Why Baker Mayfield will fully breakout In 2021

Browns QB Baker Mayfield will shine in 2021

By: Michael Welsh

The NFL career for Baker Mayfield has been somewhat of a rollercoaster. In his 2018 rookie year, he set the rookie record for passing touchdowns with 27 (which has since been broken by Justin Herbert in 2020), and lead the previous winless browns to a 7-8-1 record. Baker made countless impressive throws and looked like anything but a rookie almost all season. After that electric rookie season, the future looked bright for Mayfield.

Expectations skyrocketed in the 2019 off-season when the Browns traded for superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Fan favorite Freddie Kitchens was named the head coach and suddenly, the Browns were being talked about as legitimate Super Bowl Contenders. Hype surrounded Baker Mayfield as he appeared near the top in MVP odds, as many expected him to throw for 40 touchdowns and 4,500 yards. Unfortunately, Cleveland fell well short of expectations and finished 6-10 in 2019. Baker Mayfield was quickly painted as a “one read QB” and became known as a guy who was snarky with reporters and added to the many distractions from the team that year. Baker finished with 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

Anyone who watched every Browns game knew that Baker wasn’t the real problem in 2019. It was the coaching, scheme, lack of preparation, and the offensive line. Some of the blame can be put on Baker, who admitted after the season that some of the players, himself included, thought it would come together a lot easier and they assumed they would be great. You still have to put the work in, and Baker learned that the hard way. Shortly after the season ended, Freddie Kitchens and General Manager John Dorsey were fired, and Cleveland began doing something that they know all too well: looking for a coach.

What looked like a bright future quickly saw the lights go out, and people began to speculate if Baker was the guy to lead the Browns to success. A lot of that was warranted, but some of it became too harsh of a narrative for someone who had a great rookie season not long ago. Plenty of quarterbacks have sophomore slumps, so why immediately write Baker off? The answer is simple… He plays in Cleveland, and with how bad they have been for so long, getting respect from the league and media is very challenging.

In 2020 the Browns hired Kevin Stefanski as the head coach and Andrew Berry as the General Manager. The hires of them were liked around the league, but per usual we just needed to see it to truly know. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, Stefanski had his work cut out for him with an unprecedented off-season. One of his biggest tasks was fixing Baker Mayfield. Stefanski and new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt found numerous ways to help Baker, such as changing his footwork and throwing motion. The most promising part of it all is the offense Stefanski wanted to run played to Baker’s strengths so well.

Doubters of Mayfield were silenced after he finished the 2020 season with 26 touchdowns, only 8 interceptions, and a top-10 Pro Football Focus 81.6 grade. He also leads the Browns to their first playoff victory since 1994 and looked impressive in the postseason overall, even in their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. He looked comfortable in the offense, especially on the back half of the season when he finished with 20 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions from week 7 on. He was playing as well as Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in the second half of the year and that isn’t a fluke. Baker has had the traits of a great QB for years, he just needed the right coach to unlock them.

So now all of this brings us to 2021. Coming off an 11-5 record and bolstering the defense all off-season, the Super Bowl expectations are real this time around, unlike 2019, and Baker is poised to full break out. What makes it different this time? There are a few things that factor into it.

The most important factor is there isn’t a coaching change. Baker will have the same head coach in back to back years since 2015-2016. Think about that… Baker has faced adversity a lot in his career, but now he finally has stability and an evolving playbook to learn, instead of a completely new one. In addition to that, there was no turnover on any of the coaching staff or the starting offense. They are completely running it back, which is rare in this league. Baker will be very comfortable in 2021.

One of the weaknesses of the Browns offense, particularly in the playoff game against the Chiefs, is that they had little speed and couldn’t stretch the field. This held them back a lot and made it tough to move the ball at times. The good news is, that should be completely different in 2021. Odell Beckham Jr is returning from an ACL tear, and is reportedly looking amazing in his rehab. He is already making cuts and catches that most couldn’t do at this point in his recovery. Comeback Player of the Year is realistic for OBJ and he should thrive now that Mayfield is comfortable and familiar with the offense. In addition to Beckham, the Browns drafted Anthony Schwartz in the 2021 draft. He ran the fastest 40 yard dash time with a 4.25, and is expected to factor in to help stretch the field.

As mentioned earlier, Andrew Berry and company completely overhauled their defense this off-season and are now expected to be in the top 10 of the entire NFL. If they perform as expected, that will help Mayfield with his mindset during games knowing if they can get a big lead, the defense can do their part and hold it. In 2020, that was not the case. The offense would get a big lead and oftentimes let teams catch back up and make it closer than it should have been. 2021 should be much different. Expect the Browns to blow out a few teams.

One of the final factors is that there is an actual off-season instead of just zoom meetings and limited training camp. The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating and challenging in general, and it made it difficult for Baker to learn another new offense mostly virtually without a pre-season. In 2021, there is a normal off-season routine, minicamps, training camp, and pre-season games. This will be huge for Mayfield and the team in general to get all of that work in person.

A stable environment is key for any quarterback to survive in the NFL, and it is honestly not talked about enough how Baker Mayfield has survived multiple head coaches, offensive coordinators, and offensive schemes in his young career. 2020 Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski is the perfect coach for Baker and if things go well, it could be a duo that remains a contender for many years to come. It is very possible for Mayfield to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl with a 35+ touchdown season. He recently appeared as the most popular 2021 MVP bet in the William Hill US sports book, so apparently many people think he will break out as well and it is real, unlike in 2019. In due time, we’ll all know.

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