We are now in the throes of the NFL preseason, which means we only have a few weeks left to wait until the games start to count for real. Most teams are wrapping up training camps right about now. While most teams will enter the year with an established starting quarterback, that certainly isn’t the case for everybody.
Some teams will use training camp and the preseason to evaluate their talent and ultimately try to make an informed decision regarding who to start once Week 1 rolls around. One team generating plenty of attention this summer is the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are coming off just the second winless 16-game season in the history of the league, and they have won a grand total of 1 game in the 2 years since Hue Jackson was installed as head coach.
Most teams would put a coach with a 1-31 overall record on the chopping block, but the Browns have decided to take a generous approach and give Jackson the benefit of the doubt. He is reportedly pretty popular with his players, and his work as a coordinator speaks for itself. He hasn’t yet found much success as a head coach in the league – he also previously endured a disastrous stint with the Raiders – but most folks in the know around the league think he’s got what it takes to succeed in the top job.
The Browns are also the focus of this year’s version of HBO’s Hard Knocks, so there is more interest in the team this year than there otherwise would be. After drafting Myles Garrett with the top overall pick in last year’s draft, Cleveland took the bold step of passing on more traditional quarterbacks like Sam Darnold and Josh Allen this year. Instead, they took Baker Mayfield, the polarizing Heisman Trophy-winner who played his college ball at Oklahoma.
The Browns also traded for former Buffalo Bills starter Tyrod Taylor this offseason. The plan was initially to install Taylor as the starter at the beginning of the season before giving the job to Mayfield at some point in the future. Is that still the plan? Or might Mayfield be under center in Week 1? Let’s break it down.
Odds to be Browns’ Starting Quarterback in Week 1
- Tyrod Taylor -600
- Baker Mayfield +370
The Browns won (!!!) their preseason opener against the New York Giants, 20-10. Taylor drew the start and looked excellent. He connected on all 5 of his throws for 99 yards with a touchdown and didn’t throw an interception. He also carried it once for a couple of yards.
Mayfield came on in relief of Taylor and looked solid in his own right. The former Sooner hit on 11 of his 20 passes for 212 yards with a couple of touchdowns and no picks. He also ran it 3 times for 13 yards while he was out there. The third-stringer, Brogan Roback, played the last chunk of the game.
Obviously Roback isn’t a factor when it comes to the Browns’ plans for Week 1. In fact, if Roback sees the field at all during the upcoming season things will have gone horribly wrong once again in Cleveland. The starting job figures to come down to Taylor or Mayfield.
However, let’s not forget that Drew Stanton is also in the fold. The longtime backup didn’t feature in the team’s preseason opener, but Jackson did recently say that there’s a chance Stanton winds up as the team’s No. 2 QB on the depth chart, ahead of Mayfield.
Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese supports that idea, citing Stanton’s experience in the league. Zampese actually believes Stanton will be the guy to make the entire quarterbacking corps click. He said, “He’s the secret sauce. I’ll stand right here and say it. He’s the secret sauce to the room and to the group. He’s seen everything before and he’s played enough to know exactly what’s going through the starter’s head. Shoot, as a starter he has a winning record. So he has a lot of input and a lot of influence on the way we think about things and the way we do things. He’s fantastic.”
While Stanton does have a winning record as a starter, it’s also fair to say that his teams have won most of those games in spite of his performance, rather than because of it. Stanton is 11-6 in his 17 career NFL starts, but he’s thrown more picks (24) than TDs (20) and his passer rating is just 66.3. Installing Stanton as Taylor’s primary backup would likely be more symbolic than anything else.
Back in June, a report surfaced that claimed Mayfield had a “long way to go” before earning the team’s starting QB gig. At the time, Jackson said, “I made a commitment to [Taylor], and he has held up his end of the bargain with not just the way he works but the way he plays and the way he leads.”
We have no real reason to believe things have changed since then. Taylor was tabbed as the Browns’ starter immediately after the trade, and his decent performance last week against Buffalo figures to have done nothing to give the Browns’ coaching staff any second thoughts.
Taylor was a respectable starter during his time with the Bills, even if he was under-appreciated along the way. He was a starter in 43 of the 44 games he played with the Bills over the last 3 years and he led the team to a 22-20 record during that time. Taylor led Buffalo to its first playoff appearance since the 1990s last season, where they were beaten by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild Card round.
Unfortunately, there’s essentially zero betting value when it comes to Taylor here at -600.
Can Baker Steal the Job?
The Browns didn’t draft Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick to sit him on the bench for a few years. While the current plan may be to start Taylor and bring Mayfield along slowly, teams and their fanbases have a way of getting a little antsy in situations such as this.
If the Browns get off to a rocky start and Taylor scuffles, are they really going to look to Drew Stanton next? Browns fans have been through an awful lot over the years, and foisting Stanton upon them if Taylor falters as the starter would presumably not be the best way for the team to keep supporters engaged.
Unless Taylor thrives and the Browns suddenly find themselves in the playoff hunt, I have to believe we’ll see Mayfield on the field at some point during the regular season. What if Taylor gets hurt during the preseason? Stanton is obviously the most experienced alternative, but his history suggests he’s not really good enough to carry a winning team despite his aforementioned record.
Literally anything can happen in the run-up to the beginning of the regular season. Most players aren’t necessarily going all-out during the preseason, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see injuries. An unfortunate part of the NFL game is that we’ll likely see several key players get hurt before the games even start to count. I’m obviously hopeful Taylor can stay injury-free, but if he goes down, I would be fairly surprised if the Browns elected to give Stanton the starting job.
It was only one preseason game against the Giants’ backups, but Mayfield was impressive in his debut. He has a reputation as a hot head, but he looked composed while he was out there and he looked to have a pretty solid grasp on what the Browns want to do offensively. He may get himself into trouble if he tries to do too much, but if he stays within himself and limits his mistakes he pretty clearly has enough talent to succeed at this level.
I’ll believe the Stanton talk when we actually see him written into the Browns’ depth chart as the primary backup to Taylor. There is going to be a large contingent of the Cleveland fanbase that wants to see Mayfield seize the job, but it sounds like the Browns are sticking to their guns with Taylor here.
In a recent episode of Hard Knocks, the team’s offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, said, “It’s not my idea to keep Baker Mayfield on the bench.” Hmm…
This comment was reportedly meant to be a joke, but it’s pretty clear that the team’s playcaller likes what he’s seen out of Mayfield to this point. You can be sure the rookie will have his standard ups-and-downs as the preseason progresses, but I don’t hate the idea of punting with a flier bet on Mayfield to take the field in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Taylor gets hurt, I think Mayfield to start at +370 is mighty tempting.
We can’t predict injuries, though, so the safe play is to bet on Tyrod Taylor being your QB1 for the Cleveland Browns when they hit the field on September 9.