upside-down world of quarterback evaluations, the best thrower in the 2018 NFL Draft slid all the way to No. 10, the team that said it would have been happy with any of three quarterbacks lucked into the one almost everybody expected would be the first off the board, the quarterback with accuracy issues will have to improve that while contending with the wind off Lake Erie, and the quarterback who ended the college season as the likely fourth-rated QB in this class went first overall to the Cleveland Browns. Oh, and the player who might be the most dynamic of all had to wait until the final pick of the first round.

Four quarterbacks went in the top 10 for the first time in NFL history, and five went in the first round for the first time since 1999, which was no surprise, considering the most highly anticipated quarterback class since 2004 intersected with the annual unvarnished desperation of quarterback-needy teams. But the order was a jumble, underscoring the extraordinary uncertainty that was the through line of the run-up to this draft. And the only team that seemed unconvinced about the worthiness of these quarterbacks -- the New York Giants, who selected running back Saquon Barkley second overall -- faces the odd prospect of having taken the consensus best player in the draft, who very well might fulfill general manager Dave Gettleman's hope of finding a "gold jacket" guy, while still spending the next decade explaining why it passed on nabbing Eli Manning's successor.

History suggests Baker Mayfield (first overall to Cleveland), Sam Darnold (third to the Jets), Josh Allen (seventh to Buffalo), Josh Rosen (10th to Arizona) and Lamar Jackson (32nd to Baltimore) will not all have home-run NFL careers. After all, even the storied quarterback class of 1983, which saw six quarterbacks go in the first round, wound up with just three Hall of Famers.

But this is likely to be a quarterback class that we watch the way we did that one, or the 2004 group that produced Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. That is in part because none of these players are considered as complete as Andrew Luck was when he entered the league, and because all of them enter a situation where the team will have to balance the pressure to start the new prize quickly -- particularly in Buffalo, Arizona and Baltimore, where the organizations traded up to get the quarterback -- with the luxury of giving him time to develop.

In the case of the spectacular Jackson, in particular, the Ravens made a daring pick, one that will entirely change the look and philosophy of the offense whenever Jackson's throwing game improves enough that he can take over for pocket passer Joe Flacco. This is Ozzie Newsome's final draft as the Ravens' general manager, and he has set them on a course that will be radically different from what Baltimore is now. That transition, though, is likely to take some time, as Jackson gains polish in the passing game.

Rosen, though -- considered the most NFL-ready of the group -- is likely to get every opportunity to start immediately for a team that has lost Carson Palmer to retirement and has the injury-prone Sam Bradford on the roster. GM Steve Keim said Thursday night that Rosen is the most mechanically sound thrower to have entered the NFL in some time. That is what made Rosen's mini-slide so surprising. During the weeks preceding the draft, his own former coach, Jim Mora, seemed to criticize Rosen for being too intellectually curious, for always asking coaches "why." Maybe it was Rosen's political outspokenness, or the perception that he has interests outside football, that made teams skittish -- ridiculous, if accurate. Perhaps Rosen's shoulder injury two years ago and two concussions last season are concerns. But Rosen is almost certainly the quarterback most ready to go now and he, like the man who helped tutor him -- Aaron Rodgers -- suddenly enters the league with a lot to prove.

"There were nine mistakes made ahead of me," Rosen told reporters after he was picked. "I will make sure over the next decade or so they know they made a mistake."

"Chip's only growing bigger," Rosen told NFL Network's Deion Sanders moments after he was selected.

That is likely to be a theme. Mayfield, whose strut to his interview podium at the scouting combine announced his arrival in the NFL, is the selection that sent an immediate shock wave through the draft and the one that -- does this sound familiar? -- opened up the Browns to second-guessing that they had managed to blow their chance to finally get the top dog in the Dawg Pound.

Mayfield is hardly an unknown, but his selection threw the league for a loop, considering that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was last seen schmoozing in the bleachers with Darnold's parents at USC's pro day. Mayfield is a former walk-on and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who was wildly productive, throwing 131 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in four seasons, leading the Sooners to three straight 11-2 finishes. But he is under 6-foot-1 and there are concerns about his on- and off-field behavior and maturity, including an arrest for public intoxication. Mayfield's passion and cockiness may work to his advantage -- the Browns are badly in need of passion and an identity and someone who can put the team on his shoulders. Mayfield can do that. Can he also find the passing lanes the way Drew Brees does, or move around enough to create space the way Russell Wilson does to compensate for his height? The Browns have Tyrod Taylor on the roster, and head coach Hue Jackson has insisted he will be the starter in 2018, allowing Mayfield to learn behind a veteran.

But Mayfield's transition to the starting job, however long it takes, will be what determines whether new general manager John Dorsey just changed the fortunes of the Browns with his very first draft pick or whether this is another in the long, harrowing list of Browns misses. The risk is immense, the potential downside disastrous, the hope for finally winning some games thrilling.

"I have no qualms about him as a man or as a football player," Dorsey said. He added that the team measured Mayfield's hand three times during his pre-draft visit to the Browns facility and that it was bigger during those measurements than it was at the combine.

"He's got (a) 9 and 6/8-inch hand, feet to extend the play," Dorsey said. "His efficiency in the red-zone offense is uncanny. You know what else separates him? He's hungry. He wants to be a really good football player, and he's going to be."

For months, the assumption was Cleveland would take Darnold first overall. The Browns said they reached a consensus on Mayfield on Monday. The beneficiaries of the Browns shocker were the Jets, who last month had traded up from the sixth spot to third overall to get a quarterback. The Jets insisted they would be happy with any of three quarterbacks, although when it all began, they likely did not expect Darnold to still be on the board. Near the end of the period when prospects could make visits to team facilities, the Jets held a private workout with Darnold and then brought Darnold to Florham Park, New Jersey -- after they had already had visits with top prospects. Perhaps they were just doing their due diligence or maybe they got the sense the Browns might take someone else.

Whatever it was, a team that hasn't had much good luck at quarterback in the 50 years since Joe Namath won his famous Super Bowl had the safest quarterback of all -- with a complete skill set and a New York-ideal flat-line demeanor -- drop into its lap.

The challenge, now, will be to turn around Darnold's penchant for turnovers -- he had 13 interceptions and 12 fumbles last season -- while getting him ready to assume one of the most scrutinized and star-crossed jobs in the NFL.

"There's no timetable," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "We got to see how fast he learns and how fast he can grasp everything. And then get some experience. We're not going to throw him in there. At the same time, we're not going to hold him back, either."

Hours before the draft began, the Bills were on the phone with Allen. Overnight, years-old, racially-insensitive tweets from Allen had surfaced, igniting a scramble of damage control to explain what the tweets meant and whether they might affect Allen's draft. In the end, it seemed they did not, although the Bills were the only team to speak directly with Allen about them, while other teams reached out to Allen's agents.

The Bills were one of the teams with the most obvious quarterback need, and there is little secret why Allen is appealing in Western New York -- he has such a strong arm that when he unleashed a 70-plus-yard pass at the combine, even the scouts and coaches watching from the field gasped. That power will be critical to cut through the wind and snow that are routine in Buffalo, but first the Bills have to harness that power. Allen is almost all upside -- he is nearly 6-5 and 237 pounds, but his completion percentage at Wyoming was 56.2 percent. It is rare for a player to get more accurate in the NFL, where windows are smaller and defenses better disguised.

Previous regimes failed to develop earlier projects like EJ Manuel and Cardale Jones. But Allen must look familiar to GM Brandon Beane -- he is huge, can move and has a rocket launcher for an arm, like Cam Newton, the quarterback in Carolina, where Beane used to work. Newton was far more accomplished when he got to the NFL, so Allen presents a considerable risk.

But the Bills, like the Jets, know they won't have to face Tom Brady forever. Their picks were not necessarily about this season, or even next. They are positioning their franchises to step into the breach when Brady eventually retires. Brady and Bill Belichick might have easy pickings facing two rookie quarterbacks in the division in 2018. Perhaps after that, though, the Bills and Jets will know if they chose correctly from this most intriguing class.

For the teams that didn't get one this time around, well, you're up next, Drew Lock of Missouri.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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