Browns’ Baker Mayfield should be much more efficient in red zone
By Dan Gilinsky
Baker Mayfield should be considerably better in the red zone for the Cleveland Browns in 2020.
In 2019, Baker Mayfield did not have the season he and the Cleveland Browns were hoping for.
He had the third-lowest completion percentage among qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL at 59.4 percent and threw the second-most interceptions in the league with 21.
It was not all Mayfield’s fault, no. Cleveland’s pass protection, and from tackles Chris Hubbard and Greg Robinson to a large degree, was far from stellar. Plus then-head coach Freddie Kitchens had his share of brain farts in terms of play-calling.
Nonetheless, what did jump out, though, regarding Mayfield, was his red-zone struggles. Mayfield had a completion percentage of just 40.54 percent in the red zone. That ranked essentially last among regular NFL starting quarterbacks.
Additionally, Mayfield threw the most red-zone interceptions in 2019 with three, according to Pro Football Reference.
Albeit one of those was off the hands of former Browns wideout Antonio Callaway, whose hands were often shaky. Some other Mayfield picks last season were from tipped balls as well, but not all were especially catchable, though.
Anyway, looking at next season, Mayfield’s red zone play should be much better for the Cleveland Browns.
With David Njoku, who only appeared in four games last season due to a wrist injury, hopefully healthy next year, that should be huge for Mayfield. Njoku tied with then-Callaway in 2018 for the team lead in red-zone touchdowns with four, and as DPD’s Elliot Kennel recently pointed out regarding that, he has “a great rapport with Mayfield.”
Having him back, and more so with the threat of Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., and Nick Chubb, should give Mayfield a favorable matchup often singled up.
In addition, having Austin Hooper, who like Njoku, is 6-foot-4, should pay dividends for Mayfield in the red zone as well. Hooper has great hands, and in traffic, too, and he was tied for third in the NFL last season for the Atlanta Falcons with six red-zone receiving touchdowns.
With newer Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski’s ability to feature tight ends, too, Mayfield should have plenty of red-zone mismatches involving Njoku and Hooper at his disposal.
Along with that, even while Nick Chubb will get his rushing touches inside the 20, and feasibly Kareem Hunt, Hunt should aid Mayfield as a pass-catcher in the red area in a sizable way. Hunt is a polished route runner for a running back, has receiver-type hands, and having him more in the fold alongside those other weapons should be big for Mayfield.
Even if defenses bracket Beckham and/or Landry to an extent in the red zone, Mayfield should have enough around him to be much more efficient down there in 2020.
Look for Hooper, Njoku, and Hunt to be key difference-makers next season in the red area for Cleveland and Mayfield. Improved pass protection, from Jack Conklin and also Jedrick Wills Jr. at the starting tackle spots, most notably, and play-action game should be factored in with that as well, for context.
Moreover, if Mayfield doesn’t get it done in the red zone in 2020 for the Cleveland Browns, that’s seemingly all on him. That’s barring significant injury to playmakers/the offensive line, of course.