Cleveland Browns make two surprising picks, taking Mayfield with the first and Ohio State’s Ward with the fourth
It was the head fake by the lake.
The Cleveland Browns threw a couple of curveballs at the top of the NFL draft Thursday, taking Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield first (instead of USC’s Sam Darnold) and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward fourth (instead of North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb).
The Browns, 1-31 over the last two seasons, made a mockery of a lot of mock drafts, taking an unconventional approach to curing their ills. The picks sent “oohs” echoing through AT&T Stadium, and throughout the league.
A lot of people thought Mayfield would go third to the New York Jets, or maybe fifth to the Denver Broncos. Cleveland’s response could be summed up in one word: “Sooner.”
Darnold was the next quarterback to go, drafted third by the New York Jets. But Josh Rosen, UCLA’s pull-no-punches quarterback, was none too pleased about having to wait around until No. 10, when he was selected by the Arizona Cardinals.
“There were nine mistakes made ahead of me,” Rosen said, “and I’m going to make sure they all know it was a mistake.”
Rosen said he was steamed at first, but that all evaporated when he learned he’d be headed to the Cardinals to play with offensive stars such as future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald and spectacular running back (when not injured) David Johnson.
Rosen said his stomach was turning from picks one through three, but “after three, it all just kind of went into a blur. I was pretty angry but that all went away the second I got the call. That turned into motivation. I really thought I was going to have to kind of fake a smile up there and act happy, but I thoroughly am. I couldn’t be more excited.”
In the end, five quarterbacks were selected in the first round, falling just short of the record six taken in 1983, when the picks included Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
There were five quarterbacks selected in 1999: Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown.
Thursday’s haul consisted of Mayfield, Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Rosen, and — with the 32nd pick by the Baltimore Ravens — Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
There was plenty of suspense at the opening of the first draft in Texas.
After the New York Giants took Penn State running back Saquon Barkley No. 2, it opened the door for the Jets to select Darnold.
“I’m taking it head on,” Darnold said of the challenge of turning around a doormat franchise, a club that took fellow Trojans quarterback Mark Sanchez fifth in 2009. “I’m a pretty confident guy. I’m really comfortable in my own skin. So I’m going to go in there, do my thing, do what the coaches ask me to do — and do that at the highest level. That’s my plan.”
Seven picks later, the Arizona made a trade with the Oakland Raiders to move up from 15 to 10 and take Rosen, the best pure passer in the class. Sam Bradford is the bridge quarterback in Phoenix, but Rosen will be pushing to displace him.
A dozen years ago, the Cardinals used the same No. 10 pick on USC quarterback Matt Leinart, whose potential from college didn’t carry over into the pros.
With his talented arm and edgy wit, Rosen had drawn some casual comparisons to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Well, as Rosen appeared to be sliding, after the Buffalo Bills traded up to take Allen with the seventh pick, Rosen was looking increasingly like Rodgers, who famously tumbled to 24 in the 2005 draft.
Rosen conceded that his reputation for speaking his mind, including criticizing the president, might have hurt his draft stock.
“I have no idea if it hurt me,” he said. “But if it did, I wouldn’t want to go to a team that really cares about it that much. I never actually said anything that’s offensive in any way, I’ve just spoken my mind. If you’re going to knock me for who I am, I don’t want to be part of your team. I want to be part of a team that wants me for who I am and everything about it.”
Rosen will stay relatively close to home in the NFL, as will former UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller, selected 15th by the Raiders.
“Going into the combine I talked to 23 teams and I had no idea where I was going to wind up,” Miller said. “I’m glad to be a Raider right now, and I’m glad to get this opportunity. I’m ready to go to work.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
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