Baker Mayfield’s time in Cleveland finally came to an end on Wednesday, when he was traded to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mayfield’s stay in Cleveland amounted to just four years and 62 games.
Mayfield joins the list of former first-round quarterbacks who were selected by the Browns since they returned to NFL in 1999. While his career in Cleveland obviously left something to be desired, Mayfield undoubtedly enjoyed more success with the Browns than the four previous first-round quarterbacks who proceeded him. Now that his time with Cleveland is over, let’s rank where Mayfield’s Browns career ranks with the team’s other first-round picks at the position over the past two-plus decades.
1. Baker Mayfield (2018-21)
No surprise here. Mayfield tallied a 6-7 start as a rookie while quarterbacking a team that went a combined 1-31 the previous two seasons. His 27 touchdown passes that year was the rookie record until it was surpassed by Justin Herbert in 2020.
Mayfield and the Browns underperformed in 2019, but they more than made up for it in 2020. Despite Odell Beckham missing most of the year with an injury, Mayfield realized the potential that was evident during his rookie campaign. Along with throwing for the second-most yards in Browns history for a single season (only Bernie Kosar’s 1986 season was more prolific), Mayfield threw more than three times as many touchdowns (26) than interceptions (8) during the regular season while leading the Browns to 11 wins, the most since the 1994 season. Mayfield then threw three touchdowns passes in Cleveland’s wild card win over Pittsburgh, the franchise’s first playoff win in over a quarter century.
Like 2019, the 2021 season was a trying one for Mayfield and his teammates. But despite dealing with multiple injuries, Mayfield made 14 starts (winning six of them) while throwing for over 3,000 yards with more touchdowns (17) than picks (13).
2. Tim Couch (1999-03)
The No. 1 pick in the ’99 Draft, Couch had the unenviable task of leading an expansion franchise. Making the task harder was the fact that Couch and the Browns shared a division with two teams — Baltimore and Pittsburgh — that featured up-and-coming defenses that would dominate the league well into the next decade.
The Browns won just five games those first two years, with Couch being the starter for all but one of those wins. Things turned around rather quickly in 2001, when Butch Davis was hired after leading the Miami Hurricanes back to national prominence. Couch led the Browns to a 7-9 record in 2021 while becoming the fourth QB in franchise history to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season.
Couch and the Browns were even better the following season. Couch, who that season recorded the second-highest single season completion percentage in franchise history, led the Browns to the franchise’s first playoff berth since returning to the NFL. But with Couch sidelined with injury, backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb threw for 429 yards in a 36-33 playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
Holcomb’s performance that day created a quarterback controversy that was never fully resolved. Neither player played to their potential in 2003, which led to the Browns sputtering to a 6-10 record. Couch was released after the season and would never play in a regular season game again after suffering a rotator cuff and shoulder injuries.
3. Brady Quinn (2007-09)
Quinn arrived in Cleveland following a decorated career at Notre Dame. He largely sat the bench as a rookie before making three starts in 2008. In 2009, Quinn found himself entrenched in a quarterback controversy with Derek Anderson. Quinn made 10 starts that season, going 2-8 before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 14.
Quinn had three memorable moments during the ’09 season. In a Week 10 loss to the Lions, Quinn became the first Browns quarterback to throw three touchdowns in one quarter. Two weeks later, he threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the Chargers. The following week, Quinn started during the Browns’ 13-6 win over the Steelers that essentially knocked Pittsburgh from playoff contention.
Cleveland ultimately decided to commit to Anderson (who led the Browns to a 10-6 record in 2010) while trading Quinn to the Broncos. Quinn never started in Denver, but he made eight starts in 2012 as a member of the Chiefs. He would later have brief stints with the Seahawks, Jets, Rams and Dolphins.
4. Brandon Weeden (2012-12)
A former minor league baseball player, Weeden was 28 when the Browns made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He went 5-10 as the Browns’ starter that season while throwing for 3,385 yards with 14 touchdowns and 17 picks.
Weeden won the starting job over Brian Hoyer in 2013, but injuries limited him to just five games in 2013. Weeden went 0-5 as a starter the following season while throwing as many touchdowns (9) as interceptions. Released the following offseason, Weeden made three starts in Dallas and another start for the Texans over the next two seasons. Weeden did not attempt a pass for the Texans in 2018, his last year in an NFL uniform.
5. Johnny Manziel (2014-15)
The polarizing, former Heisman Trophy winner made just eight starts in two years with the Browns. After two horrific starts as a rookie (he was inexplicably thrown into the starting lineup late in the year despite Hoyer leading the Browns to a 7-6 start), Manziel won his first game as a starter in Week 2 of the 2015 season. In a 30-9 loss in Pittsburgh in Week 10, Manziel set career highs by completing 33 passes for 372 yards. He won his next start four weeks later, a 24-10 win over the 49ers that saw him throw for 270 yards with one touchdown and one interception. This would serve as the the pinnacle of Manziel’s NFL career.
Over the next two games, Manziel completed just 50% of his throws as the Browns lost both contests by a combined score of 47-26. Manziel was inactive for the Browns’ regular season finale with a concussion, but reports quickly surfaced that he was in Las Vegas during the weekend of the game instead of being with the team. Further off-field issues led to his release that offseason. Manziel was never picked up by another NFL team.