It’s always dangerous to read too much into the NFL preseason, but it’s hard not to get excited when a rookie leaves a strong first impression.
That’s exactly what Baker Mayfield did on Thursday in his first showing as a pro as the first overall pick flashed his talent and potential for the Cleveland Browns in the 20-10 win over the New York Giants.
Tyrod Taylor received the start and looked impressive in his own right, completing all five of his passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. If Mayfield is going to leapfrog the veteran on the depth chart, he’ll need Taylor to look a lot worse than he did in his debut.
That’s not something Mayfield can control, but what he can do to win the job is play so well that head coach Hue Jackson has no choice. And in his first appearance, Mayfield passed with flying colours.
After coming in at the end of the first quarter, Mayfield showed off his arm and legs with the kind of plays he made with regularity during his Heisman Trophy season at Oklahoma.
His decision-making was relatively sound and his passes displayed a nice touch. When he couldn’t find anyone open, he scrambled out of the pocket for methodical gains.
Overall, Mayfield completed 11-of-20 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns – the first to tight end David Njoku on a 10-yard hook-up and the second on a 54-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Antonio Callaway.
It’s still early, but the Browns have reason to be enthusiastic about the future.
Work in progress
Mayfield aside, it’s important to remember that for most rookie quarterbacks, there’s a steep learning curve.
The facet of Allen’s game that’s undeniable is his arm strength and on Thursday, he zipped some eye-catching passes, including his 14-yard touchdown connection with Ray-Ray McCloud III.
However, he was also off-target on several other throws and had one play where he ran nearly 20 yards backwards in an attempt to escape pressure before flinging a pass as he was falling down that was almost picked off.
Allen, who finished 9-of-19 for 116 yards, wasn’t helped by the performances of the two players ahead of him on the depth chart. Nathan Peterman was 9-of-10 for 119 yards with a touchdown and interception, while A.J. McCarron was 7-of-10 for 116 yards with no touchdowns or picks.
It’s possible Allen doesn’t play much at all in the regular season, but considering his rawness, that might be better for his development anyway.
Taking it slow
For Watson, it was his first game from an ACL tear that cut short his stellar rookie season, but he threw all of one pass in his lone drive before being replaced.
The Houston Texans already know what they have in the 22-year-old after his success last year, so there’s no need to push him hard in the preseason.
Mahomes, meanwhile, played the first two drives for the Kansas City Chiefs and completed 5-of-7 passes for 33 yards. Somewhat surprisingly, he didn’t unleash his arm with any deep balls and instead looked more like Alex Smith with his efficient throws.
Unlike Watson, Mahomes has started just one regular season game, so it makes sense for Kansas City to keep him on the field more as the preseason goes on.
The fireworks by Watson and Mahomes will likely come sooner rather than later.
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