DENVER — Nine months ago, when Baker Mayfield was still very much in focus on the Broncos’ radar, he made some rather confident pronouncements during the NFL Combine.
He was asked then, on March 2, if he was worthy of the No. 1 overall draft pick held by the Cleveland Browns.
“If anybody’s going to turn that franchise around it would be me,’’ he said then.
Exactly what, Mayfield was asked then, separates him from the others?
“Accuracy,’’ he said. “I’m the most accurate quarterback in this draft by far.’’
Americans love when cocky athletes back up their words. Or did you miss the phenomenon that was Muhammad Ali?
Mayfield will bring a 4-6 record as the Browns’ starting quarterback into his team’s game Saturday night game against the Broncos in Denver. That’s four wins for a team that went 1-15 and 0-16 in two previous years.
He also brought a slightly more polished take to his conference call press conference Tuesday with the Denver media.
“Obviously, there’s been improvement,’’ Mayfield said. “But we’re not satisfied, yet. I’m happy with where this is headed, the direction it’s headed. Because it’s a process. It’s culture, first, and then you’ve got to execute.
“So, we’re doing some things right, but it’s definitely not anything perfect or nowhere near that. I’m happy with where it’s headed but definitely not satisfied.’’
As for his accuracy, Mayfield is just short (cough!) of Drew Brees (cough! cough!). The 6-foot Brees has completed an NFL-best 75.7 percent of his throws this season, which would break the league record Brees set last year when he completed 72.0 percent.
In the 6-foot-1 Mayfield’s last five games, he’s completed 112 of 153 passes for 73.2 percent — for an average of 281 yards a game. He’s not dunking and dinking, in other words.
“He is a very accurate thrower,’’ Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams said in his conference call with the Denver media. “Coming out, those statistics (at Oklahoma) bared that. If you were ever just standing around and watching him play catch, or seeing him in practice, when he wants to put it on the spot, he’ll put it on the spot. There are competition factors going on with that in practice, also.
“The really good quarterbacks, whenever they have tight coverage, can throw the receiver open away from coverage. Putting it in those little windows like that is what you’re supposed to do at this level because as the competition gets closer and closer together — especially when you go from college to the NFL — you’re not that wide open very much at this level.’’
Mayfield and the Browns have played much better since Williams and interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens replaced the fired Hue Jackson and Todd Haley six weeks ago.
To Mayfield, it was as much addition by subtraction – Jackson and Haley clashed, both privately and publicly – that explained his improvement as much as Kitchens’ newfound authority.
“I think any time you can eliminate distractions or outside noise, drama, whatever it is you might want to call it and you can focus on doing your job it always helps,’’ Mayfield said. “And I think Freddie Kitchens now is doing a great job of making sure everyone is on the same page. Knowing exactly what to do and how to do it.’’
Although, the Broncos never got a chance to draft Mayfield – at No. 5, Denver took pass rusher Bradley Chubb, who is closing in on the NFL rookie record with 12 sacks — he did lay down some roots here through his Boulder-based agents Jack and Tom Mills.
Most first-round quarterback prospects sign with huge agency firms like Creative Artists Agency, Athletes First, Priority Sports and Rep1. Mayfield surprised the football industry by going with The Little Agents That Could in the father-son Mills’ team.
“Jack and Tom are very transparent,’’ Mayfield said. “They’re very honest about what they want to get accomplished. They believed in me. They have a deep OU background as well so that definitely helped having people that know them vouch for them.
“They put everything out there. There was going to be no B.S. They didn’t lie to me, they didn’t say that they could get me drafted higher like most agents do. They just said, ‘we’re going to do what we do, and you do your job and the rest will take care of itself. And that’s something that I think was important to have that relationship and they were honest from the very beginning.’’
Mayfield and the Browns are coming into town Thursday, a day earlier than usual so they can get accustomed to the altitude. And then Saturday night Bronco fans will get their first in-person look at what they never got a chance to have.