Baker Mayfield vs. Joe Burrow: Browns, Bengals and the battle of No. 1 picks

CINCINNATI, OHIO - DECEMBER 29: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns is sacked by Sam Hubbard #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - DECEMBER 29: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns is sacked by Sam Hubbard #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Browns No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield battles Joe Burrow

Thursday is the Battle of Ohio between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals and this year it also features the battle between Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick of the 2018 draft, and Joe Burrow, the first overall pick of the 2020 draft. Both young quarterbacks were transfers from other colleges before finding success as Heisman Trophy winners, and now on to Ohio.

Mayfield is no longer a kid. As hard as it may be to believe, there are 11 quarterbacks who are younger than Mayfield starting in the NFL. Burrow, on the other hand, just completed his first NFL game. Both quarterbacks spent five years in college.

Burrow was so outstanding at Louisiana State University, there is really nothing to question about his game. He’s mobile, strong-armed (though not as strong-armed as Patrick Mahomes, who has re-calibrated the scale for everyone), deadly accurate, smart, big, and tough. What isn’t clear is whether he is truly ready immediately, and how much of the playbook he is truly comfortable with. While we can say Burrow is going to be among the NFL league leaders in quarterback stats in 2024, whether he is truly ready to light up the scoreboard on Thursday night remains to be seen.

The guessing in this corner is that indeed is risky to depend to much upon a rookie quarterback.  For example, prior to drafting the Browns signed veteran Tyrod Taylor to start the 2018 season and bear the pressure and stigma of the previous season’s 0-16 season. Mayfield came in after Taylor suffered a concussion in Week 3, and led an impressive comeback and never looked back.

Cincinati did things the opposite way, releasing Andy Dalton, who they blame for everything that has gone wrong in Cincinnati, ensuring that Burrow would have to start the season. Yet there are some things Burrow can probably do as well as anyone in the NFL right now.

For example, if there is an opportunity to win the game with a “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone at the end of the game, Burrow will be on equal terms with Mayfield. Either one is equally capable of reaching the end zone from 60 yards out, and at the end of the game they are willing to accept the risk of an interceptable ball.

Hence, neither team can afford to give the other guy a chance for the “Hail Mary.”  They need to possess the ball at the end of the game; either that or be ahead by more than eight points because these young bombardiers are threats, the likes of which we have not really seen before.

Not all rookies are created equal. Mayfield was a highly experienced player when he came to the Browns. He had had a total of five years experience with one year as a starter at Texas Tech, and then one year when he was training but not on the team due to the NCAA’s stupid transfer process at the time, followed by a three year starting career at Oklahoma. The total is thus four years of starting in a major college program and five years total.

Burrow’s resume is remarkably similar to Mayfield’s. He had three years at Ohio State, including a redshirt year, followed by two years as the starter for LSU, including last year’s unbelievable Heisman and NCAA Championship season. The extra time spent in college was definitely an asset. Starting Burrow in year one makes more sense than starting Sam Darnold, who had much less experience in college and less talent to work with at the pro level.

The express method, patented by the Cleveland Browns, in which the quarterback skips two years of college football and enters the NFL draft at age 21, is not recommended. That’s how you get disappointed by players like Johnny Manziel and DeShone Kizer. You think that they are on equal footing with the Mayfields and Burrows of the world, but they are not. If they had been developed properly, they might have been quarterbacks. Coming into the league with less training and put into impossible situations makes it more likely that they will fail. That’s not the case for Burrow.

Burrow will have numbers by the end of year. What hurts him is that this only Week 2 of the season and it is a short week, since the game is on Thursday. This is also the screwed-up year that it looked like pro football could not be played.

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So while optimistic that this kid will put up numbers and be a rookie of the year candidate, he may still be figuring things out this week. In this young season, it may still be a sloppy game, with Burrow committing a few more errors than Baker Mayfield.