Would Browns fans rather have Baker Mayfield or DeShaun Watson?

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 15: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans is forced to scramble in the second quarter pressured by Danny Shelton #55 of the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium on October 15, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 15: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans is forced to scramble in the second quarter pressured by Danny Shelton #55 of the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium on October 15, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans match-up is expected to be one of the best games of the week, and the play of the quarterbacks is a key reason for that.

One of the side dramas in Sunday’s game between the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans is the comparison between two young star quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson.

Both were superstars in college, each nominated twice for the Heisman Trophy, with Mayfield actually winning the award in 2017.  Watson almost became a Cleveland Brown with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but the Browns decided to work a trade with the Houston Texans, in exchange for two first round picks.

That trade was widely ridiculed as Watson become a rookie sensation, while the Browns went 0-16. Their quarterback was the inexperienced DeShone Kizer, who at 21-years-old with only two years of college ball was simply not ready to play at the NFL level. In 2017, the Browns got Jabrill Peppers, who under=performed in his rookie year. Peppers for Watson seemed like a terrible trade.

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The consensus view was that Watson should have been a no-brainer pick for the Browns, and trading for more draft picks was another example of warped thinking. And perhaps this is so.

But things may have worked out after all. Remember, the Texans gave up their 2018 first-round draft pick, and when Watson got injured the team went into the tank, winning only four games for the season. Hence the Browns wound up with the fourth overall pick, and used it to take Denzel Ward.

The buzz is that Ward might make the Pro Bowl in his first year. He is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, along with Mayfield. Now, the trade of Watson for Ward plus Peppers looks a little less crazy, and in fact the Browns might have a slight edge based on the great promise of Ward, and the improved play of Peppers in 2018.

We can never know for sure what would have really happened had the Browns drafted Watson, but let’s think about the likely consequences. With Watson, the Browns were not going to go 0-16. Watson wound up winning three games for the Texans last year; so perhaps the Browns could have gone 3-13 or so.

The Browns would also have Sashi Brown still making erratic draft picks for the team, and Hue Jackson would still be studying the film. In the 2018 draft, they might still have an early draft position, but not first overall. Or, who knows? Perhaps Watson could have willed the team to an even better finish and taken them out of the top echelon of players in the draft.

In any case, they would not have drafted Mayfield or Ward, nor would they have Peppers. They would have Watson and another draft pick in the first round, with Brown making the call. Brown, of course, is the guy who picked Corey Coleman in the first round.

Perhaps it is just as well that Watson went to Houston. The Browns got premier talent for him, and they were also able to draft Mayfield rather than another Sashi Special.

On paper Watson is putting up better numbers overall compared to Mayfield, though Baker is catching up. Watson weighs in with a passer rating of 101.0, good for 13th in the NFL. In addition, Watson is such a threat on the ground that it forces opposing defenses to commit an extra defender up front much of the time.

By comparison, Mayfield is currently 23rd and climbing fast. He also likes to move around in the pocket, but he is nowhere near the running threat that Watson is. We’ll see how that changes in the future.

Mark F. Barnes, a scout and consultant with the Texas State University, is a lifelong Browns fan and has studied both Mayfield and Watson over the years. He offers the following comparison:

“Both are really good at what they do. Deshaun is a bit more mobile with his straight line speed, but Baker is elusive. I have seen Deshaun get rattled, it happens to a lot of QB’s. But I can never recall Baker ever getting rattled. The kid has ice water in his veins and short term memory. Play fails, he just reboots, and moves on. Both have a lively arm and a quick trigger. Baker may have the edge on reads. Baker processes so much information so fast that the receivers are trying to catch up to him instead of the reverse. Haven’t seen a quicker read since Marino. Both Watson and Mayfield have great touch on the ball – both over the top and to the backside. These two guys were meant to go at one another.”

To paraphrase, this is going to be a hell of a game on Sunday, with two exciting and talented quarterbacks squaring off.

In retrospect, the Browns may have finally gotten lucky. Instead of Watson, they were fortunate to wind up with Ward and Peppers in direct trade and also wound up with Mayfield. They also managed to clear themselves of a dysfunctional coaching situation. All in all, things worked out okay for both Watson and the Browns. Here’s hoping the kid has a great career—against everyone except the Browns.

Next. Baker Mayfield wins Offensive Rookie of the Month. dark

Watson probably has an edge right now because he is in his second year. But Browns fans are starting to recognize that Baker Mayfield is also a special player. Given the choice, would you trade Baker Mayfield for DeShaun Watson even up?