Evaluating 2018's NFL Rookie Quarterbacks
Even when you include the time before the Cleveland Browns forced Hue Jackson and Todd Haley out of town, Baker Mayfield was a dangerous man in 2018.
Mayfield finished his rookie season ranked 20th in Passing NEP per drop back, best among rookies by more than 10 spots. This put him ahead of vets like Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr, as well, meaning Mayfield's already smelling pretty.
As you know by now, things look even better when we look at the Freddie Kitchens era. Here's that breakdown for Mayfield with "Passing NEP/P" being short for Passing NEP per drop back and "Success Rate" being the percentage of drop backs that increased the team's expected points for the drive.
|Mayfield in 2018||TDs||INTs||Passing NEP/P||Success Rate|
|Under Todd Haley||8||6||-0.06||41.1%|
|Under Freddie Kitchens||19||8||0.27||52.2%|
If Mayfield had averaged 0.27 Passing NEP per drop back for the entire season, he would have ranked fourth in the league behind Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers. His 52.2% Success Rate would have ranked seventh. This dude was slinging darts, and it's frightening to think what he could do in year two.
There are a couple of things worth noting with Mayfield that will be worth monitoring as we head into 2019.
The first is that Mayfield basically went untouched down the stretch. He was sacked just five times in games with Kitchens calling plays, which is an unsustainable number. Both Passing NEP per drop back and Success Rate account for sacks, and additional marks in that department next year could cause him to slide backwards a bit.
The other noteworthy aspect is the schedule that Mayfield faced in this stretch. Of his eight games under Kitchens, only two came against defenses ranked in the top 15 in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, numberFire's schedule-adjusted metric to measure overall team pass defense. He faced a softer schedule, so you should expect him to succeed there.
On the scheduling note, Mayfield offered a pretty solid rebuttal in the season finale. Facing numberFire's top-ranked pass defense in the Baltimore Ravens, Mayfield finished with 10.27 Passing NEP. It was his fourth-best game by that metric and one of only five double-digit Passing NEP efforts against the Ravens for the full season.
There's a partial counterpoint to the sack argument, as well. This entire surge happened when the team replaced undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison at left tackle with Greg Robinson. Robinson's a former high-end pick, but he's already on his third team in five seasons. The talent at the most important spot on the line wasn't exactly All-Pro level, and Mayfield still was able to avoid sacks.
The team's interior is elite, and they've now got an offseason to upgrade their tackles. While Mayfield likely won't be able to remain upright as often as he did under Kitchens this year, it seems doubtful things will get as bad as they were when Harrison was starting.
The Browns have a projected $75 million in cap space to toy with this offseason, according to Spotrac, meaning they'll have the cash to get some upgrades at tackle and at receiver. Mayfield was fantastic this year even with some shortcomings at those positions. Pieces of the Browns' offense don't figure to be sneaky in fantasy in 2019, and bettors will likely realize the potential of Mayfield in his second season. Even with that being true, optimism around this squad will likely be justified based on what we saw this past year.