Baker Mayfield’s First Start: The Curse of the No. 1 Overall Pick

Baker Mayfield’s First Start: The Curse of the No. 1 Overall Pick article feature image

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Baker Mayfield

  • Baker Mayfield, the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick, makes his first career start on the road against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
  • No. 1 overall picks are 4-18 straight-up and 6-16 against the spread in their first career start, including losing nine consecutive games.
  • The last No. 1 overall pick to win his career start at QB? David Carr for the Houston Texans in 2002.

What Baker Mayfield accomplished last Thursday night at home against the New York Jets cannot be understated. He became just the fifth rookie quarterback taken first overall to even appear in a 14-point comeback win, and boy did he show up.

Mayfield was both efficient and consistent, completing more than 50% of his passes under pressure, in a clean pocket, when he was blitzed and when the Jets stayed back in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus data — not bad for a rookie in his debut.

Now for the real test. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick will make his first career start on the road in Oakland, and history is not on the Cleveland quarterback's side (what's new, right?).

Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, No. 1 overall picks are 4-18 straight up and 6-16 against the spread in their first career starts, including nine consecutive loses straight up and against the spread dating back to David Carr and the Houston Texans in 2002.

Coincidentally, it's David's brother, Derek Carr, who can keep the streak going on Sunday with a win at home against Mayfield's Browns.

The previous 22 quarterbacks lost by an average of 9.8 points per game in their first career start, including failing to cover the spread by a field goal per game. The four quarterbacks who were able to overcome the odds and get a win in their first career start didn't exactly put their teams on their backs and lead them to victory:

(Note: John Elway was injured and replaced by Steve DeBerg after the first half due to a sore elbow)

For an added layer, Mayfield starts for the Browns on the road, which presents a whole new set of obstacles for the No. 1 pick. Since the merger, first overall picks to make their first start on the road are 1-10 SU and 3-8 ATS, with only John Elway in 1983 coming away with the win … and he didn't even finish the game!

The 11 previous quarterbacks in this spot had a combined passer rating of 62.7 on the road in their first start, completing just 51.5% of their passes for 10 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and maybe the most glaring stat, 34 total sacks (almost three per game).

What Mayfield faces on Sunday though, isn't exactly the '85 Bears defense. The Raiders are 6-13 straight-up in their last 19 games dating back to the start of last season, and actually flush out to be one of the easier opponents a No. 1 pick will face in his first career start on the road.

Only one of the other 11 quarterbacks in this spot faced a team with a losing record (either that season, or the previous year if the game was played in Week 1): Carson Palmer for the Bengals in 2003 against the New York Jets.

Palmer had by far the most efficient day of the group:

The Browns enter this game as 2.5 or 3-point underdogs (you can find updated odds here). Of the 22 quarterbacks taken first overall since the merger, eight closed with a point spread of +4 or less (i.e. +4 to -5) and Mayfield will be the only one to start on the road.

No pressure, Baker.

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