Mike Mayock believes the Browns will take a quarterback with the first-overall pick in the NFL Draft, and that decision could come down to USC's Sam Darnold and Wyoming's Josh Allen.
Mayock, the veteran NFL Network analyst, said Darnold remains his favorite quarterback in this year's draft class but spoke highly of Allen, once a relatively unheralded signal-caller who has garnered attention with his strong arm and big frame.
"I think Darnold and Allen are the two guys they would consider the most highly," Mayock said on a Monday conference call when asked what Cleveland should do at No. 1.
The Browns, owners of the first and fourth overall picks, are positioned to address a longstanding instability at the position. And at a news conference in December, team owner Jimmy Haslam also made clear landing a franchise quarterback will be new general manager John Dorsey's top priority.
Darnold, the 20-year-old from Southern California, could fit that bill and is widely believed to be the draft's most well-rounded quarterback. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 7,229 yards, 57 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in two seasons with the Trojans. Darnold also earned high marks for his poise in the pocket, mobility and leadership but struggled with turnovers -- especially fumbles -- last season.
"I think he's got plus size, plus arm strength, outstanding athlete, and I really like the way he extends plays inside and outside of the pocket. If he scrambles or moves, it's with the intent of getting the ball down the field. His eyes are always up," Mayock said. "Now, the flip side to Darnold are the turnovers, and not just interceptions, but fumbles. He's got a history of fumbling going back to high school. But I think fumbling can be controlled in the pocket. That's one of the few things you can learn in the pocket as an NFL quarterback is how to keep both hands on the football and control some of the fumbling. He is a gunslinger, and he will put the ball up for grabs at times. But he can play in all 32 cities. He can play indoors, he can play outdoors."
Allen, meanwhile, has an unusual combination of size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and arm strength that makes him an intriguing prospect. He did, however, struggle with accuracy at Wyoming, completing 56 percent of his passes for 5,066 yards, 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
"I think you have to look at it from John Dorsey's point of view also and look at what he did a year ago in Kansas City when he traded up to No. 10 for the biggest arm quarterback in that draft in Patrick Mahomes. The biggest arm quarterback I've seen since JaMarcus Russell is Josh Allen," Mayock said. "I think when you're the GM of Cleveland, you've got to be thinking about the weather, you're playing outside, you need a big arm. His new offensive coordinator [Todd Haley] came over from Pittsburgh, and he's used to Ben Roethlisberger. So, to me, Josh Allen has to be in that conversation at 1 or 4, along with Darnold."
Mayock also touched on UCLA's Josh Rosen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, both of whom are also projected to be first-round picks. Mayock described Rosen as "the best pure passer I've seen in several years" but lamented his durability. In regards to Mayfield, the ultra-competitive 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, Mayock lauded the former two-time walk-on's accuracy and shrugged off concerns about his height. What he did address, however, are questions regarding Mayfield's on-field outbursts and an arrest last spring.
"I think it really comes down to off the field, face-to-face, in the meeting rooms, with the decision-makers whether or not you're going to buy into his character and him being the face of your franchise," he said, adding, "It's great to be exciting and it's great to be excitable, but at the end of the day you have to be the leader of a football team. He's got to convince people that not only is he dynamic and a positive leader, but he's also going to be a great guy in the locker room in the face of your franchise."
Mayock suggested at least four quarterbacks — Darnold, Allen, Rosen and Mayfield — could be taken in the first round, pointing to how three were taken in the first 12 picks in 2017. "Last year I was really surprised at how quickly quarterbacks came off the board," he said, "and I probably shouldn't be, given the history of that position."
Mayock also described Lamar Jackson, the Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, as a "wild card" prospect that could be taken late in the first round. "I think (he's) the most electrifying player in this draft, and I think somebody's going to take him and commit their offensive philosophy to him," Mayock said. "I would tell you that the most nervous 31 people in the league would be the defensive coordinators that would have to play against him."
The Browns will get a good look at Jackson, Darnold, Allen and the rest of this year's quarterbacks this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.