Baker Mayfield woke up feeling dangerous.
His talent and moxie at the quarterback position is something that hasn’t been seen by Cleveland Browns fans since the glory days of Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe under center.
Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and the first overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, had lofty expectations on his shoulders heading into the season. Anyone who doubted his ability to perform at the highest level eventually changed their tune by season’s end.
It is clear that Mayfield’s performance as a rookie shows that he can at the very least be a productive pro quarterback for years to come. But the remains: was his season great enough to take home the Offensive Rookie of the Year award?
The criteria for winning his award should involve two different phases of the game. Voters must take into account the on-the-field performance of a player because numbers never lie. But another interesting factor in the decision-making process should be how the player led their respective team, and any other impact they had that wasn’t necessarily shown on the field.
While the 2018 draft class was loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball including the likes of Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, and undrafted running back Phillip Lindsay, the race for OROY is thought to be a two-man race between Mayfield and Saquon Barkley.
Baker Mayfield: 3,725 yards, 27 TD’s, 14 INT’s, 63.8 completion percentage
Saquon Barkley: 261 attempts, 1,307 rushing yards, 91 rec., 721 yards, 15 total TD’s (11 rushing, four passing)
Mayfield didn’t start the first three games of the season and threw for a respectable 1,471 yards to go with eight touchdowns and six interceptions in his first five-and-a-half games. After Week 8, Mayfield threw for over 2,200 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions, en route to a rookie quarterback record 27 touchdown passes.
Mayfield’s stellar second half of the season gave the Browns a 5-2 record over their last seven games, including a season sweep of in-state rival Cincinnati and a primetime win in Denver.
On the other side, Barkley had a monster season. His 1,307 yards rushing the regular season ranked second in the NFL, behind only Ezekiel Elliot. Also, His eleven touchdowns on the ground put him fifth in the NFL during the regular season. Barkley also broke a few records of his own, including the Giants rookie rushing touchdown record, and Reggie Bush’s rookie running back receptions record.
Barkley was one of two offensive rookies to make the Pro Bowl, as Colts guard Quenton Nelson also joined him in Orlando.
After just one season, Barkley has already slipped himself into the elite running back conversation, and he has proven to be a generational talent in the backfield. All signs should point to Barkley winning the OROY award, right? Nope.
The quarterback is viewed as the most important position on the field. The mental and physical skill the position requires is next to none in sports. With great power comes great responsibility, and Mayfield took that power and ran with it.
The Oklahoma product got drafted number one overall to a historically inept franchise coming off of the worst season a professional sports team could possibly have. To make it worse, the Browns hadn’t had a winning record since the 2007 season, and have gone through five head coaches since the 2011 season (newly-hired Freddie Kitchens is the sixth head coach since that time).
Mayfield entered into a situation that no quarterback has been able to crack since the expansion Browns come back to the shores of Lake Erie. After losing both Hue Jackson and Todd Haley midway through the season, many thought the toxicity of the organization would kill his career. He was set up to fail, and nobody, not even Browns fans, would’ve been surprised to see him do just that. But he did not.
Mayfield stared adversity in the face and led his squad to seven wins, six more wins than the previous two seasons combined. His leadership in Cleveland is something that cannot really be quantified for analytical purposes, but it is evident in the culture change for the Browns.
While Barkley performed at an elite level in his rookie year, Baker’s leadership and effectiveness in stepping into a bad situation in Cleveland are what separates him from the rest of the field.