Will Baker Mayfield experience something similar to Eli Manning?
Could it be that the expectations of Cleveland Browns fans are set way too high, so high that there is no way quarterback Baker Mayfield can meet them? Can he survive if he is, say, top-15 in the NFL instead of top 15 in NFL history?
Can the fan base tolerate that, or do they have their heart set on a superstar somewhere between Brett Favre and Thor son of Odin? It’s totally imaginable that Baker could get booed all the way to the Super Bowl someday, maybe even this year.
If average sounds like a horrible insult to Mayfield, keep in mind that the average NFL quarterback makes $25 million per year. Pro football is the hardest game in the world, and anyone who can compete in the NFL and give their team a chance to win is an incredible athlete.
But Mayfield was the first player drafted in 2018 and he was the first quarterback drafted, and for many writers and fans, that raises the level of expectations. He set the NFL record for touchdowns by a rookie and seemed to be well on his way to Canton.
But wait a minute. Maybe all this pressure to be the next superstar isn’t helpful. Where does it say that the first overall pick is always a Hall of Famer? What can realistically be expected? Let’s take a look at what the numbers say about recent history.
Among active players as of 2019, Eli Manning was the last player to be first overall pick (2004) to also quarterback his team to a Super Bowl Victory (after the 2007 and 2011 seasons). He’s a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame, at least as long as Odell Beckham, Jr. is not an eligible voter.
Other first overall quarterbacks have included Matthew Stafford (2009), Sam Bradford (2010), Cam Newton (2011), Andrew Luck (2012), Jameis WInston (2015), Kyler Murray (2019) and Joe Burrow (2020). These players are all very talented, but so far only Newton made it to the Super Bowl. Being on bad teams had a lot to do with it and injuries impacted Luck and Bradford in particular.
Browns fans, while booing Mayfield for throwing interceptions, would do well to examine Manning’s career progression. He didn’t become a “Franchise quarterback” immediately. In fact, in his fourth season, he led the entire NFL in interceptions. Ralph Vacchiano, writing in the New York Daily News Sep 30, 2014, recalls how bad the situation was:
"“By the time [Eli Manning] was more than midway through his fourth season — in 2007 — fans were so fed up they were burning his jersey in the parking lot outside the old Giants Stadium after a day of screaming obscenities at him from their seats.”"
Talk radio was buzzing with demands to kick him off the team and draft a new quarterback. But then he got hot in the playoffs and stunned the world by knocking off heavily favored and undefeated 18-0 New England in the Super Bowl. Browns fans, think about that! Fans were burning his jersey in the parking lot, he led the NFL in interceptions, and a few weeks later they were World Champions.
There is no neon sign to identify a “Franchise Quarterback.” The Franchise QB is supposed to be some kind of superhuman who never makes errors and wins Super Bowls as a rookie. Well, it usually doesn’t work that way.