Few expected Baker Mayfield to go No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL draft. Yet, the Cleveland Browns shocked the football world by using the top pick on the undersized Heisman Trophy winner. However, that decision has yet to pay off, at least in the win column. Despite fielding one of the most talented offenses in the league, Cleveland has failed to become a playoff team with Mayfield under center.
But on Thursday, the Browns unveiled their terrifying potential in a 35-30 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. Still, the question remains: Can Mayfield and the Browns build off their Week 2 performance? Or are they bound to disappoint their fans yet again?
Baker Mayfield and the Browns have failed to live up to expectations
The 2018 NFL draft featured a potentially historic quarterback class. Even with Lamar Jackson and Josh Rosen on the board, the Browns surprisingly made Baker Mayfield the first player taken. Of course, he experienced a meteoric rise at Oklahoma after transferring from Texas Tech.
Tasked with taking over one of the NFL’s worst-run franchises, Mayfield showed plenty of promise as a rookie. Though he went just 6-7 as a starter, he completed 63.8% of his passes for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns.
However, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound signal-caller failed to make the year-two leap. In fact, he experienced a sizable regression. Mayfield’s completion percentage plummeted to just 59.4%. He threw nearly as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns (22). In addition, he took 40 sacks after getting taken down just 25 times as a rookie.
His sophomore slump— and the team’s overall poor play—resulted in Freddie Kitchens getting fired. Still, with Kevin Stefanski taking over a team full of talented playmakers, the Browns entered the 2020 season as a potential playoff contender.
The Browns unveil their terrifying potential
Offensively, few teams boast as much sheer physical talent as the Browns. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry form one of the top receiver tandems in the league. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more dominant running back duo than Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Plus, a defensive line headlined by Myles Garrett conceivably should dominate offensive lines.
Yet, the first game of the Stefanski era did not go as planned. Cleveland got embarrassed by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1. In the 38-6 defeat, Baker Mayfield looked out of his element. He completed just 53.8% of his passes for 189 yards. The third-year pro threw one touchdown and also got picked off once.
Coming off a disappointing Week 1 performance, the Browns hosted the Bengals in a matchup of No. 1 overall picks. While Joe Burrow acquitted himself well, Mayfield and the Browns emerged with a 35-30 win. And in doing so, they unveiled their terrifying potential.
In Thursday’s victory, Mayfield looked sharp, completing 16-of-23 attempts for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He set a personal-best with a QBR of 98.0. Last season, he had just one game with a QBR over 78.5.
Meanwhile, Beckham led all receivers with 74 yards, including a vintage touchdown grab. Chubb and Hunt combined for 210 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Hunt also added a touchdown reception.
Defensively, the Browns still showed some holes. However, a ferocious pass rush led by Garrett (three tackles, one sack, three quarterback hits) put consistent pressure on Burrow all night. Fellow former first-round picks Sheldon Richardson and Adrian Clayborn also recorded sacks in the win against the Bengals. Overall, the Browns showed just how scary they can be when clicking on all cylinders.
Potential means nothing if the Browns can’t achieve consistency
After earning their first victory of the season, the Browns must prove they can consistently deliver results. Baker Mayfield may have looked terrific on Thursday, but he has to build off of that performance as Cleveland gets deeper into the season.
The Browns should be favored in their Week 3 matchup against the Washington Football Team—another franchise desperate for consistent play on the field. However, the schedule gets much tougher after that. Cleveland has to travel to Dallas and Pittsburgh in October. In December, back-to-back matchups against the Titans and Ravens will test just how far Mayfield and his team have come.
Ultimately, Thursday night provided a terrific look at the Browns’ terrifying potential.
But based on their history, don’t pencil them into the playoffs just yet.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.