Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Baker Mayfield … offensive Rookie of the Year candidate?

browns baker rookie camp

The Cleveland Browns have high expectations for quarterback Baker Mayfield, which is reasonable considering that they made him the No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Browns are not the only ones expecting big things from Mayfield, as Pro Football Focus has tapped Mayfield as a candidate to be named the top offensive Rookie of the Year, writing that:

If and when he gets on the field, he has the play to earn himself rookie of the year. His career passer rating when kept clean in college was a ludicrous 134.3, which is more than 15.0 points higher than any of the other top prospects this season managed in their best single season. That play from a clean pocket has been shown by PFF’s data to be the most predictive of success from college to the NFL, but if you were concerned about play under pressure, it’s the same story there. Mayfield’s career rating under pressure is 116.1, and only one other passer topped 100.0 over his best single season (Sam Darnold in 2016 had a 101.0 rating). Mayfield was the best college prospect of this group by a distance, and should he force his way onto the field there’s no reason to hop off that bandwagon now.

Browns general manager John Dorsey made the easy call in selecting Mayfield, who is far more accurate than Josh Allen (who went to the Buffalo Bills at No. 7), protects the ball better than Sam Darnold (No. 3 overall to the New York Jets), and destroyed Josh Rosen (No. 10 to the Arizona Cardinals) in every statistical category.

But Mayfield being named the league’s best offensive rookie may not currently be high on the Browns wish list.

The plan, for now, is to let veteran Tyrod Taylor run the offense to start the season while Mayfield works out the few kinks in his game – most notably his footwork while taking a snap from under center, something he rarely did in college but will be asked to do on a semi-regular basis with the Browns.

It is a sound plan as Taylor is the best bridge quarterback the Browns have signed since Gary Danielson in 1985. Taylor is accurate (62.6 completion rate in three years as a starter with the Buffalo Bills), does not turn the ball over (16 interceptions in 43 starts for the Bills), and is in the final year of his contract, which should be a nice motivator to show teams he is worthy of starting for them in 2019.

Of course, Browns fans have seen that plan before, most notably with Tim Couch in 1999, and it has not ended well. There was also last year’s baggy pants farce where head coach Hue Jackson dumped viable veteran options in Josh McCown and Brock Osweiler and then named DeShone Kizer the starter for Week 1 even though he was not ready.

Taylor, along with the very large presence of Dorsey, should keep Jackson from repeating that mistake again this year, but it will still be a surprise if Mayfield does not see the field at some point this fall.

Couch was the last Cleveland quarterback to start a full 16-game season, and that was in 2001. Taylor also takes a lot of sacks – 124 with the Bills – and if that continues with the Browns it is not hard to envision him going down with an injury.

A more realistic scenario is that Taylor plays well enough to stabilize the position, but the combination of the Browns still needing work and a tough schedule has the team sitting at 3-7 heading into the bye week. The Browns then insert Mayfield into the lineup and don’t look back.

Six games of Mayfield as the starter would be a nice way to head into the offseason, even if it might not be enough to earn Mayfield a nod as the league’s best offensive rookie.

The Browns may be heading into the season with a plan to have Taylor be the starter for all 16 games, but if the situation changes and Mayfield plays well enough to earn rookie honors, it is doubtful that anyone in Berea will be all that upset.

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