Year 3 for Baker Mayfield is certainly crucial for the Cleveland Browns franchise quarterback — and that’s an understatement. After a season in which Mayfield finished 31st out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks in interception percentage (3.9) and passer rating (78.8), the Browns signal-caller is on his third head coach in three years with Kevin Stefanski coming into the fold. That means the former No. 1 overall pick is learning his third offensive system since he entered the NFL.
The early results for Mayfield: so far, so good.
“The more plays we run in this camp to see what the identity is, we’re starting to see what’s working for us,” Mayfield said after practice Friday, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “I’m starting to feel way more comfortable. It’s been great to go through installs for the first time and put everything under our belt for the first time. We’re really starting to make progress, which needs to happen. We know the sense of urgency is at an all-time high.”
Mayfield was arguably the worst quarterback in football last season. In addition to his poor rankings above, Mayfield also finished 31st in completion percentage (59.4) while having just one fourth quarter comeback and one game-winning drive all season. This season is certainly a career-defining one for Mayfield, as the Browns may be forced to start looking for another long-term plan at quarterback if Mayfield plays as poorly as he did in 2019.
There is hope Mayfield is going to turn a corner, thanks to Stefanski’s offensive system benefiting a major strength of Cleveland’s quarterback. Stefanski’s strength is using the play action pass and getting his quarterbacks out of the pocket and throwing outside the hashmarks, which greatly helps Mayfield, who was highly successful running those schemes at the University of Oklahoma. The Browns have enough talent at the running back position to sell the play action with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, relying on the outside zone to take the pressure off Mayfield.
Mayfield threw an average of 33.4 pass attempts per game last season, good for 10th in the NFL. In his rookie season, Mayfield actually threw more passes in his starts, an average of 35.6 pass attempts per game. That shouldn’t be an issue with Stefanski, as Kirk Cousins averaged just 29.6 attempts per game in his 15 starts. The Browns threw the ball 59.6% of their offensive plays in 2019 while the Vikings were just at 50.9% passes, a major difference in how the offenses functioned.
Less pressure on Mayfield and a heavier focus on the run game should benefit him and cut down the interception rate. The Browns quarterback is facing his third chance at NFL success. For the Browns’ sake, the franchise is hoping it’s not another swing and a miss.