The Cleveland Browns have not exactly distinguished themselves in the NFL Draft since the team moved back to the shores of Lake Erie in 1999.
Given the team’s revolving door at quarterback since taking Tim Couch with the No. 1 overall pick in 1999 speaks to the team’s futility of building through the draft.
However, times they are a changin’ for the Browns, who can make a strong case for having this year’s strongest rookie class through the first quarter of the season.
Granted, Cleveland had two of the top four picks in this year’s NFL Draft and used them to take Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at No. 1 overall and cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth pick.
Mayfield became the franchise’s 30th starting quarterback since 1999 when he made his first start in Week 3, and Ward has been a fixture at starting cornerback since the preseason.
The talent doesn’t stop there from general manager John Dorsey’s first draft with Cleveland. Wide receiver Antonio Callaway, a fourth-round pick out of Florida, has moved into the starting lineup and running back Nick Chubb made a loud statement for more playing time a week ago.
A second-round pick out of Georgia, Chubb has been a sparse contributor due to the success of starting running back Carlos Hyde, a free-agent signee who has rushed for five touchdowns in four games.
Chubb has only 10 carries on the season but he provided the Browns plenty of bang for their bucks in last weekend’s 45-42 overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders.
The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Chubb received a meager three carries but turned them into 105 yards rushing, breaking off touchdown runs of 63 and 41 yards.
Browns coach Hue Jackson termed Chubb’s performance “unbelievable” and said the team had to make an effort to the get ball into his hands more.
“He has to get some (touches). Hyde is playing well, but this guy is scoring touchdowns from long ways away,” marveled Jackson. “I was impressed. I watched those two touchdowns on tape (Monday), and they were even better than they were on the field. He ran away from some people on the first one and ran away from some people on the second one. It just looked natural and easy. He was gone. They could not touch him.”
Chubb, who has not had more than three carries in a game, won the Pepsi Rookie of the Week, becoming the third Cleveland player to earn the weekly honor this season.
Ward won the rookie award in Week 1 while Bayfield claimed the honor in Week 3 after coming off the bench and rallying the Browns to a 21-17 win over the New York Jets to end the franchise’s 19-game winless drought.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley concurred with Jackson’s goal of getting Chubb more involved in the offense after he became the youngest Browns player since Jim Brown to rush for more than 100 yards and score multiple touchdowns in a single game.
“When a guy is averaging 50 yards a carry, you better keep giving it to him,” quipped Haley.
Ward was a controversial selection at No. 4, taken one pick before Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb, widely considered the best defensive player in the draft. However, the former Ohio State standout already has two interceptions, three passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Meanwhile, Mayfield is receiving lofty praise after guiding the Browns to 63 points in six-plus quarters.
Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale, who will attempt to slow Mayfield this week, said the former Oklahoma star is “this generation’s John Elway or Brett Favre.”
While that may be a bit of hyperbole and gamesmanship in advance of Sunday’s matchup, Hall of Famer Favre also weighed with a glowing report on Mayfield this week.
“I think he can be great,” Favre said in an interview on Sirius XM NFL radio Wednesday. “He’s fun to watch, he’s a playmaker, he’s resilient, he’s all of those things and he hasn’t technically had a win as a starter but you can just feel it.”