ARLINGTON, Texas — Quarterback desperation means NFL teams can’t pass on taking a passer — even a flawed one — in the draft.
The Browns, Jets, Bills and Cardinals heeded that notion Thursday night, even as more highly rated players at other positions remained on the board.
Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield became Cleveland’s latest attempt to find its franchise quarterback. Sam Darnold of Southern California is trying to revive the Jets, while in upstate New York — where the Bills gave up on Tyrod Taylor — the future belongs to Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Just after Buffalo traded up to grab Allen, Arizona moved up to get UCLA’s Josh Rosen, a potential replacement for the retired Carson Palmer. The Baltimore Ravens traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to take Louisville’s Lamar Jackson with the final pick of the round.
Four quarterbacks in the first 10 selections and five in the first round. Never mind that the best players were considered Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (second overall to the Giants) and North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb (fifth to Denver).
In today’s NFL, it’s all about the QBs. Even though none of these four is considered a sure success.
“They all had something, a knock on (them),” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said. “We just think (Allen’s) makeup is going to help him work on his flaws. That’ll be part of our job here to accentuate his strengths.”
Same deal in Cleveland, the Meadowlands and the desert.
The Browns’ nearly two-decade search for that quarterback led them to Mayfield. Until the last few days, the Oklahoma product was considered a longshot to be the top pick. He goes from a former walk-on to No. 1 overall. Mayfield is the first Heisman recipient taken first in the following draft since Cam Newton went to Carolina in 2010.
Mayfield, who could sit behind the newly acquired Taylor, joins a team that went 0-16 in 2017.
“I’m going to come in with the mindset to compete and the hunger to learn” from Taylor.
The Browns, who haven’t had a top-flight quarterback since returning to the league in 1999, were sold on his leadership skills and creativity inside the pocket and outside.
“With Baker Mayfield, we have a guy who loves the game of football, who is an ultra-competitor, is revered by his teammates and anybody who has ever been around him,” Browns GM John Dorsey said. “He’s a guy that has earned everything he has ever had since high school to college and now up here. He is a winner, he’s competitive.”
He was not at AT&T Stadium, leaving Commissioner Roger Goodell on stage, hearing cheers cascade throughout the building after announcing the Browns’ choice. It was one of the few times Goodell heard cheers.
Even though Cowboys Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman and current star tight end Jason Witten accompanied the commissioner onto the stage at opening of the draft, loud booing filled the stadium.
Goodell is despised in Dallas after he ruled that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott should be suspended for six games last season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
More booing accompanied the next pick, but not for Goodell: Dallas’ archrival the New York Giants chose Barkley, considered the best talent in this year’s class. It capped quite a few days for Barkley, whose girlfriend gave birth to a baby girl earlier this week.
“I’ve been able to be accepted into the fatherhood and have my first child, my daughter,” he said. “From here on now, I’ve got to do everything to represent her and try to set an example for her, for the good things I do and the mistakes I make in my life that she can learn from.”
Darnold, pegged by many to be the top pick for months, went third to the other New York team. The Jets had traded with Indianapolis, going from sixth to third with the expressed intent to find a passer.
Like Mayfield, Darnold might sit behind a veteran, Josh McCown.
“I think whatever the coaches want me to do, if they want me to sit, want me to play, I’ll do my role,” he said.
Buffalo traded up with Tampa Bay to get Allen at No. 7. Allen is considered the passer with the most upside.
“Well, we’re going to find out in a few years if this class will pan out,” Allen said. “I definitely think it will. I want the most success for these guys, except when they’re playing me.”
Although Allen played against smaller schools and had issues with completion percentage, his arm strength, size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and leadership skills won over the Bills. Their hope is he becomes the next Jim Kelly, a Hall of Famer from the renowned 1983 class that had six first-round quarterbacks.
“He can make all the throws and all that type of stuff,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said of Allen. “Certainly, as we know, no one’s perfect. If you take the right approach, the right attitude, you can get a chance to improve the right areas.”
The bartering wasn’t over. Arizona, also in a QB quandary, moved from 15th to 10th, trading with Oakland, for Rosen. Many NFL personnel people believe Rosen is the most ready to play next season. The Cardinals also signed former Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford.
“Today I think was an indication of how we felt about Josh Rosen, trading from 15 to 10 and in our opinion grabbing one of the best players in this draft, a guy who’s got great intangibles, a three-year starter, a two-time captain, and in my opinion one of the most mechanically sound quarterbacks to come out in some time,” GM Steve Keim said.
Rosen said he was annoyed to slip down.
“I was really angry teams were passing on me, and I was honestly expecting to get picked at some point and have to fake a smile and go up there and pretend to be happy,” he said. “But for some reason when I got picked, all of that went away and that it just went to straight excitement and relief.”
Also chosen in the top 10 were Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, fourth to Cleveland; Chubb, considered the best pass rusher, to Denver at No. 5; Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson sixth to the Colts — won’t Andrew Luck be smiling about that; Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, eighth to Chicago; and Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey, a somewhat surprising ninth to San Francisco.
Teams continued to shuffle spots deep into the first round. There were eight trades Thursday night in the top 22 picks, with Baltimore moving down twice before taking South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst.
National champion Alabama had four first-rounders: safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to Miami, DT Da’Ron Payne to Washington, linebacker Rashaan Evans to Tennessee, and wide receiver Calvin Ridley to Atlanta.