The first two picks in the 2018 NFL draft met in the preseason Thursday and wasted little time dazzling in their NFL debuts. In fact, it looked like they were back at Oklahoma and Penn State, respectively, competing for the Heisman Trophy.
Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick of the New York Giants, got out of the gate first — actually the first play from scrimmage against the Cleveland Browns. Barkley ripped off a 39-yard run on his first NFL touch that began with a nasty Barry Sanders-esque jump cut in the backfield. Then he bounced it outside and gained the edge on flat-footed Browns CB Damarious Randall.
Barkley managed only 4 yards on his next four carries before his night was over, but the message was clear: The Giants' dynamic skill group officially has another explosive playmaker to help revive Eli Manning and one of the NFL's more disappointing offenses in 2017.
Perhaps a sign of the changing times in Cleveland, top pick Baker Mayfield was the Browns' second competent quarterback of the evening, following starter Tyrod Taylor. In two drives, Taylor went 5-of-5 for 99 yards, including a 36-yard TD down the seam to TE David Njoku (more on him shortly), for a perfect passer rating (158.3). Taylor's first completion was a 32-yarder to Jarvis Landry, who apparently did something other than "bless" Janoris Jenkins afterward, as the newest "Hard Knocks" star drew a 15-yard taunting penalty.
Mayfield was up next and, following a three-and-out, settled in on his second series, finding Rashard Higgins with a pretty back-shoulder throw on the sideline for a 26-yard gain. He then nearly found controversial rookie Antonio Callaway, in the lineup only days after receiving a marijuana citation that he didn't immediately inform the Browns of, on a deep shot that Callaway couldn't locate. Spencer Drago was called for holding, though, setting up third-and-18.
Mayfield calmly stepped up in the pocket and delivered a low but catchable ball to WR C.J. Board over the middle for a fresh set of downs. He continued marching the offense, twice keeping the drive alive with his legs — on third-and-6 and fourth-and-2 — to set up Cleveland with first-and-goal. On his first red-zone attempt, Mayfield hit David Njoku in the back of the end zone with a jump-ball 10-yard TD, Njoku's second score of the game and Mayfield's first as a Brown.
It was all so familiar for Sooners fans and novel for Clevelanders.
After one more three-and-out late in the first half, Mayfield got three second-half series that extended into early in the fourth quarter. The highlights, easily, both went to Callaway — a 24-yard sideline strike with Mayfield rolling to his right on third-and-7, and a 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown off a quick slant to punctuate both rookies' nights.
Mayfield finished a stellar evening 11-of-20 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He received a ton of work in six series and looked, well, mostly like the big-play magician who won the Heisman trophy last year.
QB controversy in Cleveland? That's unlikely, as Hue Jackson and John Dorsey have up until now been steadfast in the support of the starter, Taylor, who couldn't have been more efficient in his own Browns debut.
But Cleveland couldn't have been more pleased with Mayfield, who intermixed his big-play penchant with mostly sound decision making, all while bringing the energy and leadership skills that have defined his rise from former walk-on to Heisman to the man who's tasked with restoring the NFL's most hopeless franchise.
It's only one preseason game, but there were plenty of reasons to be hopeful.