The Cleveland Browns and their fans understand the pitfalls of listening to preseason hype. So don’t look now, but quarterback Baker Mayfield is already garnering support as a darkhorse MVP candidate by some experts.
In a recent poll of ESPN experts, sports analytics writer Seth Walder pegged Mayfield — who is +5000 for the award — as an MVP candidate, mostly due to all the weapons he has in his arsenal and an improved offensive line.
“Look at Cleveland’s roster. It’s loaded! Mayfield is throwing to Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper and has a reinforced offensive line that now includes Jack Conklin in front of him,” Walder wrote. “If the season breaks right for Mayfield under new coach Kevin Stefanski, there’s a chance it can break right into an MVP award.”
Mayfield is coming off a season where he passed for 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, ranking next-to-last in both passer rating (78.8) and completion percentage (59.4%). This came after he was a popular pick for MVP, at one point attracting the most bets and going off at 11-1 odds — trailing only Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
Much of that was because of Mayfield’s rookie year, when he set the rookie record for passing touchdowns, breaking a mark previously set by Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning.
On top of that, the Browns became a popular pick to win the Super Bowl in the preseason, garnering the second-most bets to win the Lombardi Trophy, trailing only the Chicago Bears. The year did not turn out great for either squad, the Browns stumbling to 6-10 and the Bears finishing 8-8.
Baker Mayfield in Good Spot for Bounce Back
As Walder points out, the improved protection should help Mayfield perform better, as will his two top weapons in Landry and Beckham being healthy.
Stefanski’s system could also prove to be a boon for Mayfield, which Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com pointed out in her latest mailbag column. She sees potential for Mayfield to be a top 10 QB.
“I absolutely believe Mayfield will fare better with his upgraded supporting cast and with Kevin Stefanski’s version of the West Coast offense,” Cabot wrote. “He’ll function so much better in this play-action oriented scheme, and he’ll be supported by a strong running game,” Cabot wrote. “If he can make up for lost time in training camp, he should be OK, and if all goes as planned, he could climb into the top 10 in QB ranking.”
Last year using play-action, Mayfield completed 66.5 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, per Pro Football Focus.
Baker Mayfield Locked in for Year 3 With Browns
Stefanski sees potential in Mayfield and sees the potential for the Hesiman winner to take off in Year 3.
“I’m looking forward to the jump that this kid will take,” Stefanski said in January after being hired. “He is such a young player and the guys I have been around, when they put their mind to it and they start to grind on this thing and understand the whys and the concepts that we are teaching, I really think this kid has a chance to take off.”
There’s no secret that Mayfield’s future in Cleveland could be on the line this season. If he doesn’t perform, the Browns could choose not to pick up his fifth-year option. If he plays well, he could be looking at a big-money extension. Mayfield has not been shy about addressing that.
“There’s no doubt Year 3 is always a big year in these contracts,” Mayfield said. “Timing-wise, everybody knows that. I’m not going to put any added pressure on myself. There’s no need for that, because if I win, good things will happen.”