The Browns want everyone to believe they’re keeping Baker Mayfield on the bench so he can learn from Tyrod Taylor, but that isn’t the whole story.
There are a lot of Browns fans who are wondering why Baker Mayfield isn’t already the team’s starting quarterback. Tyrod Taylor is a steady player at the position, but Mayfield has a much higher upside. The organization is telling everyone who will listen that the plan is for Mayfield to learn from Taylor this season.
There’s certainly an element of truth to that statement. Hue Jackson and his staff certainly believe Taylor gives them a better chance to win games right now. It’s also reasonable to think that Mayfield can benefit from watching a few games from the sidelines.
That doesn’t mean it’s the only reason they’re keeping their rookie quarterback on ice. The lack of stability on the Browns’ offensive line is a major reason why the franchise is being so conservative with their young signal caller. Specifically, they don’t want to expose Mayfield to the intense pass rush the team will likely face this season.
The interior of the line is adequate, but there are huge questions marks regarding both tackles. Neither Joel Bitonio or Chris Hubbard has proven their ability to play tackle at a high level in the NFL. Taylor has the toughness, maturity and mobility to survive under pressure. Jackson and company don’t want Mayfield’s first taste of professional football to be ruined by pressure from the edge.
Bitonio was an excellent left guard for the Browns last year, but the team elected to move him to tackle after Shon Coleman’s struggles in 2017. It’s a big gamble by the organization. Bitonio’s real strength last season was using his strength to neutralize defensive tackles in tight spaces. Putting him in charge of protecting the quarterback’s blind side will be a massive challenge for him. He has above average quickness for a guard but it’s likely going to show up as below average for a left tackle.
Chris Hubbard has more experience on the right side, but he wasn’t all that good in Pittsburgh last year either. Pro Football Focus graded him out as a below average option on the right. The Steelers were happy to let him leave for a big money contract in Cleveland. At best, the Browns can hope he can be an adequate starter at the time being.
At the very least, the Browns want to see how their tackles play for a few weeks before they make a firm decision about how much Mayfield will play this season. In a perfect world, Joe Thomas would still be on the team and they’d feel comfortable handing their offense over to their No. 1 pick. As usual, things aren’t perfect in Cleveland.