In 2013, nobody had heard of Baker Mayfield. After leading Lake Travis High School (Texas) to a 25-2 record in two seasons, the 5-10, 200 pound QB decided to walk-on at Texas Tech.
The rest is history.
I remember sitting down on a Friday night hoping to catch a college football game. I came across a game that I wouldn’t usually watch, but on a Friday night in August, beggars cannot be choosers when it comes to college football. The game was Southern Methodist University against Texas Tech, and all the announcers could seem to talk about was this no-name freshman walk-on quarterback that was starting the season for the Big 12 offensive powerhouse: Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield did not disappoint, completing 43 of 60 attempts for 413 yards including 4 touchdown passes. Who was this walk-on freshman lighting it up in his first game?
He would again walk-on at the University of Oklahoma in 2014. In his 3 seasons at OU, Mayfield would finish his college career having completed 808 of 1157 attempts (69.8%) for 12,292 yards and 119 touchdowns against only 21 interceptions. On top of his eye-popping stats, he had received a plethora of major awards, including a Heisman Trophy in 2017 and First Team All-American honours in both 2015 and 2017. He would go on to be picked #1 overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Was Baker Mayfield a good pick for the Browns?
I would be lying if I said I expected Baker Mayfield to have his name called as the first overall pick that year. The Browns had just had the first winless season in the NFL since the 2008 Lions. They had so many holes on that team that anybody would have been an improvement. If it was me, I probably would have picked Saquon Barkley or Quentin Nelson, but not Baker Mayfield, necessarily.
There is no exact science or formula for picking a franchise QB. The Browns, in this case, decided to go with the guy that did not necessarily have ideal physical tools. That being said, Baker Mayfield had something that the Browns badly needed: a winner. They needed a guy that could step on any field and be the best player out there, game in and game out. Mayfield’s exceptional performance in college, along with his winning pedigree and his poise under pressure made him the ideal pick for the Browns.
As every Browns fan knows, it has been extremely painful few years for the Browns, not appearing in the playoffs since 2002. Winning has been sorely lacking in Cleveland since their return to the NFL in 1999. At that point, they were willing to take a gamble on a proven winner who dazzled in college.
Is Mayfield’s performance indicative of a future franchise QB?
In his first year with the Browns, Mayfield was nothing short of impressive, throwing 27 touchdowns on his way to setting an NFL rookie record and being named 2018 Rookie of the Year. Considering the team was was 0-16 in the previous year, and Mayfield’s surrounding cast (except Landry) being mediocre at best, a 7-8-1 record was exciting for fans as well as anyone in the Browns organization.
Mayfield did not build off of his rookie campaign, however, throwing only 22 touchdowns versus 21 interceptions for a passer rating of 78.8 in his NFL sophomore campaign. This drop in production could have to do with Mayfield’s tendency to get himself into bad situations. His offensive line certainly was not elite, but Mayfield certainly did not do himself any favours either. For some reason, he also missed a ton of throws that he should not have. On top of that, it seemed that a decent number of his interceptions were deflected off of a receiver’s hands.
While Mayfield has his flaws, and he does have many of them, the hiring of Freddie Kitchens was an absolute joke, even for the Browns. I’m not sure what they expected when they decided to hire a quarterback coach to be the new leading man. For Baker Mayfield to take the next step towards being a franchise QB, he needed to have a coach that would do the following: create offensive game plans to take advantage of the excellent talent around him (and lessen the burden on him), to hold him to a high standard of leadership and create a disciplined team culture.
Kitchens did none of those things. Odell Beckham was painfully underused, Mayfield had a plethora of incidents of bad leadership, and the Browns ranked 4th among NFL teams in penalties for 2019 (122 for over 1100 yards). For a young quarterback, this is an extremely difficult situation. It was clear halfway through the season that everybody was frustrated. The Browns finished 6-10, wildly underachieving given the amount of talent on the team.
Year 3 will likely determine whether or not Mayfield is truly ‘the guy’ for the Browns. He was spectacular in his first year on a team with far less talent, which leads me to believe that his struggles this year were mostly coaching issues. With an equally impressive offensive cast as 2019, the addition of talented Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills, and a head coach that worked wonders with a far less talented quarterback in Minnesota, Mayfield has far less valid excuses if he fizzles out this year. Stefanski knew how to best use both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in his offense, making it more than likely that he will be just as effective with Landry and Beckham. It remains to be seen if he can make Mayfield an effective leader, or if he will fix the discipline issues that the Browns have faced for years, but I believe that will all fall into place. Honestly, given the amount of talent on that team, Stefanski could be half as bad as Kitchens and the Browns will go 10-6.
Not to worry, Browns fans. Mayfield is far from a lost cause. Mayfield has no reason not to shine this year. If he can mature, both as a quarterback and as a leader, and if Stefanski lives up to the hype, Mayfield is set for a very exciting season. Either way, it will be an extremely interesting year for the Browns. At this time next year, the Browns will either be scouting new signal-callers or giving Mayfield a mega-contract. There will be very little wiggle room for both him and Stefanski.
Only time will tell.