Is this a 'Boom or Bust' year for Baker Mayfield?
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
2018 1st overall pick Baker Mayfield may already be on the hot seat in only his third year in the NFL. After a stellar rookie season Mayfield had a severe sophomore slump leading to critics and the media questioning whether he can play and lead a team in the NFL. After Baker and the Browns awful 2019 season finishing 6-10, Cleveland saw a turnover in coaching staff and front office once again, most importantly it saw the addition of new General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski who hope to bring order and structure to a franchise who have appeared to lack it for numerous years now.
While Mayfield likely deserves the majority of the blame for the Browns 2019 campaign, I think it’s unfair to ignore the other impacting factors such as the Head Coach, offensive system and offensive line. While Baker reportedly wanted Freddie Kitchens as his Head Coach, I see it as further indictment on the Browns front office empowering a 2nd year quarterback to make franchise determining decisions. Kitchens had no prior experience as a head coach and quite frankly it showed, he appeared to have no control over his team, highlighted in week 1 where they gave up 18 penalties for 182 yards in a blowout loss to the Titans. Ultimately, Kitchens was a horrible choice for Head Coach given the talent, personalities and expectations the Browns faced going into the 2019 season. Not only was Baker’s coaching not up to par but the Browns offensive scheme and system worked entirely against them. Their offensive line was clearly not good enough to sustain Mayfield dropping back 33 times a game given they allowed 2.5 sacks a game, making Baker the 7tt most sacked quarterback in the NFL. Further, targeting selected receivers is not how you win games, just ask Tom Brady, “Football to me is about throwing the ball to the guy who's open, and if he's open deep that's where you throw it. If he's open short, you throw it there. If he's open outside, you throw it there. If they're open inside, that's where you throw it. You get the ball to the guys who can do something with it.” Too often in 2019 did Baker make pre-snap decisions on who he was throwing to, in his defense he does have a lot of mouths to feed but as a leader he needs to mature and find a way to deal with that. Yet most importantly, the Browns turned their offense into a pass first offense instead of a run first when they have the best running back duo in the entire NFL, a weak offensive line and a young developing quarterback. Hence, in my opinion they had their entire system and offensive philosophy backwards which undoubtably had a negative effect on Baker.
However, although some of the blame does not rest of Mayfield’s shoulder, most of it does. He proved too many times to make bad decisions on and off the field leading to an array of issues. By comparing his stats from 2018 to those in 2019 it highlights how it was not just problems surrounding Baker but in fact that he was a big part of the problem.
2018 – 6-7 record
266.1 yards per game, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 63.8% completion rate and a 93.7 quarterback rating
2019 – 6-10 record
239.2 yards per game, 22 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, 59.4% completion rate and a 78.8 quarterback rating
I believe a lot of Bakers issues in 2019 were in fact evident in 2018 such as being too much of a ‘make it happen’ quarterback which caused him to create a lot his own sacks, fumbles and interceptions. Mayfield needs to understand that he’s no longer the superior athlete that he was at Oklahoma, he cannot outrun edge rushers and linebackers, he needs to read the defence, go through his reads, move the pocket and throw it away if necessary instead of relying on his legs to make plays. Nonetheless, his 2019 season saw all of those issues elevated leading to an awful season by all metrics. He ranked 19th in QBR which was in fact higher than his 23rd rank in 2018, regardless at 19th both Jameis Winston who had 42 turnovers and rookie quarterback Daniel Jones ranked ahead of him. Additionally, in quarterback rating he ranked 31stbehind guys like Kyle Allen, Mason Rudolph, Mitchell Trubisky and Joe Flacco. In my opinion a lot of the Browns and Baker’s problems were caused by immaturity and a lack of accountability. He listens to noise outside of his team and organisation far too much. Yet, not only does he listen but he responds to the likes of Rex Ryan and Colin Cowherd in the media placing a huge target on not only himself but his organisation and teammates. Further, in post-game press conferences he has thrown coaching staff under the bus, failed to support his head coach on numerous occasions and spoken about both teammates play and contract situations. Whilst Bakers style of leadership may have worked in college it certainly isn’t working in the pros.
2020 will in my view be a boom or bust year for Mayfield for several reasons. Firstly, he was drafted by General Manager John Dorsey and Head Coach Hue Jackson in the previous regime. Now with Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski running the show Baker does not have the direct connection or loyalty from the front office and head coach, hence, if his play deteriorates and they believe their best interest lie elsewhere they will not waiver in moving on from Baker similar to how numerous new regimes have done in the past. Additionally, the Browns front office must make their decision on whether they pick up Mayfield’s 5th-year option at the end of the 2020 season. Whilst seeing the 5th-year of your rookie contract without a long-term extension already agreed and in place is rarely a good sign, in Baker’s case it might be. Often the front office will evaluate their quarterback year to year when under development, they are very unlikely to commit to Baker after one good season in 2020, however, they may not have the same patience when moving on if his play is poor once again. So, if the Browns do pick up his 5th-year option it will be down to his performance in 2020 and show a sign in confidence in Baker moving forward.
Lastly, Mayfield possesses potentially the best offensive weapons on paper in the NFL as well as a rebuilt offensive line heading into 2020.The interior of the Browns offensive line has performed at a high level for several seasons now but it has been the tackle spots where they have lacked any form of consistency or talent. However, in free agency they picked up Jack Conklin, a high-level starter at right tackle and stole potentially the best left tackle in the 2020 draft at 10th overall in Jedrick Wills Jr, leaving them with an enforced and invigorated offensive line. Further, the weapons he has at his disposable would make almost any quarterback in the NFL jealous. On the outside the Brows will start 3-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. of whom is potentially the most athletically gifted receiver in the league coming off a down year in which he was suffering from a sports hernia all season long yet still totalled 1,035 receiving yards, assuming he is fully healthy heading into the 2020 season he will tear up opposing defences. Opposite Odell is potentially the best possible number two, Odell’s soul mate Jarvis Landry. Over the past 5 seasons not only has Landry made 5 consecutive Pro Bowls but also averages 1,096 yards per season and has arguably top 5 hands in NFL. Given Stefanski’s system in Minnesota running the most multiple-tight end sets in the NFL in 2019 at 57% of the time, Cleveland having two great tight ends sits very favourably for Mayfield. Although I am not a huge fan of Austin Hooper’s ability to separate from defenders its likely he will be able to find holes in coverage given the majority of attention will be elsewhere. Unlike Hooper, Njoku has shown in flashes the athletic ability to win one on one matchups meaning in Stefanski’s system I believe he is going to thrive. Then finally at running back the Browns have the best duo in the league with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Potentially Cleveland’s biggest offensive downfall in 2019 was not utilising their running backs enough. However, in Stefanski’s system they will flourish as it was the same offensive system that saw Dalvin Cook reach 1,654 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games in 2019. Hence, as Chubb totalled 1,772 scrimmage yards in 2019 whilst being under used, I believe it’s perfectly on the cards that we see Chubb hit 2,000 total yards under Stefanski. Therefore, given Mayfield’s plethora of elite weapons he truly has no excuses other than himself when it comes to offensive productivity assuming there are no injuries.
Altogether, I believe that 2020 is an undeniable boom or bust year for Baker. Whilst I think his public relations have shown immaturity and lack of accountability I believe he is still made of the right stuff and possesses intangibles that many quarterbacks do not, further, I believe he has the ability to become a very good quarterback in the NFL if he learns to play from within the pocket, not force the football and revert back to the natural accuracy he possessed in college. However, Mayfield needs to perform right away in 2020 given the new head coach and general manger and if he doesn’t which I fear may happen given their schedule and division we could see the Baker Mayfield era in Cleveland brought to an early end.