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Thomas: Is Baker Mayfield a good NFL quarterback?

| Tuesday, October 15, 2019

If you want evidence of how hyped Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns were coming into this season, look no further than my brother’s fantasy football draft. Now granted, this was my brother’s first foray into fantasy football, so he can be forgiven for not having an expert-level approach to his draft. Faced with the third overall pick, my brother passed on running backs and wide receivers such as Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, and DeAndre Hopkins in order to take a quarterback. 

You may reason that Patrick Mahomes is a special talent, and some people did jump to take him in the first round. Maybe if that’s who my brother took, you could justify his actions. Rather, he selected Baker Mayfield. Later on, when I confronted him about this highly questionable decision, my brother’s reasoning amounted to, “I heard he was good, and Odell [Beckham Jr.] is on the Browns.”

While I won’t rip on my inexperienced brother much more, his reasoning for selecting Baker reflects much of the hype that surrounded Mayfield and his squad entering the 2019 season. Even the most casual of NFL fans had heard this was Cleveland’s year, that Baker was a potential MVP and that paired with Odell Beckham, Nick Chubb, and Jarvis Landry, the Browns would have the most lethal offense in the NFL. And yet, six games into the season, the Browns sit at 2-4, one half game worse than their 2-3-1 mark a year ago. 

So what happened? Where did the hype feel free to meet reality? 

Personally, I was never enthralled with the Browns. I thought they would be decent, and probably playoff contenders, but not the Super Bowl dark horse everyone made them out to be. Mayfield, while he delivered a promising rookie campaign, put forth just a 6-7 record as a starter. I believed more in Mayfield’s college coach Lincoln Riley than I believed in Baker. Riley is on his way towards developing a third-straight Heisman Trophy winner, while Mayfield has not truly established himself as a premier signal caller since leaving Oklahoma. Baker was solid in his rookie campaign, putting up a 93.7 passer rating, but he largely capitalized on a bevy of soft defenses. Against teams with winning records, Mayfield threw 10 touchdowns, but also tossed up 11 interceptions. While Mayfield got more credit than he was due, it was largely an easy schedule and strong defense that carried Cleveland down the stretch. 

Regardless, Baker and the Browns entered an offseason full of hype, during which they acquired Beckham Jr., making them “instant Super Bowl contenders.” During this time, Baker also began building his brand. Mayfield’s Instagram page is chock-full of numerous advertisements he has appeared in, as he quickly became one of the most recognizable faces in professional football. It was a lot of off-the-field work for a quarterback who, in my opinion, had not truly cemented himself as a high-quality starter in the league. Then week one of the season came, and the world watched as Baker threw three interceptions, getting pummeled by the Tennessee Titans 42-13 at home. 

Following the initial beatdown, Cleveland has had some good moments, but the Browns, and Baker, have been largely far worse than expected. They beat the Jets in week two, but they only scored 23 points. They put up just 13 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and then a measly field goal against the 49ers two weeks later. Last week, the Browns started the game with three consecutive touchdowns, but managed just eight points in the final three quarters as a large lead slipped into a second straight loss. Taking out a 40-point performance against the Ravens in week four, the Browns have averaged just 16 points per game in their other five contests this year, as they sit at 2-4 with an 0-3 record at home. Baker himself has thrown just five TDs to 11 picks, putting up an ugly 66.0 passer rating. 

So the questions still linger: Are the Browns truly a good team? Is Baker Mayfield a good NFL quarterback? His 8-11 record as a starter and ugly start to this season are not promising, but he certainly still has time to turn this season around. But does the former walk-on have the ability to do it? Or has the glow of this former Heisman winner faded as he gets further and further from Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma. The Browns don’t have too much time to wait and find out.

And, for the record, neither does my brother: he dropped Baker in favor of Josh Allen and Teddy Bridgewater a week ago.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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