Will Baker Mayfield's Passing Production Drop Under Kevin Stefanski?

Pete Smith

Between the substantial investment the Cleveland Browns have made to improve their offensive line and head coach Kevin Stefanski's tendencies as offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, there's reason to believe that Baker Mayfield will be a less productive in 2020 than some might expect.

But given how poorly the passing offense performed, if Mayfield and the passing game are more in line with the way they produced in 2018, there's a good argument Mayfield will be more productive in 2020. These are the two considerations in play when it comes to a prop bet, setting the over/under for Mayfield's passing yards in 2020 at 3,899.5

It's true that under Stefanski, the Vikings ran the ball more and passed less, as Jaime Eisner points out.

In 18 games with Stefanski as his offensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins averaged 29.2 passing attempts and 233.5 passing yards per game. Keep in mind, Cousins was averaging 40.3 passing attempts and 284.5 passing yards per game in his first 13 games in Minnesota prior to Stefanski taking over the offense.

Those aforementioned numbers represent about a 4.2 attempts per game drop compared to what Mayfield averaged last season. At Mayfield's career averages, that sort of reduction works out to only 215.4 passing yards per game, or a 16-game total of 3,446 yards. The 233.5 passing yards average Cousins had under Stefanski equals 3,736 yards over 16 games. 

Some of that can perhaps be attributed to the 8-7-1 record in 2018, thereby needing to pass more whereas they were 11-7, including the playoffs in 2019. Teams that win more don't need to run as many plays and tend to pass less. There was also a significant emphasis on running the ball from Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Nevertheless, the sheer drop off is impossible to completely ignore as a different approach to the offense under Stefanski.

And the Browns have every reason to run the ball. Nick Chubb was the second leading rusher in the league even with major questions on the offensive front in 2019. Kareem Hunt was not what the Browns would have liked him to be coming off his eight-game suspension, but his talent is tantalizing and represents an opportunity to get far better return, which should have the Browns with the best running back tandem in the league. They upgraded the offensive tackle position by signing Jack Conklin in free agency and drafting Jedrick Wills in April.

That rushing success should benefit Mayfield and the passing game as well. An effective running game and an offense operating on schedule force the defense to be more honest to what an offense can do, which should create more productive opportunities in the passing game. Playaction will be a big part of the Browns offense and is an area where Mayfield has always excelled. 

Simply having a healthy Odell Beckham in addition to adding Austin Hooper should improve the passing situation. Jarvis Landry's hip surgery recovery bears watching as he says he's on schedule to be ready for August, but gives some wiggle room, mentioning both July and September. When he's actually going to be ready and actually be able to practice and get comfortable with Mayfield could impact how effective the duo can be early in the season.

The Browns may pass less than Mayfield has in either of his previous two seasons on a per game basis. Measuring success will be looking at his efficiency. 2019 was an inefficient season with a high number of turnovers by Mayfield that killed offensive opportunities. Dramatically reducing the turnovers and improving his completion percentage and yards per attempt would enable Mayfield to hit the over despite fewer passing attempts, but it's not difficult to see where he's under the mark and the Browns are a better team.