Browns fans: before you freak out, read what I have to say.
During the 2019 NFL off-season one of the biggest storylines has been the rise of the Cleveland Browns, and at the center of that rise is Baker Mayfield. Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft no one was as high on Baker as I was. I had him as the #1 QB and overall player in that draft and I said he would be the guy to lift the Browns out of the deep hole they dug themselves over the last two decades. With that said, I have recently realized that the public’s opinion has moved so far during 14 months since then that I am now lower on Baker than the average NFL fan. After just one season fans and analysts alike are rushing to call Baker the NFL’s next superstar, and I think we need to pump the brakes a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Baker is a good QB and will continue to get better, but we need to slow down on the Baker hype for two reasons: one season isn’t a big enough body of work and that one season we saw wasn’t as great as people think it was.
Baker had some really good stats especially for a rookie: 9th in TD’s per game, 11th in TD%, and leading the Browns to an unthinkable amount of wins (7). Baker also had some average stats that should move to above average as he gets more experience: 17th in yards per game and 19th in rating. But we cannot gloss over some glaring stats he needs a lot of work on: 9th in INT% and 24th in completion percentage.
Again, those stats are pretty solid for a rookie and the last two should improve the most as efficiency often comes with experience, but my point is those stats don’t jump out as someone who is guaranteed to be a superstar. When thinking about a worst case scenario for Baker I can’t help but think of another former Heisman winner and #1 overall pick: Jameis Winston. Here is a side by side of their rookie year stats.
Baker Mayfield (2018): 63% cmp, 266.1 y/g, 27 TD, 14 INT, 55.7 QBR
Jameis Winston (2015): 58% cmp, 252.6 y/g, 22 TD, 15 INT, 61.1 QBR
Baker’s rookie stats are slightly better than Jameis’, but not enough to establish a clear-cut difference between Baker’s future and where Jameis’ career has gone. In addition, both played their rookie season in a year of turmoil at the head coaching position- Freddie Kitchens replaced Hue Jackson early on in the season while Lovie Smith was continuously on the hot seat and eventually fired immediately after the 2015 season.
With Baker entering his first training camp as the starter and with a Kitchens as the clear HC of the future, he should be able to improve on his rookie campaign. In addition, Baker has OBJ to throw to this year. All signs are pointing toward Baker having a very good season, but my point is that we need to slow down. Baker is good and should eventually be very good or even great, but he has not shown anything that can justify people certifying him as a lock to be elite or a superstar or any of that just yet.