6 must-watch NFL QB battles: ‘Hard Knocks’ puts Baker Mayfield vs. Tyrod Taylor No. 1
There are quarterback competitions.
There are quarterback competitions for seemingly cursed franchises.
And then there is what the Cleveland Browns now have: A quarterback competition for a seemingly cursed franchise, with a head coach whose future is in limbo … with the beginnings all played out on a reality television platform.
If there was any debate about whether Mayfield’s arrival in Cleveland would take center stage in the coming months, the NFL and HBO just ended it. The “Hard Knocks” franchise was forced onto the Browns, thrusting Mayfield into the face of a national audience for at least five straight weeks.
Not that anyone should be surprised. If there is anything that places a franchise into the wheelhouse of the league’s highest profile reality show, it’s the elements of drama and struggle married to a big (and sometimes controversial) personality like Mayfield’s.
In the voluminous history of failed quarterback ventures, Mayfield will be another chapter in a ghastly run of mismanagement at the position – or his arrival will be the meaningful pivot that fans have been begging for. Either way, we’ll get a very deep, personal look inside the beginnings of the moment. It could be very good or very bad for the franchise, simply through the added distraction of opinions and interactions that are typically not meant for television consumption.
That latter reality is a big part of why NFL teams loathe “Hard Knocks” so much. It celebrates exposing the inside of rooms that strive to achieve success through secrecy and honesty. Coaches and front offices hate “Hard Knocks” because they always know the cameras and microphones are lurking, and can never be quite sure how a comment or moment will be absorbed once it goes through a lens and gets broadcast into the faces of not only fans, but their own players.
Few teams – if any – have gone through the “Hard Knocks” experience and felt it was a net positive for the franchise. Particularly when part of that process has included exposing a highly drafted quarterback, whose success or failure is bound to be nitpicked and broadcast under even the most normal circumstances. Adding television cameras to that reality only makes it more complicated, multiplying a microscope that doesn’t need it.
What does it mean for the Browns? It means that Mayfield vs. Tyrod Taylor will be amplified to dramatic levels, even if it’s already a forgone conclusion that the No. 1 overall pick is destined to eventually win the starting quarterback job. But it also means that Mayfield will get an even more personal look into how the coaching staff and general manager John Dorsey are absorbing his progress versus what Taylor offers in the immediacy. That’s not exactly a catastrophic problem, but Mayfield is unquestionably an emotional chip-on-his shoulder talent. Hearing the private thoughts of Hue Jackson or offensive coordinator Todd Haley at this stage of his career is less than ideal.
But that matters little now. Despite being less than enthusiastic about the idea, the Browns can’t avoid the circus. The NFL has decreed that it’s heading to Cleveland, with the biggest spotlight intended for Mayfield. For better or worse, the stage is set once again for the rise or fall of a Browns quarterback. And with him, the rest of the franchise, too.
The other five quarterback battles that could develop? Here’s a look, starting with the likeliest …
New York Jets: Josh McCown vs. Sam Darnold
McCown has the experience and that shouldn’t be underrated in this training camp battle. And depending on who is speaking in the personnel community, Darnold may benefit from starting at the No. 2 spot and watching for a while. But the pressure to get the ball rolling on Darnold is going to be immense for the Jets’ brain trust, which is facing a clean…