You know the drill, my people! Tuesday means it's time for another edition of Draft Class Heroes!
How did one defensive back from Florida change his stars from being a high-risk prospect to a potential top 60 pick? Which of the first six Senior Bowl invites top my board and what do they need to work on to elevate their stock that week? Why do people not understand Baker Mayfield's stance on Hue Jackson? All that and more in the latest Draft Class Heroes!
Villains of the Week: The Baker Mayfield Haters
Sometimes a topic of discussion burns in my heart so passionately that I've gotta switch up the typical order of the column to address it. Today, we begin with the villains.
I get it, Mayfield will probably always generate some vitriol from the traditional sports fan who believes the game was built on sportsmanship and butt slaps rather than dudes wanting to annihilate each other for fun. I understand that Mayfield's chip-on-the-shoulder ways may not be for everyone, but it sure is for me.
Even if you can't understand what has typically motivated Mayfield to play and act with such an edge, how can you not understand this? For years Hue Jackson held the Browns captive, ruling in a power-hungry, I'm-gonna-do-what-I-want manner that put the needs of the team last and himself first. You think refusing to play Duke Johnson all these years was the best thing for the team? You think keeping Nick Chubb behind Carlos Hyde was the best thing for the team? Tyrod Taylor starting over Mayfield? The list goes on and on and on.
I know why those things happened. Hue relished the power he had as head coach, something we saw on Hard Knocks time and time again. Any player who didn't know their place sat. Everyone knows Johnson marches to the beat of his own drum. I bet that didn't sit well with Hue. Rookies like Mayfield and Chubb needed to understand it was Hue's way or the highway, and Hue's way was to play veterans he liked over better players. Because that was what he wanted, and as he often reminded us, "I'm the head coach of the football team".
But because he was a nice guy and very political about it, nobody called him on his BS. That ended with Mayfield. In an instant Baker saw right through his charade, and I bet John Dorsey did too, thought he operated at the whims of Jimmy Haslam and was more diplomatic in his approach.
Excuse Mayfield if he doesn't adhere to the common quarterback approach here, but that's exactly why the Browns drafted him. Hue was a fraud in Cleveland, consistently threw everyone under the bus and made excuses for the way things happened, then got fired and immediately did it AGAIN in multiple interviews. That was completely unnecessary, but Hue only cares about one person in this business: himself. Politically, he realized he had to take the reins and do anything he could to shift the blame off of his failures.
And guess what? That is completely Jackson's right, just like it is his right to take a job with division rival Cincinnati after going scorched earth on his former team. And the old Browns probably wouldn't have cared, no doubt whispering behind closed doors about how maybe Hue was the lucky one for getting out of here.
That ain't happening anymore, not on Mayfield's watch. Pissed off and motivated, the Browns smacked Cincinnati in the mouth during the first half on Sunday like the Browns haven't smacked anyone in recent memory, maybe in my lifetime. After the game Mayfield's position was clear: you're one of us, bought in completely for what is best for the team, or you're the enemy. Period.
THAT mentality has been missing from Cleveland for soooooo long. Losing, failure, firings, media bashings, former player and coach bashings, other players on other teams using them as a punch line...it's gone on for years, and we just accept it because it's the Browns. They're a joke.
Sorry if Mayfield doesn't share your sentiment. He's not just there to play quarterback at a high level, although he's doing that too now that Hue's shackles are loosed from his offense. Mayfield is there to take ownership of the team, period. When they win, he'll give credit to everyone else. When they lose, he'll shoulder that blame completely. That's all he did at Oklahoma, even though he was the solution and rarely the problem.
Mayfield is the anti-Hue. There is no charade with him, nothing fake, he says exactly what is on his mind, he gets pissed about slights that most of us would get pissed about too, he does something about those slights and then he tells you exactly why he did it. He's about the team and the culture in Cleveland, and he doesn't care if it makes Hue, or you, or me, or the media uncomfortable or offended. Where Jackson was obsessed with outside perception of himself, Mayfield couldn't give a rat's behind as long as the team is taken care of first.
Mayfield has captured the Browns locker room in half-a-season, something Jackson couldn't do in almost three years. So excuse him if he's pissed off that someone wanted to piss all over his franchise and call it rain. Excuse him if he won't take it laying down like the last 55 quarterbacks that have suited up for Cleveland would have. Excuse him if he's gonna demand excellence from his teammates on the field and pride in the Cleveland Browns organization off of it.
Mayfield is NOT every other quarterback or every other player. Don't ask him to be. This is what will make him great.
Draft Class Superhero of the Week: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, Florida
Welcome to the 2019 NFL Draft class, Chauncey. His announcement on Monday night marks the seventh underclassmen to declare for the upcoming draft, with many more on the way. And boy, will CGJ’s evaluation be a polarizing one in the draft media realm.
Pop in Gardner-Johnson’s 2017 tape, and you will find his performances hard to watch. Legions of missed tackles fill each game, ranging from ugly whiffs in the open field to being used as a speed bump in 1v1 situation against more physical ball carriers. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there are painfully obvious moments where CGJ clearly avoids attempting a tackle he should make, even running out of his way to engage blockers when he could easily just make a stop.
The physicality concerns are incredibly troubling for a player who plays an exceptionally physical sport, but CGJ has always had good size, athleticism and range for the position, traits that have only developed further this season. Gardner-Johnson has really stood out in man coverage, showing excellent short-area quickness to mirror-and-match receivers in the short-intermediate areas of the field. His instincts from off coverage are exciting as well, leading to this impressive interception earlier this season.
I think his best spot at the next level will be as a nickel corner, but really it is his versatility that will make him appealing to NFL teams. Florida used him as a blitzer, nickel, free safety and strong safety, lining him up everywhere and asking him to do a lot of different things. He has the talent to fill a Lamarcus Joyner-like role, but tackling is so crucial for anyone playing around the line of scrimmage that he’ll need to continue to make strides in that area as he did this season. There are still weak moments as a tackler, but there is no question that CGJ has made concerted efforts to change his stars this season.
Sidekicks: Early Accepted Senior Bowl Invites
29 players have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl so far, about a quarter of what will be the final number in Mobile. Here are the top six players on my board that will be on their way to the all-star game in January.
1. Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky
What he has: Speed, bend and a relentless motor. Allen’s pass rush game has improved so much this season, largely due to the progress he’s made getting his hips and feet in line with the pocket and using his hands to trim tight corners to the quarterback. Coverage and versatility are big bonuses as well.
What he has to prove: How quickly can he access counter moves when his speed rush is defeated? Can he win with power as a pass rusher? What does he look like operating from a 3-point stance?
2. Gerald Willis, IDL, Miami
What he has: Quickness, both off the ball and when engaged with his opponent. Watch out for the deadly swim move over the top. He’s a true penetrator who wreaks havoc by winning through gaps and playing behind the line of scrimmage
What he has to prove: Can he hold the point of attack and stack-and-shed blockers in the run game? How well-rounded is his pass rush repertoire?
3. Zach Allen, IDL, Boston College
What he has: Power, physicality, toughness and strong hand usage. Allen’s motor exists for days, and he’s rarely bullied 1v1.
What he has to prove: How does he hold up on the inside? I don’t know if he’s athletic enough to play on the edge in the NFL, and his size suggests more of an interior player than a true defensive end. Can Allen win against doubles and still be productive as a rusher inside?
4. Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
What he has: Unbelievable size, length and overall build for a cornerback. Oruwariye’s ball skills in zone coverage could create splash plays throughout the week.
What he has to prove: How fast is he? Does he get exposed by some of the burners I expect to see in Mobile? Can he be disruptive in press coverage at the line of scrimmage and play to his size?
5. Chris Lindstrom, IOL, Boston College
What he has: Terrific frame and technique. Knows what he’s doing, rarely gets beaten clean and should communicate well up front at an event where coaches will be looking for that football intelligence from offensive linemen.
What he has to prove: Can he lock up quicker interior defensive linemen in pass protection? How scheme versatile is he in the run game?
6. Garrett Bradbury, IOL, N.C. State
What he has: Outstanding lateral quickness and athleticism, along with superb technique as an outside zone blocker. Rare zone presence in the run game.
What he has to prove: Can he handle power at the point-of-attack, especially as a pass rusher? Jason Kelce and Alex Mack will be the highest end comps for Bradbury, and they've struggled with power at times in their career, but they've learned the tricks of the trade as lighter centers. How well does Bradbury communicate protections at center?
Already deceased: Giants, Cardinals, 49ers, Bills, Colts, Jets, Browns, Broncos, Cowboys, Lions, Jaguars, Falcons and Raiders.
Yes, the Colts have rebounded from 1-5 to get to 6-5. The reeling Jaguars are next on the schedule. 7-5 looks promising, but then Houston and Dallas loom. And they still haven't really played anyone on this 5-game winning streak. So I'm not sure how good they really are, but things sure look promising right now.
The Cowboys have a strong chance of winning the East at 9-7 thanks to a rash of injuries to Philly and Washington right after we buried them. We'll see how it shakes out.
I'm not ready to bury anyone else just yet. In the AFC, Miami, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Denver all sit at 5-6, but three of them should get to .500 next week. Miami hosts Buffalo, Tennessee hosts the Jets and Denver pays a visit to Cincinnati. Whoever loses gets added to the deceased list next week.
In the NFC, Green Bay should probably be killed off, but the Cardinals and Falcons are up next, with the Jets and Lions still on the schedule, and crazier things have happened. Wouldn't surprise me to see Green Bay finish 9-6-1, the question will be if that is good enough for a playoff spot or not.