NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger believes Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield can be the franchise’s long-awaited savior at the most important position, but acknowledges the former No. 1 overall pick still has plenty of room for improvement.
In an interview with Rich Salgado on Big Daddy and Friends, Baldinger shared his thoughts on Mayfield, including the signal-caller’s outlook for the rest of 2020 and beyond.
Brian Baldinger: Baker Mayfield benefits from great supporting cast
Coach of the Year candidate Kevin Stefanski has done a remarkable job in his maiden season at the helm in Cleveland. Turning around a perpetually maligned franchise isn’t easy, yet the Browns find themselves in the thick of AFC playoff contention.
Baldinger is a “big fan” of Mayfield and believed he was worthy of going No. 1 in the 2018 draft. Also, though, he suggested Stefanski’s run-first offense and the improvements general manager Andrew Berry made to the offensive line have helped Mayfield immensely amid his third season with the Browns.
“You can’t hide your quarterback in this league,” Baldinger said. “They have a great running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. I think they have the best offensive line in football. Baker is a benefactor of all of that.”
Indeed, Cleveland enters Week 14 with the No. 2 rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 157.8 yards per contest. It’s resulted in heavy use of play-action by Stefanski, who’s shown the ability to adjust game plans and execute at a high level regardless of weather, opponent or scoring margin:
This just goes further to illustrate how ideal the circumstances are for Mayfield to thrive — and it’s a testament to Stefanski, who’s a new coach dealing with constant COVID-19 interruptions and missed out on an offseason program, extended training camp and the preseason.
Brian Baldinger: Baker Mayfield determines Browns’ 2020 ceiling
While Baldinger was quick to credit Mayfield for his part in keying Cleveland’s resurgence in 2020, he did add the caveat that the Browns will only go as far as their 25-year-old QB can carry them.
“[Cleveland has] a nice record, but if the Browns want to get to the postseason, and win in the postseason, they’re going to need more from Baker,” Baldinger said. “They’re not winning despite Baker. He’s a part of their winning, but he’s going to have to play better — and he’s going to have to play bigger in bigger games coming up.”
The final quarter of the Browns’ season begins with Monday Night Football in Week 14 against the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens, who blew out Cleveland 38-6 in the season opener. Mayfield managed only 189 yards passing on 39 attempts in that Week 1 meeting versus the Ravens.
Since that dud of a start to the year, though, Mayfield has had plenty more time to get acclimated to Stefanski’s system. He’s also coming off a brilliant performance against the Tennessee Titans, where he went 25-of-33 passing for 334 yards and four touchdowns.
Nevertheless, Baltimore presents a much more formidable pass rush than Tennessee, with double the sacks (28 to 14) that the Titans have on the season. If the Ravens’ top-ranked ground game, sparked by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, can keep the ball away from the Browns, all the more pressure is on Mayfield’s shoulders to make plays through the air without turning the ball over.
If Mayfield guides Cleveland to a win on Monday night, it’d improve the team’s record to 10-3 and truly establish the Browns as a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. Even above-average play from the young passer could help Cleveland win a playoff game or two.
Should Baldinger’s assessment that Mayfield is indeed worthy of the top pick in the draft prove to be indubitably true sooner rather than later, there’s no telling how far this Browns team can go?