After a promising rookie season, Baker Mayfield saw a significant decline in production during 2019. His passing touchdowns dropped from 27 to 22, and his interceptions increased from 14 to 21. Even worse, his team struggled as well. Despite an enormous amount of hype going into the season, the Cleveland Browns finished the season with a 6-10 record, dramatically underperforming expectations. Their failures led to the firing of head coach Freddie Kitchens after just one season on the job, and questions regarding Mayfield’s long-term potential.
Using the OSM to compare Mayfield’s two seasons in the NFL
For the most part, PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), which measures how much value a player provides to their offense, agrees with the conventional statistics. Mayfield’s season-long OSM grades show a significant decline in his value to Cleveland between 2018 and 2019, going from a 23.86 down to a 21.92.
When we look at the metrics involved in calculating those grades, the primary factor influencing this change was Mayfield’s completion percentage, which dipped by a slight, but not insignificant margin, from 63.8% percent to 59.4%.
You might wonder whether the decline was not the result of inaccuracies on Mayfield’s part, but rather because the passes that he attempted during his sophomore season were more difficult. And to a certain extent, you would be right. The percentage of passes that he threw into tight windows increased by 3.3% in 2019.
Looking at Mayfield’s other stats
However, there is more than one way to look at a player’s completion statistics. Based on numerous factors, the NFL calculates whether or not a pass should have resulted in a completion, and uses that information to determine a player’s expected completion percentage. According to their data, Mayfield’s completion percentage in 2018 was 0.7% lower than it should have been. That isn’t a fantastic result, but it essentially means that he completed his passes at approximately the expected rate.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Mayfield’s second season. In 2019, his differential increased to 3.5% below expectation, the seventh-highest difference among qualifying quarterbacks. As such, even though the passes Mayfield attempted were slightly more difficult in 2019, he still should have completed them at a much higher rate. In fact, his completion percentage should actually have been better than it was during his rookie year.
Mayfield’s weekly grades provide more insight into what caused his decline
Although Mayfield’s season averages indicate a significant decline in play in 2019, looking more closely at his grades from each season paints a more nuanced picture. In the sections below, you will see a pair of charts representing Mayfield’s weekly performances from 2018 and 2019. His OSM grades from each week are marked by the black dots, while the season average for quarterbacks is marked by the yellow line.
First, let’s look at 2018. Mayfield started out playing at a pretty mediocre level, which is no great surprise given that his head coach at the time was Hue Jackson, whose tenure with the Browns might be the worst stint at head coach in NFL history.
However, shortly before Cleveland’s bye week, Jackson was fired and replaced by interim head coach Gregg Williams. Immediately after the bye, Mayfield’s level of play saw a significant increase, although it regressed slightly before the end of the season. It seems likely that Mayfield’s jump in efficiency was linked with Williams’ appointment.
In 2019, however, Mayfield once again had a new head coach in Kitchens. His grade plummeted until, much like the previous season, improving after the bye week. Although this time, he continued to improve as the season went on. It’s difficult to say why that change occurred. Perhaps Mayfield simply grew more comfortable in the new Kitchens’ offense. Whatever the reason, Mayfield’s improvements didn’t translate into enough wins to save his head coach’s job.
Looking to Mayfield’s future
So, what do Mayfield’s weekly grades tell us about his career trajectory? Well, he was undeniably an inconsistent player in both seasons. That said, it is difficult to say how much blame he should shoulder for those inconsistencies. After all, his coaching situation was constantly in flux, which can be incredibly difficult for a young player still adjusting to playing at the NFL level to deal with. And even with those difficulties, he was back on the upswing towards the end of 2020, which is certainly a positive sign.
Unfortunately, thanks to the firing of Kitchens, Mayfield will be in a similar situation once again in 2019. However, new head coach Kevin Stefanski should be able to provide a more stable environment for Mayfield. He doesn’t have any more head coaching experience than Kitchens did, but he does have at least a season as an offensive coordinator under his belt.
Hopefully, Stefanski lasts longer than Mayfield’s previous head coaches, and we can see how he develops in a consistent offensive scheme. Theoretically, that shouldn’t be too difficult a task, but we are talking about the Browns here. They haven’t had the best luck with coaches (or anything else) in recent years. We’ll see if Stefanski can break that trend, and in doing so, help Mayfield reverse his decline.