Ethan Hewett | July 26th, 2019
For the first time since 2010, the Cleveland Browns finally can say that they are not the worst team in the AFC North. Finishing 7-8-1 last year gave them third place in their division and their best record since 2014 (7-9). While this was partly due to the firing of former Head Coach Hue Jackson, and former Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, we need to give a lot of credit to Baker Mayfield. Baker took the league by storm starting in Week 3 against the New York Jets. Now the number one overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft is in the running for Most Valuable Player. Should we believe the hype? Whenever there is a question about a guy’s on-field performance, the best answer is to turn to the film, and that is exactly what we did to answer the question of whether or not we should believe the hype around Baker Mayfield.
Current NFL MVP odds: +1400
If you’ve been paying attention to the NFL at all, you know that the Browns have a lot of expectations, hype, and talent. Where does it all start? The quarterback. Baker has become probably one of the most popular and polarizing quarterbacks in the National Football League. This is due mostly to off the field shenanigans and Baker’s go big or go home personality, but on the field, I’d like to make a case here as to why the hype for Baker could definitely be real. While there is a couple of things that Baker can improve upon, the tools and talent are there. Let’s get into the film, shall we?
First off, after watching most of Baker’s 2018 season, it’s safe to say that he dealt with some typical rookie complications, such as decision making at times, rolling out instead of stepping up, and occasional misfires. However, when Baker stepped up or made the right decision it was incredible to watch. Let’s talk about the biggest thing. Accuracy.
I feel like Baker’s accuracy is somewhat underrated. This might be due to his completion percentage only being 63.4% in 2018 but time and time again Baker delivered accurate throws. The stats don’t lie either as according to Pro Football Focus Baker threw 41.4% percent of his throws inside his receivers frame. This put him sixth in the league in that category.
A great example of this trait showed up in week 4 against the Oakland Raiders. During the first quarter, the Browns were driving, and they found themselves with a third and twelve on Oakland’s 34-yard line. Baker dropped back, stood in the pocket and delivered a well-timed beautifully placed pass on a deep-in route to Rashard Higgins, leading him away from the defender into the open field for the first down.
Later on in the year against the Carolina Panthers in week 14, again Baker showed his accuracy. On first and ten in their own territory, the Browns ran a dagger concept to Baker’s left (a common hi-lo read). The Panthers dropped into a Cover-3 Zone look, leaving a linebacker to chase David Njoku on his corner route. Baker read it well and threw a pass that only Njoku could catch for a big gain.
This accuracy can mostly be attributed to Baker’s mechanics. Having played an almost full four years in college under two quarterback friendly coaches in Kliff Kingsbury and Lincoln Riley, Baker was able to really polish up his fundamentals. Of course, there is always room for improvement as often times we would see passes that would fly over receivers heads or be several feet in front of the target. So while I do praise Baker on his accuracy and mechanics, there were times where his mechanics would slip up and cause a wild throw. I would only like to see more consistency.
Speaking of accuracy, Baker has earned to already be one of the better deep-ball throwers in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, Baker attempted 72 passes of 20 yards or more in 2018, having an adjusted completion percentage of 51%. While this may partly be because I’m currently reading Bruce Arians’ book “The Quarterback Whisperer,” I like a quarterback who has the guts to take the shot downfield when he has the right look. I got what I wanted in week 14 against the Panthers.
With 8:51 seconds remaining in the first quarter, down by seven it was third and seventeen. As Baker dropped back it was clear the Panthers were defending the sticks, playing man outside and dropping their linebackers into zone coverage around the first down markers with one high safety. Running a verticals concept, Baker moved outside to avoid the pressure, saw his man, Jarvis Landry, starting to break open over his defender on a fly route, and delivered an incredible deep ball into what became a rather tight window for the touchdown. While he could have dumped it off to his tight end, most likely for a first down, he saw the look he wanted and went for it. Beautiful motion, placement, and then a great catch from Landry.
Of course, as we discussed with Patrick Mahomes previously, what comes with this desire to throw downfield, also come moments when you find yourself yelling at your TV screen at the quarterback saying “DUMP IT OFF!” I found myself doing this a handful of times while watching Baker. Times where the deep concept either didn’t go as planned or it was too late. This is where we start to notice that Baker didn’t always make the best decisions and would force the ball downfield.
Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens gave us a couple of these plays. While I like the quarterback to take his shot, I’d prefer it not be when the cornerback is running step for step and has great positioning on the receiver. On first and ten in the first quarter, Baker and the Browns came out in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) with two receivers right. They had Antonio Callaway run a fly down the left sideline with Landry running a drag route underneath. Baker chose to go for Callaway who did not have any separation and the cornerback was all over him. Landry, on the other hand, was about to be in prime position for a good chunk of yardage. I thought if only Baker shifted slightly to his right, and made the throw underneath. Just that half-second adjustment could have made a 10-15 yard difference.
Another play later in the game, nearing the end of the third quarter. In the red zone on first down, positive yardage is all you can ask for. As you would expect at this position on the field, the Ravens were playing man coverage, so the play design to have two receivers act as a pick worked perfectly. However, Baker didn’t see it. Njoku crushed one defender leaving Higgins wide open on a crossing route to Baker’s left. Instead, he went for the back of the end zone and missed high.
Both of these plays against the Ravens showed two things, Baker’s decision making and the ability to shift ever so slightly in the pocket. That kind of movement is what makes guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees so good. So if Baker can learn to shift in the pocket more instead of bailing out to his right or left, his production and play could sky-rocket. Not to mention that it would cause Baker to stop making plays harder than they need to be.
While the talent on the field is evident, I have to mention the impact that Baker has made on the Browns. He has become the face of the franchise in less than a year. He oozes confidence and that can really make an impact on the guys around you for the better. His big-time personality is exactly what a stale and what some would call a “cursed” franchise needed. While he may have a few quotes that are hard to digest, the intentions are good. Baker wants to take this team to the Super Bowl, that much is clear.
With returning starters in Landry, Njoku, and Nick Chubb along with new weapons around him in Odell Beckham Jr, and eventually Kareem Hunt, this offense could be one of the best in 2019. If Baker can improve upon his consistency and can continue to mold well with new Head Coach Freddie Kitchens, I find it hard to argue against his odds for MVP this year and for a playoff berth. This season should show a lot of improvement for Baker, and he should only continue to get better as his career progresses.
Check out the other NFL Film Review of 2019 MVP Favorites: Patrick Mahomes| Andrew Luck|Drew Brees
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