Baker Mayfield has had an up and down career so far, but it looks like he and the Browns are on the right track now. Is Baker a QB1 now? Let’s take a look.
Baker Mayfield has always been playing against the odds. He loves to play with a chip on his shoulder and be the underdog. Mayfield was a walk-on at two different colleges and became the starter. It was still a surprise that, coming into the NFL, he was selected first in the NFL Draft. Being drafted by the ultimate underdog — The Cleveland Browns — he has had three different head coaches already in his career. In 2020, Mayfield and the Browns turned it around by making the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. Let’s take a look at Mayfield and see if he has turned the corner and can consistently be a top 12 QB.
Baker Mayfield Career
Mayfield started as the backup until Tyrod Taylor got injured in 2018 during a Monday Night Football game against the Jets. He then led the Browns to their first win in 19 games. Mayfield continued as the starter the rest of the season but did not take off until Hugh Jackson was fired. Mayfield’s completion percentage went up from 58% to 67% and the TD/INT ratio improved from 1.2 to 2.3. He not only lead the Browns to seven wins in 2018, but he also broke Russell Wilson‘s rookie TD record and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.
Second Year Disaster
Going into his Sophomore year, Mayfield and the Browns looked to be on their way to success with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns hired Freddie Kitchens and, I will admit, I was all for this because he had such good chemistry with Mayfield his rookie year. Mayfield struggled his second year and threw seven more interceptions than his rookie year. He never seemed to get on the same page with Beckham Jr. and Kitchens looked to be overmatched as Head Coach.
Third Year Bounce Back
In 2020, expectations were again low for the Browns after not living up to the hype in 2019. To top it off, they were bringing in new coach Kevin Stefanski during the strange Covid season. Even though the Browns were 5-2, Mayfield was only putting up the 20th best fantasy points for QBs. Maybe because of Covid, or just finally becoming comfortable in Stefanski’s offense, Mayfield found his stride from week 12-17. He had 1,455 yards, 9 TDs, and 1 INT during that time span, and was eighth in total Fantasy points and 10th in Fantasy Points per game. Mayfield continued this strong play in the playoffs with over 460 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT.
Another aspect that brought down Mayfield’s numbers for the season was a three-game stretch where Cleveland had three home games with horrible weather. In these games, both teams struggled and, as shown below, the difference in per-game stats between that period and the other 13 games are pretty big for Mayfield. I know you cannot always make these assumptions, but if you use the rest of the season average for the full 16 games, it would put him as the 10th QB in Fantasy for the season (3,824 yards, 32 TDs, and 10 INTs).
Baker Moving Forward
There are some questions people have about Baker Mayfield moving forward, so let’s look at some of those.
Better without OBJ?
There is a question if Mayfield is better without Beckham Jr. and, in my opinion, this answer isn’t that easy. Any QB is better with a talent like OBJ, but I think Mayfield, so far, works better when not forcing the ball and just finding the correct open receiver. With a receiver like OBJ, I think he tended to force the ball in, and there is still some adjustment between the two of them. From the videos I have seen, they are both working together in the offseason and the chemistry should continue to develop.
The Browns Run the Ball too Much
It is no secret that the Browns want to run the ball with Chubb and Hunt to set up the rest of their offense. As the end of last season showed, Mayfield can provide QB 1 numbers, and I think he could be in a similar situation as Kirk Cousins. Cousins, the last six years, has had QB finishes in fantasy of 10, 5, 6, 13,19, and 11. In four of those six years, the offense Cousins has been on is in the bottom third in pass attempts. I believe Mayfield is better than Cousins, he just has to be efficient in his opportunities on this offense.
In my opinion, ever since Mayfield has been with the Browns, he has had a great connection with Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins. He is not flashy and is the fifth option on the offense, at best, and has to beat out Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie speedster Anthony Schwartz. Higgins is a tough player who is a good route runner and is somewhat of a security option for Mayfield. As you can see below, in 2019, he did not get on the field because of being in Kitchens’ doghouse. This is not the only reason but probably added to the struggles of the offense.
2021 and Beyond
For the first time, Mayfield gets consecutive years with the same head coach. This consistency should do wonders with his development. He is a gunslinger, but Stefanski seemed to find a happy medium in letting him sling it while not putting too much pressure on him to carry the whole offense. Looking at his stats through three years, it looks like the second year was the anomaly, as the other two years look very similar.
If that second year is an anomaly, I think Mayfield and the Browns could be good for a long time. With the proper head coach and the young players they have, I think we have only started to see how good Baker can be. I think he can be a top 10-12 QB in fantasy and, if you wait on QB, could be a solid value.