The Cleveland Browns Got It Right With Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield isn't Johnny Manziel.
Baker Mayfield is one of the best quarterback prospects of this decade. And the Browns got this one right.
Let's take a look at why Mayfield is worthy of such a lofty pick. It's fair to doubt him, and with the Browns' track record, it's fair to doubt them. But at the end of the day, the Browns may finally have their answer at the most important position.
What the Numbers Say
Statistically, Mayfield is an absolute gem, and he looks like he should have been a no-brainer for the first overall selection. This is true even when you attempt to poke holes in what he did at Oklahoma.
Prior to this season, there have been 48 quarterbacks drafted in the first round from 2000 on. Mayfield's 12.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) in his final season is the best mark of all of those quarterbacks by a mile. The second-best clip was 11.8 by Robert Griffin III.
This would be true for Mayfield compared to any quarterback to play collegiately in the history of the sport. Mayfield set the NCAA record for AY/A during his junior season at 12.3, besting Griffin, who had previously held the record.
Then Mayfield went out and broke it again as a senior.
And all of this does matter. Among "successful" first-round quarterbacks since 2000, the average AY/A in their final year of college is 9.1. For the busts, it's 8.0. That's a major gap, and it means we can put weight into these numbers.
However, because Mayfield compiled those numbers while playing in the Big 12 -- where defense has the reputation of being optional -- it's fair to view them with a bit of skepticism. But that criticism fails to hold water when you actually look at Mayfield's schedule.
Mayfield played 14 games during his final season at Oklahoma; half of those were against teams ranked 50th or better against the pass, according to Football Outsiders' S&P+. Those seven games were tied for second in the class among the top-six passers, tied with Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson and trailing only Sam Darnold. And Mayfield balled out against those defenses.
The table below shows how well the top-six quarterbacks in this class fared against top-50 pass defenses. It should put to rest theories about Mayfield's stats being inflated against inferior foes.
|Versus Top-50 Pass Ds||Attempts||Touchdowns||Interceptions||AY/A|
Not only was Mayfield the best in the class against top-50 pass defenses, but his AY/A against those defenses was better than his full-season sample. And remember, that full-season AY/A is the best in NCAA history. That's another criticism against Mayfield flying down the drain.
The other big knock on about Mayfield -- beyond his crotch-grabbing exploits or height -- is his age. He's the oldest quarterback in this class, and that does matter. It just matters less when it's coupled with Mayfield's levels of experience.
Mayfield had 48 games in college in which he attempted at least 10 passes. Among first-round picks since 2000, that ranks third behind Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers. That's more than enough to make him a top prospect despite his age.
First-round quarterbacks coming off of their age-22 season or older with 35 games of experience in college have been top-15 passers (based on numberFire's Net Expected Points) in 53.57% of their qualified seasons in the NFL. That's a respectable number given the hit rate at quarterback. Passers in this age range with fewer than 35 games of experience have been top-15 passers in just 16.07% of their qualified seasons. Mayfield passes that threshold by a full season.
So you can certainly criticize Mayfield for some of his antics and for not being the prototypical build. But his stats stand up no matter how you slice them, and his experience is a plus rather than a detriment.
What This Means for the Browns
The Browns were already set to be better for fantasy with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. But now with Mayfield, their ceiling may be even higher.
One of the big criticisms of Mayfield coming out of Oklahoma was that he had elite talent surrounding him in college. That's not necessarily untrue.
But now, Mayfield steps into a situation that is much better than Cleveland's 0-16 record from a year ago would indicate. In addition to holdovers Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, and David Njoku, the team added Jarvis Landry in the offseason. With the Browns' veteran interior offensive line and Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson at running back, this offense has assets. They just needed a quarterback to lead the way.
Assuming the Browns are able to address the massive gap at left tackle stemming from the retirement of Joe Thomas, there aren't many holes in this offense. They could turn some heads in a hurry.
Mayfield may not start from day one with Taylor there. But he has gobs of experience entering the NFL, meaning he should be ready to start if they deem him to be the best option. If that does happen, not only will the assets in the Cleveland offense be set up for success, but so will Mayfield as a fantasy asset.
Mayfield enters this draft with comparisons to Manziel. But he carries a surefire pedigree, an efficient resume in college, and the Browns felt good enough to use the first overall pick on him. He may enter being compared to Manziel, but he may exit as the guy who finally turned around the floundering Browns' franchise.