For years, the Cleveland Browns drafted bust after bust after bust (and bust and bust) at quarterback. From Tim Couch all the way to DeShone Kizer, Cleveland’s quarterbacks have never failed to let the team down. To make matters worse going into the season, Cleveland retained head coach Hue Jackson, who was 1-31 going into the season and just came off a zero win season. Expectations were low for the Browns heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, and they were hoping for a spark at some point. Then, the team surprised the football world by selecting Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman winner who shattered many NCAA records on his way to 3 straight Big 12 titles and 2 playoff appearances. The culture change began there.
📺: NFLN/FOX/ESPN pic.twitter.com/r16uUmj2Xt
— NFL (@NFL) April 27, 2018
Fast forward a few months to September 20th. The Browns had just lost by 3 points to the New Orleans Saints the past Sunday on the road, with the offense sputtering the whole game. The Browns played the New York Jets that day, and many believed that once again, the offense would let Cleveland down.
They were right, for most of the first half. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was 4-of-14 for 19 yards and the offense struggled to get anything going, punting the ball six times. The Jets were up 14-0 and looked like they would run away with the game. Then, Tyrod Taylor was knocked out of the game with a concussion just after the two-minute warning, and Baker Mayfield started warming up to come in the game.
The culture change hit. As soon as Baker came into the game, the energy changed. The crowd’s mood changed. The whole team changed. The game changed. Baker fired two shots, one to wide receiver Jarvis Landry and the other to tight end David Njoku, to lead the Browns down the field for a field goal just before the half ended. The Cleveland crowd went nuts. The feel of the game completely shifted, and for the first time in a long time, Cleveland fans felt something amazing: Hope.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 21, 2018
After halftime, the Baker special never ended. The Browns defense forced a fumble that the offense cashed in with a field goal, but then after a forced punt by the defense, the Browns marched right down the field again with Baker throwing 56 yards and cashed in for a touchdown. Then came the shatterpoint moment of the game. Cleveland went for two to tie the game and called the infamous “Philly Special” play, and guess who caught the ball? Baker Mayfield.
Baker. Mayfield. 👏
The Browns score a TD and a two-point conversion.
The game is tied, 14-14: pic.twitter.com/ungH0JYWOX
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) September 21, 2018
The crowd lost all semblance of sanity and the game shifted. The Jets would kick a field goal afterward, but Baker led the Browns right down the field with a 60-yard passing drive and an incredible throw to Jarvis Landry to set up 1st and goal. The Browns cashed in with a touchdown and took the lead with 2:04 left in the game and the whole city of Cleveland erupted like Krakatoa. The whole Cleveland Browns’ dynamic had shifted and it was because of Baker Mayfield.
— LastWordOnNFL (@LastWordOnNFL) September 21, 2018
The Browns defense forced back to back INTs to officially give Cleveland its first win in 635 days and Hue Jackson his 2nd win with the Browns. It all points back to one thing, one common denominator: Baker Mayfield. Mayfield ignited that Browns offense when he came in, and he made plays that Tyrod Taylor simply did not and could not. The offense opened up and came alive, while it had struggled and gasped for air with Tyrod at the helm.
Last night vs NYJ…
Baker Mayfield: 2.57sec/throw..
Tyrod Taylor: 3.12sec/throw!
⏱Throws UNDER 2.5sec⏱
Baker:88% comp, 109.8 rating
Tyrod:16%, 39.6 rating
⏳On throws 2.6sec or MORE⏳
— Ron Jaworski (@JawsCEOQB) September 21, 2018
After the game, Hue Jackson said he, “needed to watch the tape” before he named anyone the starter, but his decision was an easy one. After witnessing Browns fans crowding the streets of Cleveland chanting Baker’s name, Hue named Baker the starting quarterback for next week’s game against the Oakland Raiders.
— Partners & Players (@Players_13) September 21, 2018
Baker finished 17-of-23 with 3 drops and 201 yards after playing for one half and some change.
What does this mean for your fantasy squad? If you weren’t a Jarvis Landry believer before, you should be now. Landry was targeted 9 times by Baker and caught the ball 7 times for 91 yards, including a big 29 yarder to set up a touchdown. When Tyrod was in, he was targeted 6 times with one reception for 12 yards.
In Jarvis Landry’s last 3 years, he’s drawn 160 targets twice. Now Jarvis Landry is playing the Antonio Brown role of Todd Haley’s offense, and while Landry isn’t as talented as Brown, Brown has consistently gained 160+ targets. Landry has 37 targets on the season so far, with more on the way. Rookie Antonio Callaway was only targeted 5 times by Baker, but caught 3 of them and dropped what could have been a big play down the sideline.
Callaway remains a TBD player for fantasy, but if you’re looking for a big play threat down the stretch, he could evolve into that. Tight end David Njoku was only targeted twice, both by Baker, but as the offense shifts, Njoku could see more targets and become a bigger RZ threat than he was with Tyrod. Baker Mayfield to TE Mark Andrews at Oklahoma was a critical part of Oklahoma’s offense, and Njoku is twice the athlete that Mark Andrews is. He could be a weapon at a weak fantasy position.
But the main prize is Baker Mayfield. Finishing 20-of-23 for 201 yards in one half of football without any practice with the first team is impressive. With the offensive talent Cleveland has (that Baker can actually utilize), Baker is in line for a big season if he keeps this level of play up. In Pittsburgh, offensive coordinator Todd Haley have been consistently ranked in the top 10 in passing attempts and that number should rise back up now that Cleveland has a quarterback who can throw to all levels of the field.
There will obviously be some sort of regression. Expecting Baker to have consistent performances like the Jets game every week is unrealistic for a rookie operating with a poor head coach at the helm. There will be struggles and brilliance like many rookie quarterbacks have had. However, the tide has shifted in Cleveland. It’s Baker’s Time, and Cleveland May Field a winner.
— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) September 21, 2018