BEREA — When Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield reunite Sunday in Houston, the Browns will be reminded if they had the former, they wouldn't have the latter.
Which one winds up being the better NFL player won't be determined for years, but they already look like franchise quarterbacks, and mutual respect and admiration exists between the two.
"He's going to have a bright future, a bright career, win a lot of games, win championships and do a lot of things for himself and that organization," Watson, whom the Houston Texans drafted 12th overall last year after a trade with the Browns, said Wednesday during a conference call.
"I'm a big Baker fan and everything that he has been doing for a long time. It's going to be very exciting to see him pregame and compete against him. I'll talk to him later this week and probably jersey swap with him."
Watson dominated the visiting Browns in Week 6 last season en route to a 33-17 triumph for the Texans, who have won their past eight games to improve to 8-3. A year later, the Browns (4-6-1) are much more formidable and coming off consecutive wins.
"Everyone believes on that team," said Watson, who has completed 66.1 percent of his passes this season for 2,807 yards and 20 touchdowns with nine interceptions and a rating of 101 and rushed for 345 yards and two touchdowns. "Last year, I felt like they had confidence, but the energy was not there. Now they have a lot of energy and hope in the organization that they can be successful.
"You have to have a quarterback that you all believe in, a quarterback that can go out there and make plays and continue to have that energy around that sideline and that building. [Mayfield] has a big part in it."
The last time Watson and Mayfield played each other, Watson's Clemson Tigers rolled to a 37-17 victory over Mayfield's Oklahoma Sooners on Dec. 31, 2015, in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl. Mayfield and Co. were shut out in the second half.
Clemson went on to lose the national championship to Alabama, but Watson led the Tigers to the title the next season in a rematch with the Crimson Tide.
Two weeks later at the Senior Bowl, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said if the Browns pass on Deshaun Watson with the No. 1 overall pick, "they're passing on Michael Jordan."
Under former head of football operations Sashi Brown, the Browns passed on Watson twice, drafting defensive end Myles Garrett first overall, then trading the No. 12 pick to the Texans and moving down to No. 25, where they selected safety Jabrill Peppers.
"Coach Swinney, for him, nailed it on the head that he was going to make every team regret that decision," said Mayfield, this year's No. 1 overall pick who has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns with seven interceptions for a rating of 93.2. "[Watson] believed that, and I think you see that confidence he carries. But everything happens for a reason, and I firmly believe that. He’s obviously very happy with an eight-game win streak right now.
"Deshaun is an incredible quarterback, incredible athlete, a great leader. ... He’s been playing at a very high level. He’s a huge reason why they’ve won eight in a row. It’s always great to play great competition. You always look forward to that."
Watson took the NFL by storm as a rookie until he suffered a season-ending a torn anterior cruciate ligament during practice in early November. In seven games, he completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions, posted a rating of 103 and rushed for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
"Him battling through that injury, it shows you the toughness that he has," Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said. "Coming off the ACL, you can see that as the season has gone on he has gotten more and more confident that everything is OK.
"He's a really gifted athlete. You can tell that he's a very smart leader and the guys really appreciate playing with him and for him. I think he has grown quite a bit in a short of time."
Williams conceded Watson surprised him last year, when he completed 58.6 percent of his throws for 225 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and finished with a rating of 103.4 against the Browns.
"I thought he was more relaxed than what I saw on film," Williams said. "... You can see panic in guys' eyes or you can see panic in their body and stuff. I never saw that [with Watson]. He showed early on, really quickly early on, that he belongs in the league."
• Williams said he would have no qualms about transitioning from interim coach back to defensive coordinator if the Browns hire someone else as the full-time head coach. "I love what I do, and in all honesty, if I was not head coaching or defensive coordinator, I would love to be special teams coordinator again," Williams said.
• Starting center JC Tretter (high-ankle sprain) and rookie guard/center Austin Corbett (foot) didn't practice Wednesday. Williams said Corbett had his foot stepped on Sunday, when he played two snaps against the Bengals. Asked if the injury could end Corbett's season, Williams said, "We're just going to take it day by day, and we'll see." Tretter has been playing through his injury since Oct. 14.
• Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward (213,201) and punter Britton Colquitt (99,812) lead Pro Bowl fan voting at their positions.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.