Cleveland Browns: Stats say that Baker Mayfield improved all three years

Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /

It will help Baker Mayfield to have the same system in place two years in a row with the Cleveland Browns.

The numbers verify what the experts have been telling us — the Cleveland Browns have given Baker Mayfield four head coaches, and four offensive coordinators in three years and there is a learning curve that has to be overcome each time. There’s a price to be paid each time the team decides to blow things up and hit the reset button.

The quarterback really does need to have those 1,000 reps with his wide receivers in the offseason. He doesn’t play at his best in Week 1 with a new offense.

Consequently, there’s a definite statistical improvement that can be seen in Mayfield’s stats each year of his career with the Browns. Each year, Mayfield got better game after game, only to reach the end of the season and have the Browns blow it up again and start over. As a result, Mayfield has taken a few steps back in his development and has actually gotten worse each time for a while.

It’s not a continuous improvement if the team installs a new offense. If the Browns ever would be stable enough to have the same quarterback, same offensive coordinator, and same head coach, you might see something really good happen in Cleveland. That’s what the numbers say. In 2021, we might actually get that for the first time in forever.

To investigate this phenomenon, Mayfield’s game-by-game passer rating is plotted in Excel using data for each game by Pro Football Reference. The trend is clear for all three years of his brief career. His rating has been much higher by the end of the season than at the beginning of the season, which is exactly what should be expected for a young quarterback, or even a veteran quarterback, in an unfamiliar offense with a new coaching staff.

For several years, the Browns got in a rut in which they thought that quarterbacks peaked about two to four weeks into their rookie campaign. They had to start Brandon Weeden as a rookie, but that was because he was so old when they drafted him (28), he was almost old enough to retire, by NFL standards. Really.

Then, they could not wait to play Johnny Manziel who left school two years early (“Such maturity! So impressive! What poise! We must play him immediately! Set our draft priorities to make sure we don’t need another first-round quarterback!”).

Likewise, they would not give late-round rookies Cody Kessler or Kevin Hogan any time to make it after their rookie seasons, and then DeShone Kiser figured to be ready after skipping two years of college eligibility. The fan base, and — who knows — the front office seemed to believe that quarterbacks complete their development about a month into the rookie season, so if the kid had not made it by then, they were looking for a replacement.

In Mayfield’s case, he had four years of Power Five conference ball plus one year in which he sat out due to totally unfair transfer rules. He was at least ready to play if not actually at his peak.

In 2018, Mayfield had a brilliant game versus the New York Jets when made his debut in relief of Tyrod Taylor. After that, he cooled off and in a limited data sample, was not performing well for former head coach Hue Jackson (one win as a starter). After Jackson was let go midseason, Mayfield caught fire. Theories abound as to why.

Partly it was because Mayfield needed time to catch on to the offense. Also, Gregg Williams has the reputation as a highly intelligent if unorthodox defensive coach, but he was a college quarterback and former head coach and he may know more about offense than people realize. The uptrend was obvious.

2019 was a disaster in the Todd Monken offense under head coach Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield’s early-season numbers were among the lowest in the NFL, but he showed improvement by the end of the year. Still, his overall ranking was good for only 31st in the NFL — among qualifiers.

Once again, in 2020 the Browns blew it up and started over, and the offense struggled at times early on. Mayfield’s passer rating again trended upwards.

Folks, this is normal.  There is a price to be paid for starting over and having to install a new offense. Giving Baker Mayfield a chance to have a second straight year with the same coaching staff and his fourth straight year with the same team is going to make a difference.