Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has been an instrumental part of the culture change in the organization since his draft selection. However, fans still doubt his on field abilities.
At some point in time, someone is going to call me a “broken record.” That’s alright – I’ll take it. I have my opinions, and my job is to vocalize them. In this case, I’m continuing to call Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield the most slept on quarterback entering 2021 in the AFC.
It’s been an offseason of disdain from several mainstream NFL analysts, notably former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Tannenbaum called Mayfield “replaceable,” ignoring the litany of quarterbacks in Cleveland since their re-entry into the league. A wild and incorrect take.
We ran a poll on the NFL Sapient account to see which young quarterback fans would prefer out of the AFC. We chose Mayfield’s draft classmates and the promising young Joe Burrow. Out of the four players, Mayfield finished last out of the group.
I’ve heard many reasons for the doubt on Mayfield – his 2019 season, the college offense boosting him, etc. I think it’s tough to look at his 2020 season and ignore it. We’re going to spend some serious time in this article to address these concerns and explain why you can’t sell on him.
Baker Mayfield’s 2020 season is who he is
Baker Mayfield’s 2020 season is the positive growth we expected to see following his successful rookie campaign. His 2018 season, a turmoil year with Hard Knocks in town, followed by the firing of head coach Hue Jackson and the drastic change under interim head coach Gregg Williams.
However, Mayfield struggled all season in 2019 saw a drastic drop in these categories – under the ill-fated head coach Freddie Kitchens.
The 2019 season had a few major issues that directly affected the Browns’ young quarterback. First off, the offensive tackles offered him little support – forcing him to get rid of the football faster than he wanted to at times. Mayfield tried to force the football to his big playmakers – Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
Kitchens scheme was also horrendous. He wanted to be aggressive with no suitable protection for Mayfield. He called many plays deep downfield that needed time to develop, time that Mayfield didn’t have. The offensive line also was the 4th worst run-blocking unit in 2019 per PFF. Mayfield had no run support.
The change to Kevin Stefanski was a welcome one. The Browns solidified their tackles by signing Jack Conklin from the Tennessee Titans and drafting Jedrick Wills in the first round.
Comparing Baker to the other three quarterbacks on the poll
The three other quarterbacks on the poll were selected for a reason. Each player is popular outside of their team’s fan base and has general respect across the NFL. I took advanced statistics from a combination of Next Gen Stats, Pro-Football-Reference, and PFF to compile a clear, overall picture of the four player’s performances in 2020.
|Baker Mayfield (CLE)||3.05||7.4||53.4||18.8||26||74.8||18.8||121||9.43|
|Josh Allen (BUF)||3.04||6.9||62.8||16.0||25||79.1||21.9||160||9.38|
|Lamar Jackson (BAL)||2.98||6.6||53.1||17.6||24||75.3||22.5||87||8.82|
|Joe Burrow (CIN)||2.65||5.7||45.6||14.8||16||75.3||24.1||78||6.45|
One clear advantage that Mayfield had in 2020 was time to throw and less pressure. In fact, he had more time to throw than any other quarterback in the NFL. However, he capitalized on this and averaged a higher average distance per completion, 7.4 yards downfield. This means that Mayfield wasn’t taking checkdowns every play. He was consistently pushing the ball for positive gains. As you can see on the charts above, he was very effective between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards beyond it.
Most critics pin Stefanski’s scheme and consistent play-action usage to Mayfield’s success. However, as you can see, Josh Allen in Buffalo ran considerably more play-action in 2020. Both were very effective off of it.
The last thing to note is that Mayfield was the least accurate of these quarterbacks – which means that he still has much room to grow.
Looking past the sophomore slump
Turning back to Mayfield, 2020 was a clear improvement season over either of his other years. He was pressured less and had more time to throw. As a result, it allowed him to attempt passes further downfield than the average quarterback in the NFL. Look no further at his average completed air yards (CAY) on the chart below to begin to understand that picture. He led the AFC in the average distance per throw on his completions. Of course, his bad throw percentage would rise slightly, as he has a larger margin for error.
The other part to note is that he was more on target last season, up 4.2% from his sophomore year. With less pressure in his face, he could work through progressions and run the offense fully.
Normally, a quarterback’s second season in a full system allows coaches to “take the training wheels off,” so to speak. This will be the first year that Mayfield will have that continuity in the NFL. We can only expect him to get better in 2021.
Don’t sleep on Baker Mayfield this season
The Browns’ offense is scary. Loaded with talent at all positions, the Browns were fortunate enough to see good production from unlikely places last year. Donovan Peoples-Jones has emerged as a reliable weapon at wide receiver and is a formidable fourth option behind Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, and Rashard Higgins. The running game is again set with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield. Don’t forget the deep tight end room, too – Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant are an intense group.
The Browns have built themselves a formidable roster. Still, many analysts feel as though Mayfield will be the piece of the offense holding them back.
No. At every level, Mayfield has defied the odds and performed among its best. Mayfield has been instrumental in the shift of the culture in Cleveland. He’s performed well over the last year – people have forgotten already – the Browns put up a good fight against the Super Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs. We have him ready to settle into a good offensive scheme that can bring this team deep into the Playoffs in 2021.
Don’t sleep on Baker Mayfield. He’s going to have a huge 2021 campaign.