Ever since their return to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have been viewed as everything from dysfunctional to delusional.
That hit a peak last season when Hue Jackson and his men sunk the franchise to a 0-16 record.
Now things are trending up, much of it thanks to Baker Mayfield. In just two months the No1 overall pick has injected the Browns fanbase with the most dangerous thing in sports: hope.
The team has been through plenty of false dawns before, of course, the most recent of which was when Johnny Manziel looked half-decent for around 10 minutes of his rookie season.
But this isn’t false: Mayfield is a bundle of passion and excellence and has galvanized the organization and its fanbase in the same way he did while in college. In 12 games, Mayfield has tossed 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, almost the same TD-INT ratio as Ben Roethlisberger this season. He is already the franchise’s best quarterback since their homecoming.
Hue Jackson forced Mayfield to wait his turn, too, opting to open the season with Tyrod Taylor as his starting quarterback. When Taylor went down against the Jets, everything changed. Rarely has the impact of the quarterback been as evident as when Mayfield rallied his team from 14 points down to end their 19-game winless streak.
The team really changed, though, when general manager John Dorsey finally hit the ejector seat on the Hue Jackson-Todd Haley experience. Installing Greg Williams as the interim coach and Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator transformed the team’s culture and its offence.
With Haley, Mayfield threw eight touchdowns to six interceptions, completed 58.3% of his passes, averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, and had a passer rating of 78.9.
He’s been a different player with Kitchens: tossing 13 touchdowns to five picks, averaging over nine yards per attempt, completing 73% of his throws, with a passer rating of 114.4 – a number good for third in the league in that time.
By installing a batch of plays Mayfield ran in college, and scheming up some easier throws (thanks to an uptick in play action), Kitchens has helped Mayfield establish an early rhythm before letting his star quarterback do star quarterback things.
When it comes to off-platform throwers, Mayfield is in a rare class: Aaron Rodgers, Russel Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz, and Matthew Stafford. They’re all capable of making unique throws no matter how their body cohorts or the angle they have to deliver it at.
— JzoSports (@JzoSports) December 9, 2018
Few teams in the league have a brighter future. Murmurs that hot-shot college coach Lincoln Riley could abscond from Oklahoma to join his former pupil Mayfield in Ohio won’t go away.
It’s become a reasonable thought that a top coaching candidate should pass up the history and tradition of the Green Bay Packers and the chance to coach one of the greatest quarterbacks any of us have ever seen, in his prime, for a chance to be Cleveland’s leader.