Stability and structure are two things that have lacked so far for Baker Mayfield in his career with the Browns. He is on his 4th head coach in 3 years and had to deal with a circus that was the 2019 season. People tend to forget how great he was in 2018, though. Setting the rookie touchdown passing record and having the Browns in the playoff talks are two things that don’t happen easily. Let’s take a look at why he is poised for a bounce-back year in 2020.
Organizational structure and alignment from top to bottom
For the first time in years, the Browns seem to have everyone on the same page. There isn’t any arranged marriages between the General Manager and Head Coach or friction between the Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator. From what Andrew Berry, Paul DePodesta, and Kevin Stefanski have said, everyone shares the same vision. That is a huge deal in terms of Baker’s success. For any QB to do well, it’s critical to have everyone on the same page.
Kevin Stefanski and his system
In 2019, Freddie Kitchens didn’t truly have a system or scheme. He would essentially just have 5 wide receivers run Go Routes every play or run a draw play on 4th and 9. He was clearly in over his head. Kevin Stefanski is essentially the polar opposite of Kitchens. He is implementing the Wide Zone Scheme, which has been proven to be very effective in the NFL. In addition to that, Stefanski is a very intelligent guy who has all the intangibles to be a leader for the team. The talks around the NFL say that Cleveland landed a rising star when they hired him. This offseason he’s walked the walk and kept his mouth shut. His leadership and system should help Baker tremendously return to his 2018 form.
Upgraded Offensive Line and Tight Ends
Andrew Berry wasted no time bringing in great players when Free Agency started. The signing of Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper immediately sent a message to Baker that they believe in him and want to put him in positions to succeed. With David Njoku hurt and in the dog house most of 2019, the Tight End position was essentially nonexistent for Mayfield. This hurt his numbers because he’s always loved his Tight Ends, especially in the Red Zone. In 2020 he’ll have Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and rookie Harrison Bryant. That’s a big upgrade. Baker got sacked 40 times in 2019 and was constantly under pressure. Jack Conklin and 10th overall pick Jedrick Wills instantly improve the Offensive Line greatly. Offensive Line Coach Bill Callahan will coach them up as well.
The weapons around him
It is hard to ignore the amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball. With Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Andy Janovich, Austin Hooper, and David Njoku, you can imagine how powerful they can be with the right coaching and mindsets. OBJ and Baker now have a year of playing together so their chemistry will be better. Plus OBJ and Landry had surgeries in the offseason so they should be back to 100%. This offense will primarily run through Nick Chubb, though. And that is perfectly fine because it takes the pressure off Mayfield to do it all himself.
His offseason mindset
2020 offseason Baker is very different from 2019 offseason Baker. He has been very quiet and focused. It is clear that the 2019 season humbled him and he now wants to prove everyone wrong. The coaches have reported that he has been keeping players in check and even jumping into other positional players Zoom meetings to make sure they’re all on the same page. That is a huge step forward in terms of leadership and accountability. He has also organized workouts with players in Texas where he’s been during the offseason. In addition to all of this, he has lost some weight in order to be more mobile. A focused and determined Baker is what we need.
COVID-19 has definitely made this offseason a weird, challenging one for every team around the league. All we can do is hope that the way teams are having to do things is working with the players. Everything we’ve seen with the Browns appears to be heading in the right direction. Let’s hope all their hard work pays off!