Evaluating the rookie quarterbacks with three weeks to go
We have now played 14 weeks and it is time to reflect a little. At this point I want to take a look at the five rookie signal-callers, who were drafted in the first round and all played between four and twelve games.
To make this clear, I didn’t want to rank the quarterbacks against each other because I think it’s still too early for that, but we can see what they have shown so far and talk about them. So I listed them purely based on where they were drafted at.
While all of them have shown promise and won some big games, the guy at the very top has truly stood out.
#1 Baker Mayfield
While I thought the Browns reached for some players in the draft, I had no problem with the selection of Baker Mayfield at the top.
I had Darnold as my number one quarterback, but Mayfield was in that group of three that I thought were all worth top five or six picks.
He was kept on the sidelines for the first two-and-a-half weeks of the 2018 season, but when Tyrod Taylor had to go into the locker room in that Thursday night game versus the Jets, Baker came onto the field and hasn’t given up his job ever since.
Not only has he given the Dawg Pound a ton of energy, he has also clearly been the top rookie quarterback and with all those outstanding rookies at all the other positions, he is right up there with the very best of that class. The numbers bear it out.
Mayfield has by far the highest completion percentage (64.4%) and yards per attempt (7.7) among all rookie signal-callers.
I liked his arm and I thought he was a much better athlete than people gave him credit for, but he exceeded even my expectations. Baker throws a much tighter spiral and has a way stronger arm than you’d expect from a six-foot Big XII quarterback.
He gets the ball out with anticipation, zip and pin-point accuracy. When you watch Baker’s first live-action versus the Jets and you compare it with what Tyrod Taylor did in the first half of that contest, you see the differences between a guy like him and a solid starter in Taylor.
The Jets blitzed over and over again and forced Taylor to defeat tight man-coverage with his arm and getting the ball out hot, but instead he tried to run around and make things happen off script, which didn’t only end in him taking big hits but ultimately knocked him out of the game as well.
When Baker entered everything changed. He destroyed Gang Green’s blitzes by getting rid of the ball quickly and showing pocket awareness to maneuver around before dropping absolute dimes to his playmakers, who he showed trust in to win their matchups.
The first overall pick has showcased clean footwork, outstanding mobility inside the pocket and tremendous command of the entire offense, making checks in no-huddle situations and deciphering opposing defenses.
However, he doesn’t just have the mental aspects and fundamentals down before letting the ball go, he has made some throws that force even his biggest critics to raise their eyebrows.
He has defeated tight man-coverage with Drew Brees-ish pin-point accuracy and he has delivered has some absolute ropes into tight windows. Probably his best game came versus the Panthers last Sunday.
He launches several unbelievable downfield passes with a defender in almost perfect position, but with the placement of the ball those throws were basically indefensible.
Mayfield has clearly displayed the ability to diagnose a multitude of defensive looks and counter them with the understanding of where the ball needs to go, but at the same time you can not just get into the face of his pass-catchers and force him to throw those guys open – because he will do just that.
Mayfield had by far his two worst games versus the Chargers and Texans – two teams that clearly were better from top to bottom on those days and overall as well.
If you take those two performances out of the equation, he has thrown 17 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions.
Obviously you have to take everything into consideration, but versus the Chargers those picks came on two great plays by Desmond King undercutting routes and all three at Houston happened because he tried to fit in some passes.
So it’s not like he just misdiagnoses coverages or gets rattled by the opposition. Mayfield is just a gunslinger, who has trust in his arm and his receivers.
I have no problem with that, because he will still learn which chances he should and should not take. For every throw he attempts that simply isn’t there, there will be five others were you would think the same but somehow they get completed.
Most importantly he takes care of the ball when he has his offense in scoring range, displayed by his QB rating of 115.1 in the opponents’ red-zone.
Since Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired following a week eight loss to the Steelers, Baker has completed 73.2 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and four picks (with three of them occurring in that Texans game), plus the Browns have won three of their five games – which are as many wins as they had under Hue in 40 games.
New offensive coordinator Freddy Kitchens has really helped out his rookie signal-caller by implementing elements of his college offense and doing an outstanding job protecting him, making him the least-pressured quarterback in the league these last few weeks.
If you made the Browns choose all over again who they would select with that number one overall pick, John Dorsey would run up to the commissioner with that card himself.
Baker Mayfield brings an energy and sense of confidence this franchise hasn’t had since they were re-established almost 20 years ago. He is a perfect fit for the city of Cleveland and this fanbase deserved to finally get a guy like that.