The city of Cleveland lost their poster athlete over the summer when Lebron James took his talents to LA. Cleveland was in desperate need to find a new superstar and the Browns may have done just that in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Cleveland Browns finished the 2017-18 season with an 0-16 record, which gave them the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. This Browns team had many holes on it primarily at the quarterback position. In previous drafts, they passed on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in favor of trading back in the draft for more picks. The Browns drafted DeShone Kizer in the second round of the 2017 draft hoping he would be the answer at quarterback, but he did not pan out and the Browns traded him away after one season. In the 2018 offseason, the Browns did acquire Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills, but Taylor was not the long-term option. The Browns decided not to pass on a quarterback this time around as they drafted Baker Mayfield number one overall in the 2018 draft.
Cleveland decided not to start Baker Mayfield week one. They let him play backup to Tyrod Taylor until week three when Taylor had to leave the game with an injury. Baker came into the game throwing for 201 yards with a 73.9% completion percentage leading the Browns to their first win in over a year. After that game, Baker Mayfield became the full-time starter leading the Browns to a 6-6 record in games he has started. Mayfield was drafted to be the franchise guy for the Browns, but it is important to take a closer look at his season to determine whether or not he can be the guy.
To fully evaluate Baker’s performance, you have to look at two areas. With Hue Jackson and without Hue Jackson. Baker played in six games under head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. In those six games, the Browns went 2-4 and Baker had a 58% completion percentage with 8 TDs, 6 INTs, and 1471 passing yards. These stats are not bad, but they could certainly be better. The completion percentage was a problem as it ranked at the bottom of the league of all qualifying QBs and the touchdown to interception ratio was not great at 4:3. Baker Mayfield did not get off to a great start to his NFL career under Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, but that would change once Jackson and Haley were fired following a week eight loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Baker’s performance drastically increased with Gregg Williams as the head coach and Freddie Kitchens as the offensive coordinator. The Browns finished the season 5-3 with Baker completing 68% of his passes as well as throwing for 2,254 yards averaging 281.8 passing yards per game. Mayfield went on to throw 19 touchdown passes setting the new rookie record with 27 touchdown passes in a season. Baker did continue to throw roughly one interception a game with nine interceptions in eight games, but his touchdown to interception ratio did decrease to about a 2:1 ratio. It is clear that Baker Mayfield improved under a new system and he showed that he can be the future of Cleveland.
Based on the statistics under a new offense, Baker Mayfield looks like the Browns’ next franchise QB, but you have to look at the film to fully understand what Baker brings to the table. Baker is great at selling the pass on run plays. He does not stop playing once he hands the ball off. He drops back as if he still has the ball hoping he can keep the defense back in coverage. On the other side, Mayfield does a great job at selling the play action. He draws the defenders down for the run setting up open receivers for the pass. He had a brilliant play in his week 17 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens where he faked a shovel pass to running back Duke Johnson. Mayfield lateralled the ball to himself drawing the eyes of the defenders allowing Jarvis Landry to run straight down the field for a touchdown.
Baker does not have break away speed like Lamar Jackson, but he still has the mobility to escape the pocket and extend the play. He can take off running for a first down as well if no one can get open.When you take a look at his incompletions, you notice that a lot of them are not bad passes. They are passes that only his receivers could get. His receivers might get their hands on it but cannot come down with it. Baker Mayfield does not throw too many dangerous passes that defenders have a chance to intercept. He does a great job at taking the check down route when nothing down field is open.
A good quality of Baker Mayfield is he does not force the ball too much. He finds the easy route when everything else is covered up. He has a strong arm and can sling the ball downfield whenever he needs to. One area where he needs to improve is sensing pressure in the pocket. Quite a few of his sacks come from behind him when he did not see the defender coming. This has led to a couple of fumbles. Experienced quarterbacks can always feel the pressure coming from behind them and can feel the pocket collapse. This is something that Mayfield should develop as he gains more experience.
Baker Mayfield looks to be the man in Cleveland. He has a good arm, makes the right decisions, and knows how to run an offense. When you look at the other QBs that the Browns could have chosen, it is clear that Baker Mayfield was the right decision. Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson are bottom four in the league in completion percentage completing under 60% of passes. Darnold, Allen, and Rosen have played in almost the same amount of games as Baker Mayfield and Baker has a lot more passing yards. Baker Mayfield was clearly the best QB available in the 2018 draft, so the Browns made the right choice and it seems like Baker will be the starting QB in Cleveland for many years to come.