Is Baker Mayfield a Top 5 Quarterback in Fantasy Football?
This week I participated in a mock draft. It so happened to be a superflex draft, so QBs were pushed up the board. I selected Baker Mayfield as the fifth QB off the board and was met with a simple response in the draft chat: “reach.” That got me thinking… was it a reach, or does Baker Mayfield deserve to be in the first handful of QBs off the board?
Is Baker Mayfield a Top 5 QB?
First, let’s take a look at what he did in his rookie season. Last year in 14 games (13 starts) Baker Mayfield threw for 3,725 yards with 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and added 131 yards with his legs. Those are fine numbers, but not top five, obviously. However, there is a lot more to like if you look at the second half of the season after Hue Jackson was let go and Freddy Kitchen took over the offense in Week 9. From that point on, Mayfield averaged 281.8 passing yards per game and threw 19 of his touchdowns in that span.
If you want to simply extrapolate the numbers he had in the half of season with Kitchens it would look like this: 4,504 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, 16 interceptions. He averaged 19.02 fantasy PPG with Kitchens, which over 16 games equates to 304.32 fantasy points. That would have ranked eighth among quarterbacks in 2018.
Baker Mayfield has Weapons Everywhere
The Browns have also continued to add weapons around their young signal caller, trading for all-world receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Other than Beckham Jr. being one of the best receivers walking the planet and his presence alone making this offense way better, he should be an especially effective weapon for Mayfield. Even as a rookie, Mayfield showed to be one of the better deep ball passers in the NFL. In 2018, he attempted 73 passes of 20+ air yards, which tied for the fourth most in the NFL. He had a completion percentage of 38.4 percent on those passes, which was tied for fifth best among QBs (min. 60 pass attempts).
He was a great deep thrower, despite having subpar completion numbers with one of his top deep targets. Mayfield attempted 16 of those passes to Antonio Callaway, only five on which were completed, good for a 31.3 completion percent. On those passes, one was intercepted, none went for a touchdown and his QB rating was 54.2.
That is not effective at all. Beckham, on the other hand, has caught 37 of his 107 career targets of 20-plus air yards. That is good for a 34.5 completion percent, and he has 11 touchdowns on those. That is all with noodle-armed Eli Manning throwing him the ball. The leading deep target on the Browns last year was Jarvis Landry, with 20. He did a good job catching seven of them. Landry had a career-high 1,620 air yards last year, yet he had his fewest receiving yards since his rookie season, 976. The move now gives the Browns a legit deep threat other than Callaway. Landry will still see shots downfield, but he will no longer be asked to do the heavy lifting, which allows him to operate even more in the slot, which is where he is most effective.
Having an effective deep ball thrower is huge in today’s NFL and Baker Mayfield showing he has one of the best in the league will make this offense very dangerous. The QB with the most passes of 20-plus air yards in the NFL? Patrick Mahomes. What that ability does is consistently open up short passes, particularly dump offs to running backs with loads of space in front of them.
Last season, Chiefs running backs averaged 9.51 yards per target, by far the most in the NFL. The next closest was the Chargers, at 7.45 yards per target. Chiefs’ running backs last year had just 97 targets, which tied for the 24th most in the NFL. Yet they had the fourth-most receiving yards at 922. The Browns now having Beckham, Callaway, and potentially still Landry as potential deep threats, will open a ton underneath for the running backs.
Even their tight end, David Njoku, showed the ability to go deep last season, drawing 10 targets of 20+ air yards. That should open plenty underneath and luckily, Mayfield has Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson and eventually Kareem Hunt. Chubb last year caught 20 of 29 targets, showing he could in fact catch, and averaged 8.8 yards after the catch. Johnson has shown himself to be one of the better receiving backs in the league with 235 catches in the last four seasons. Hunt also showcased himself as a great receiver while with the Chiefs. Those three should provide great weapons for Mayfield underneath and should allow him to gain large chunks of yardage, but through high efficiency like the Chiefs, and not rely on constantly dumping off to the backs.
This Browns offense has a ton of weapons and a coach that should instill confidence with fantasy owners. Baker Mayfield had one of the best rookie seasons in recent history. If he is able to replicate the numbers he had with Kitchens over the course of a full season, he would be the QB8. Yet, there is plenty of reason to believe that he will continue to take the next step forward in his development, plus, he now has Beckham Jr. to throw the ball to. Mayfield has shown us enough to trust his skillset and the upside for him to just explode in his second season is tremendous. There is some risk tied to it, but Mayfield should be in the Top 5 QB off the board discussion.
I would rank him fifth, behind Mahomes, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers. He would be just ahead of Russell Wilson for me, and that is really the only other QB I would consider taking over him. Here is why people are wrong if they think the risk outweighs the reward with Mayfield…
The QB Position Allows You To Take Chances
To those who are doubting Mayfield and saying they would rather take a more established QB before him, that thinking would hold water if the quarterback position wasn’t the deepest it’s ever been. You could make the case that there are up to 25 quarterbacks you can get by with. That is with names such as Matt Stafford, Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo in the mix.
You will be able to find plenty of value off the waiver wire to stream if Baker ends up somehow being that disappointing. I do not think there is any way Mayfield plays that poorly, but just in case, you will have options. Even in a superflex or two-QB league, you can draft someone such as Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton, Josh Rosen or even a Stafford or Darnold as a QB3. With the position as deep as it has ever been it is foolish to draft a boring veteran over the sky-high upside shot, given you can find similar numbers to those borings vets on the waiver wire.
The Browns are no longer the same old Browns. Baker Mayfield is not just another name that will appear on the long list of failed starters for Cleveland. There is every reason to take a shot on him and draft him as a Top-5 QB this season.
If you have any questions make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!
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