Rang: Browns to be rewarded for bold picks of Mayfield, Ward

The speedy Denzel Ward went No. 4 to ClevelandUSA Today Sports Images

--- By Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com ---

It didn't take long for the 2018 NFL Draft to get interesting with the Cleveland Browns opting to make the bold selection of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield at No. 1 overall.

After not-so surprising selections from the Giants on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley -- the draft's elite athlete -- and the New York Jets getting their foundational piece in NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated quarterback Sam Darnold from Southern California -- Browns general manager John Dorsey followed with another surprise, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward.

On the surface, drafting a two-time walk-on player (Mayfield) and sub-6-foot cornerback with two of the first four picks might seem like precisely the kind of selections that have made the Browns one of the league's laughingstocks.

Few who played against Mayfield or Ward, however, would argue that they are two of the more competitive, playmaking players in this draft.

Mayfield is well known for his accuracy in and out of the pocket with improvisational skills that have earned comparisons to Seattle's Russell Wilson and even Hall of Famer Brett Favre from respected talented evaluator Scot McCloughan, who worked with both in previous stops before joining Cleveland as a consultant this year.

"He reminds me of a shorter version of Brett Favre," McCloughan said in an appearance on the Doug Gottlieb Show for Fox Sports Radio back in October. "Tough guy. He can throw it. And he's very confident, and he's not afraid whatsoever, whatsoever. He's a battler. I know saying Brett Favre's a big name, and I was around him for a while, but this guy has talent."

Frankly, I was among Mayfield's biggest critics early in the year, chalking up much of his success against Big 12 "competition" to the lack thereof most defenses in the conference have played recently.

Mayfield quieted me at the Senior Bowl, however, after watching him throw side by side with rocket-armed Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen (selected seventh overall by Buffalo) in person at the Senior Bowl.

As I noted then, it was not just that Mayfield threw the ball well -- he did so with the same confidence and bravado that made him such a lightning rod for the Oklahoma, literally slapping the behind (on multiple occasions) of the Broncos' coach who served as his center and racing ahead of the other quarterbacks through drills, providing a buzz in the stands, that frankly, did not exist during the South Team's practice earlier in the day.

Mayfield's ability to spark excitement with scouts, coaches and the Cleveland fan base, of course, won't matter if he doesn't deliver. That, however, is exactly what Mayfield did throughout his career -- just like Ward.

Despite being relegated to nickel duties in 2016 while playing behind future first round picks Marshon Lattimore (New Orleans) and Gareon Conley (Oakland), Ward tied for the former for the Buckeyes' team lead in passes broken up.

Ward possesses the best feet of any player in this draft, seamlessly shadowing receivers all over the field. With two of the elite receivers in the entire NFL playing in the division in Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Cleveland needed a shutdown corner in the worst way with the expectation that the pass rush will improve with a healthy second season from last year's No. 1 overall Myles Garrett.

From a physical and competitive standpoint, Ward is a lot like his former teammate Lattimore, who recall was voted a Pro Bowler as a rookie and was one of the key catalysts for the Saints jumping back into the playoffs.

Make no mistake, the Browns' selections were bold and will be criticized by many. But to turn around a franchise with a losing tradition like this one, aggression was required.