Gil Brandt Says Baker Mayfield Will Bounce Back

John. E. Hoover

Count Gil Brandt as a Baker Believer.

Brandt, senior analyst for NFL.com and architect of the original Dallas Cowboys dynasty, wrote a column this week listing Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield among seven players he thinks will have a bounce-back season in 2020.

Brandt ranks Mayfield second behind Steelers wideout Juju Smith-Schuster.

“Mayfield’s failure to build upon his impressive 2018 rookie season helped cost coach Freddie Kitchens his job after just one year,” Brandt writes. “Kitchens’ replacement, former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, is expected to install the kind of balanced offense that helped QB Kirk Cousins thrive in Minnesota; with the Vikes being one of three teams in the NFL who ran more than they passed last season, Cousins was able to make magic on play-action (1,264 yards, 14:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 129.1 passer rating, per Next Gen Stats).”

Mayfield stats were bad: he completed just 59.4 percent of his passes in 2019 (31st out of 32 starting quarterbacks) with 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Mayfield’s interception percentage of 3.9 ranked ahead of only Tampa’s Jameis Winston, who became the first NFL quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 INTs. Likewise, Mayfield’s 6-10 QB win percentage (an unofficial stat but historically the most important measure of a quarterbacks) ranked 31st, one spot ahead of former Sooner teammate Kyler Murray.

“Mayfield will have plenty of skill-position players to work with,” Brandt writes. “Nick Chubb ranked second in the NFL in rushing last season. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are proven 1,000-yard veteran receivers. The tight end spot should be much more formidable this fall, with free-agent signee Austin Hooper joining David Njoku, whose fifth-year option was picked up by the Browns, indicating Cleveland has faith in the former first-round pick.

“And, of course, Mayfield should enjoy much better protection on the perimeter of the offensive line, with free-agent signee Jack Conklin and first-round pick Jedrick Wills sliding into the tackle spots.”

It’s widely assumed that in addition to having a first-time head coach (Kitchens) who tried to call his own plays, uneven production from his mercurial receivers and shoddy protection (his 7.0 sack percentage ranked 19th in the league), Mayfield lost his famous edge last year.

Mayfield signed a four-year, $32.7 million rookie contract (all guaranteed), including a nearly $22 million signing bonus. His rookie year, he almost led the Browns from an 0-16 record to the playoffs, and he was runner-up in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.

Last offseason, Mayfield got married and spent time filming commercials and marketing spots and generally building his brand. He’s been less visible this offseason, and the notion is that he’s staying out of the spotlight and rededicating himself to putting the time in to play quarterback.

“Mayfield has done himself no favors in terms of how he’s handled media scrutiny,” Brandt writes, “but he should be one of the league’s most improved quarterbacks in 2020. If he isn’t, expect the Browns to decline his fifth-year option and resume the search for a franchise passer that dates back to Bernie Kosar’s 1980s heyday.”

Mayfield isn’t the only quarterback on Brandt’s bounce-back list. Right behind Mayfield at No. 3 is none other than the GOAT himself, Tom Brady.

“The question of whether Brady or Bill Belichick deserves more credit for the Patriots' unprecedented stretch of success will kick into high gear when they take the field with different teams this season,” Brandt writes. “But I'm more interested in seeing whether Brady's mediocre 2019 performance stemmed more from an age-related drop-off, a lack of top-tier talent at receiver and tight end or an offensive approach by coordinator Josh McDaniels that didn't feature the kind of complementary running game that helped ease the team's march to a sixth Super Bowl title two seasons ago.”

Patriots running back Sony Michel (No. 4), Eagles running back Miles Sanders (No. 5), Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (No. 6) and new Chargers cornerback Chris Harris (No. 7) comprise the rest of Brandt’s list.

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