Baker Mayfield set up for bounce back year in Carolina

Jul 27, 2022; Spartanburg, SC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws during warm ups at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 27, 2022; Spartanburg, SC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws during warm ups at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Oklahoma superstar QB Baker Mayfield has found himself in a less than ideal situation in his young but still promising NFL career.

Things did not work out with the Cleveland Browns, but still, he had a heavy hand in the team’s ascension from the worst franchise in sports and led them to a road playoff win, the franchise’s first since they shared a conference with the Dallas Cowboys. After dealing with a plethora of injuries in his 2021 campaign, Mayfield, now with the Carolina Panthers, looks to bounce back to his 2020 self, which was a top-10 campaign at his position.

First, however, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner must stave off fellow 2018 draft classmate Sam Darnold for the starting job. However, those close to the franchise see this as no problem and indicate Baker has vastly outplayed Darnold despite having all the disadvantages in the “competition” it is viewed as a charade by Carolina head coach Matt Rhule.

JD from The 4-Man Rush explains:

"“The idea that there would be a legitimate QB battle in Carolina is laughable—almost regardless of who the other QB was. Darnold was arguably the worst starter in the league last year. As soon as the first 5 days, Mayfield started to pull away from Darnold. The competition has been over in my book for over 3 weeks now I am of the belief that the coaching staff knew Mayfield was going to be the starter as soon as Cleveland accepted the offer. Rhule has drummed up competition because he was the main proponent of trading for Darnold; an attempt to save his reputation in that front office.”"

Talent is not the issue for Mayfield.

Baker Mayfield does not lack the talent to be a quality NFL QB; he has it in spades, particularly arm talent. Mayfield has a gift for fitting the ball into tight windows and has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. At the scouting combine, Mayfield threw the ball with a velocity of 60 mph which is the second hardest in the history of the workout. In total, Mayfield is just one of five league QBs with a confirmed ball velocity of 60+.

Where Mayfield has gotten himself into some trouble is issues when it comes to trusting his eyes and making throws on time. Baker can make all the requisite throws and then some on the football field. Like this one in the 2020 Divisional round against Kansas City, with no separation and a window barely larger than the football.

Mayfield is at his best with his back against the wall.

We have heard the story a hundred times when Baker is doubted, and his back is against the wall is when he typically thrives, and we have the receipts to back up such a claim. When Baker was staring down, possibly benched after a horrible first quarter against the Bengals in 2020, all Mayfield did was complete 21 straight passes against a Jesse Bates-led defense, concluding with this game-winning beauty.

He walked on at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma. After starting 1-2 in 2016, Mayfield had his version of the “Tebow speech,” and while it did not end with a Sooner national title, they did rally to win their final ten games and then started 2017 with a big win over the Buckeyes, who had spanked them in Norman the year prior.

Ben McAdoo’s offense fits Mayfield’s strength.

Mayfield is at his best when he can rip it and flip it; McAdoo’s system will allow Mayfield to have more control than he has ever had before. He will be permitted to check and do other things he could not do in Cleveland. Baker was at his best early in his NFL career and at Oklahoma when he had total command of the offense. Baker can do more things pre-snap and will be able to execute more RPO-style concepts, a strength of Mayfield’s which was virtually unused from in the 1995 dinosaur-style offense the Browns run.

McAdoo’s system utilizes more modern short passing game concepts that will help reflect a more favorable completion percentage for the former Heisman winner. Mayfield will also be able to use play-action well, something he has been good at throughout his NFL career regardless of the system he has been in. Conceptually this system fits Mayfield’s skill set better than any other he has played under. Remember, in Mary Kay Cabot’s piece several months ago; she quotes an NFL talent evaluator as saying Mayfield was “Hamstrung” in Stefanski’s offense; I have been told similar sentiments from talent evaluators as well.

By far the best cast of pass catchers he has played within the NFL.

Odell Beckham jr was not the player the Browns thought they were trading for. He had not been that guy since 2016. When Odell arrived in 2019, he played nearly the entire season injured and still managed to have over 1000 receiving yards with Baker as his QB. In what will likely be the last time he reaches that plateau. The Browns WR room was one of the worst in the league in separation rate, yards after the catch, and just about any statistical category that doesn’t involve drops. They were pretty good at those, as they rated top 10 in that category each of the last two seasons. Mayfield never had an actual number one WR, and no OBJ did not fall off because he played with Mayfield; when he went to the Rams and played with Stafford, he was the same player. The only difference is that he caught several inside the five-yard line TD passes. A place where the Browns typically run or throw to TEs in 12-13 personnel.

Things got so bad at WR for the Browns that Rashard Higgins has faced the fourth highest percentage of CB1 coverage over the last two seasons in the league. Higgins is a good football player but not even a #2 WR now with the Carolina Panthers. This says almost all you need to know. Mayfield now has a bonafide top 15 WR in the league to throw to in DJ Moore, who is coming off back-to-back 1100-yard seasons, and then has the speedy Robby Anderson on the other side to throw to. A vast upgrade from slot WR Jarvis Landry and spare parts.

In addition, while Nick Chubb is a top-tier running back, no one would accuse him of being a threat in the passing game. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffery is the best receiving back in the NFL.

Quickly picking up the offense in shortened offseason

Mayfield is picking up the offense at an impressive clip for the Panthers in camp. His coaches have undoubtedly noticed, as has the media.

"“Baker since he’s been here in the last two weeks, it’s been pretty impressive,” Ben McAdoo stated after practice. Matt Rhule also weighed in“What he’s done in 10 days is pretty impressive.  He’s making really big jumps.”"

It’s not easy to do what Mayfield is doing, picking up his fourth system in his fifth season as an NFL QB, but he is making it look easy, and he is doing a great job. Mayfield is in a pivotal moment in his career, if he can lead a talented young Panthers roster to the playoffs he will be able to tip the scales heavily back into his favor. Can Mayfield do what he has done his whole life yet again? Take it to the bank.