The Curious Case of Baker Mayfield; Trending Upward in 2020
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Who is Baker Mayfield? Mayfield has had a very interesting start to his career to be perfectly honest. Taking an 0-16 team in year one to 7-8-1 for a coach who did not give him a chance to start until Tyrod Taylor got injured. I’m an honest man, so here are the facts. After the start of his third season, Mayfield will have played for 4 Head Coaches, 4 Offensive Coordinators, and 2 General Managers (New HC Kevin Stefanski, OC Alex Van Pelt & GM Andrew Berry in 2020). What a tumultuous beginning to a career to say the least. With all that being said, he managed to break the all time rookie passing touchdown mark in just 14 games in his rookie year (27). 2019 was built with massive anticipation after Odell Beckham Jr. was acquired in the offseason. The talent Cleveland had assembled around their young quarterback going into his second season was something to be marveled at. Of course, we all know what happened. A gravely disappointing season that resulted in the loss of another coach and general manager, on top of Mayfield taking a major step back in Year 2.
Baker Mayfield has been taking a ton of heat this offseason (mostly warranted). You may be asking yourself if I am a Baker defender. I promise you that I wanted Sam Darnold in 2018 (after going back and forth on Darnold/Rosen/Allen). I’m here to compare year 1 and year 2, and why I believe he is ready for a breakout fantasy year.
(Image via Pro Football Network)
1. Improved offensive line:
One area that John Dorsey failed to improve was the offensive line. Andrew Berry has come in and made that a high area of emphasis in 2020. The moves made this offseason clearly show that they believe in Mayfield. Overpaying the top tackle on the market (RT, Jack Conklin) tells me that they are ready to compete now. Selecting Jedrick Wills (LT, Alabama) with the #10 overall pick gives the Browns a left tackle for the future. The only weak spot on that line currently is at right guard, provided everyone stays healthy. According to PFF, Cleveland had the 23rd best offensive line in 2019, which was a huge step back from 2nd in 2018. This fact alone should tell you that Mayfield’s problems were not his alone. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Better offensive line play = More fantasy points for the QB. One statistic I found particularly interesting was PktTime (Average time the QB had in the pocket between the snap and throwing the ball or pressures collapses in the pocket, in seconds). Mayfield ranked in the bottom tier in both of his seasons with an average of 2.2 seconds in 2018 & 2.3 seconds in 2019. How can such a similar PktTime produce such opposite seasons? This stat leads into my next point.
(Image via The Riot Report)
2. Offensive Scheme Under Kevin Stefanski:
Kirk Cousins had his most efficient season under Kevin Stefanski in 2019. You could argue that the offense was based off of Gary Kubiak’s system, but there is no doubt Stefanski played a large part in Minnesota’s success. In 2019, Cousins saw career highs in touchdown percentage (5.9%), interception percentage (1.4%), and quarterback rating (107.4). Everything in Stefanski’s offense in 2019 was based off the run. Utilizing the play action passing game will be one of the biggest reasons that Mayfield plays better this season. Properly utilizing the two-headed-monster of Chubb and Hunt will help the offensive line against over-aggressive blitzes. Mayfield has been extremely successful in the play action game during his brief career. In 2018, Kitchens continuously put Mayfield in terrible situations and drives consistently featured 2nd/3rd and longs with a poor pass protecting line. With an offense more focused on the running game, combined with shorter distances on second and third down, Mayfield will have more success in 2020.
3. Technique/Coaching Changes:
A story broke on NFL.com in February by Nick Shook (Around the NFL) that new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was making some changes to Mayfield’s footwork. Van Pelt referenced his new footwork style “to be like Mozart, not Metallica.” It’s clear that footwork may have been another issue that plauged Mayfield last season. The change is going to be in the lead foot at the snap. Baker will now lead with his left foot, which will hopefully prevent any issues going forward with his technique. Ven Pelt has also stated that he believes this change should help Mayfield complete 64% or more of his passes as that seems to be his target goal for 2020.
To give you an example of his past setup, here is a capture of Week 15 of his rookie year at Denver. Notice his right foot as the lead foot in the shotgun.
The change Van Pelt is hoping to make can be seen here with Andy Dalton, whom he worked with in 2018-19. You’ll see Dalton with his left foot as the lead foot in the shotgun.
With all this being said, I believe Baker Mayfield is set up for a top 15 QB fantasy season in 2020. The combination of an improved offensive line, more comfortable offensive scheme, and a change in footwork will answer any questions people have about Mayfield as he is set to enter his 3rd season as the Browns quarterback.