Baker Mayfield was supposed to take a leap forward as a second-year starter, but he’s actually been a major reason for the Cleveland Browns struggles in 2019.
Baker Mayfield was supposed to be dangerous for opponents this season. Not his own team.
Last year, Mayfield made his NFL debut as Tyrod Taylor’s replacement in Week 3. He broke the Browns’ epic losing streak. It seemed like the beginning of a fairytale career for the No. 1 overall pick. Browns fans immediately hopped on the bandwagon.
Once Freddie Kitchens took the reigns as offensive coordinator following the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, Mayfield only looked even more promising. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner didn’t have a whole lot to work with, but he was balling. Over the final eight game of 2018, Mayfield totaled 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. The arrow was pointing straight up.
Then general manager John Dorsey went out and loaded up. He acquired Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants. He signed running back Kareem Hunt and bolstered the defense with myriad moves including rookie corner Greedy Williams, and veteran defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon.
Beckham, who is one of the most polished route-runners and special athletes in the NFL, seemed like the missing piece in the Browns offense. Joining forces with former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry, the underrated Rashard Higgins, star tight end David Njoku, deep threat Antonio Callaway and a deep stable of running backs, Beckham was supposed to launch Mayfield into superstardom. Many believed the Browns would roll to an AFC North crown and make the postseason as a sleeper to knock off the New England Patriots.
Instead, the Browns have been horrible. They’re 2-6 and with little hope of making the postseason. One of the chief reasons? Mayfield.
Mayfield hasn’t been bad. He’s been atrocious. Seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions atrocious. He has the second-lowest QBR behind only Sam Darnold. Yes, Andy Dalton and Mitchell Trubisky have been better.
Mayfield’s interceptions have been the most backbreaking part of his struggles. The Oklahoma product is one of three quarterbacks with an interception on four percent of his attempts, and only Jameis Winston has as many total picks (12). In fairness to Winston, he also has 16 touchdowns, whereas Mayfield has seven. And Mayfield is also averaging 50 fewer passing yards per game.
It is therefore interesting that Winston, who is a former No. 1 overall pick, is unanimously panned as a below-average starting quarterback whereas Mayfield is given more grace. Each week, Browns fans hope for a miraculous turnaround from a quarterback whose numbers are not only worse than Winston’s, but arguably worse than any other quarterback in the NFL’s.
Maybe it’s the sample size, and fair enough. Maybe it’s the feeling of bashing Mayfield is bashing the Browns. After the last 20 years, who wants to do that?
To declare him a bust would be disingenuous, partially because he played so well as a rookie and is only a second-year player. However, Mayfield is playing like a bust. Even some of the awful Browns quarterbacks of years past didn’t have a season quite this bad, and Mayfield’s numbers look worse when considering the quality of quarterbacks in 2019. Mayfield has a QB Rating in the low 70s in a season in which nine quarterbacks have a rating in the triple digits and 21, including the benched Marcus Mariota, have a QB rating above 90.
Maybe Kitchens deserves equal blame, but he isn’t the one averaging more than an interception per game with less than a touchdown per game.
Speaking of busts, Brady Quinn is one of several in recent Browns history, and if you compare his era-adjusted QB Ratings of 80 across his two seasons with Cleveland, they are higher than Mayfield’s 72 Rate+ in 2019. Now, Mayfield is averaging more yards per attempt and touchdowns than Quinn ever did and Quinn is undeniably a far worse quarterback than the Browns current starter, but it is appalling – and mystifying – that Mayfield has been playing about as poorly as first-round busts.
Since Mayfield’s QB rating was barely above the league average last season, perhaps fans got a little carried away by anointing him the franchise’s savior. But there were indeed so many encouraging signs from his first season; it was only reasonable to expect more from Mayfield as a second-year starter with a player like Beckham by his side.
Mayfield can turn it around. He’s showcased talent before. However, his poor decision-making, questionable leadership, and horrendous numbers are indications he must mature before he can lead the Browns to the postseason.