The Cleveland Browns aimed to fill two of the franchise’s longest standing needs on Thursday night. New general manager John Dorsey chose quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward at first and fourth overall, respectively. The selections, particularly Ward at fourth overall, were received with an array of mixed responses from the football world. Some people believe more talented players may have been left on the board. That being said, the Browns made moves aimed to address two of the team’s most plaguing issues: quarterback play and pass coverage.
Cleveland Browns NFL Draft: Long-Standing Needs Get Filled With Top Picks
First Overall: Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma
The Browns targeted a quarterback in the draft yet again in hopes of finding the ever elusive “franchise quarterback”. Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, became the latest in the long line of first-round quarterback selections for Cleveland since returning in 1999. Despite multiple first-round quarterback selections over the years the first overall selection of Mayfield is the highest the Browns have taken a quarterback since Tim Couch out of Kentucky in ’99.
Mayfield is a bit small, listed around 6’1″. He also had some minor “character concerns” while at Oklahoma and played in a collegiate offense different from the systems he will see in the NFL. The “Anti-AFC North” of quarterbacks, Mayfield is essentially none of the things Cleveland has been looking for since 1999. The variations from the norm, however, might be what help him succeed.
Mayfield is gutsy, crafty, fiery, all of the above. He is the embodiment of what it means to be the underdog. Although one can question his size, it’s hard to question his football I.Q., accuracy, and knack for shining on the biggest stages. In a year featuring a hotly debated quarterback class, it’s hard to fault Dorsey for taking Mayfield.
Fourth Overall: Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State
The Browns broke the seemingly timeless tradition of not drafting Ohio State players and landed the best corner in the draft. Leaving a player like Bradley Chubb on the board was a bold move but does make sense. The Browns may not be ready to bail on former second-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah. Opponents running right against the Browns averaged nearly double the yards per carry with Ogbah out with an injury in 2017-18 (2.41 ypc w/ Ogbah, 4.55 ypc w/out). Faith in Ogbah’s healthy return would make pass rusher a lesser need than corner for a young and improving Browns defense.
Cleveland has had only one Pro Bowl cornerback since returning to the league in 1999 (Joe Haden – 2013-2014). In short, the cornerback play has been almost as consistently poor as the quarterback play. That does not bode well for a team fighting for relevance in a predominantly passing league.
Enter Denzel Ward. The Macedonia, OH native will look to stabilize the outside of the Cleveland defense for years to come. At 5’11” 183 pounds, Ward is not the biggest corner out there. His build is something to note when playing at the next level as he could have trouble with more physical receivers and in run support. What he does give up in size he makes up for with his athleticism. The former Buckeye had a great combine, posting a 4.32 40 time and 39 inch vertical.
That superior athletic ability is a major part of the appeal of Ward’s game. He has the things you just cannot teach. The speed, the instincts, the makings of a truly great corner. To make good on that potential, Ward will have to hit the weight room. If he can mature physically to reduce his size disadvantage Ward could be a lockdown corner for a long time.