Baker Mayfield was the Cleveland Browns No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was drafted to be the future franchise quarterback to bring the Browns franchise out of the misery it has dealt with for years.
So, what are the Browns expecting from their newest quarterback? Earlier in the week, I examined the many strengths that Mayfield brings to the table. I illustrated through film that he excelled at these areas: Accuracy to all levels, decision-making/intelligence, eyes/using the whole field, arm talent and pocket mobility/throwing on the run. Those on-field strengths, along with his leadership skills, earned the merit of being the No. 1 pick.
But, what does Mayfield struggle with on the field and have to work to improve when he gets into the NFL? Well, let’s take a look at the film to diagnose the weaknesses in his game. So, without further ado, here are Mayfield’s weaknesses on the field that he must work on, along with another aspect to consider.
Mayfield has the ability to throw on different platforms, but he has shown the tendency to throw with poor footwork, which at times can affect the accuracy or velocity of the throw. His footwork needs to be refined so that he can always throw with his usual accuracy and velocity. Here are some examples of times where Mayfield has thrown with poor footwork, causing a poor throw.
In the first play versus Iowa State, Mayfield is throwing a simple throw to the crossing receiver, which could have been a first down conversion given the set up of the defenders to the receiver. But, Mayfield was lackadaisical with his footwork. Instead of throwing through his front foot to the target, Mayfield moved his front foot backwards and threw the pass with mostly his upper body. This caused the throw to go behind the receiver and fall for an incompletion. The receiver probably could have still caught the pass, but a more accurate pass would have made the catch easier.
The second play comes against Georgia. This play is a rush job by Mayfield, where he negated his proper technique to throw quickly. Mayfield took the snap and after a few seconds, he was faced with a penetrating rusher. So, his demeanor turned to a more frantic state as he searched for an open receiver. He found one leaking behind the defense, but he missed him on an overthrow. The inaccurate pass was due to his feet on the throw. Rather than throwing with his entire body, Mayfield turned his body to face the receiver and used his upper body to throw the pass. He even sort of jumped to throw the pass, giving no base for the throw. That caused the overthrow.
The final play is against Iowa State again. This was not only a throw with bad technique but also bad decision making. Mayfield took the snap and began surveying the field, finding no open receivers to target. He then started to scramble, leading to him leaking out toward the right sideline. When he approached the sideline, he saw a receiver downfield, but it would have to be thrown across the field in the opposite direction he was going, which is a big no-no. Beyond that, Mayfield throws the pass with no footwork. He literally jumps and fades backward on the throw, causing it to sail and almost be picked off. It was an ugly play.
Trusts his pre-read/Reads can be wrong
Mayfield is a smart quarterback, who can read the defense pre-snap and figure out where the vulnerabilities are on the field. But, he can at times trust his pre-snap reads too much, allowing the defense to adjust and take advantage of his read. His trust in his read can cause him to rush into a decision before he actually sees the reality of the play. He can also at times just read the defenders incorrectly, with many of those times not being able to recognize the underneath defender. Here are some examples of these things happening.
In the first play against Oklahoma State, Mayfield is in a five-wide formation. When he reads the defense, he sees the defensive secondary in a Cover 3 coverage and so with three targets on the right side of the field, he believes he can get an open throwing lane for the middle receiver on that side. But, he rushes his read and does not realize that the corner on the boundary cheated off his spot and undercut the middle receiver, picking off the pass. Mayfield began the play trying to move the defenders inside to open the passing lane, but he too quickly moved to his target and threw the pass without noticing the creeping defender.
The second play comes against Texas. This is just a misread by Mayfield. He believes Texas is bringing blitz with the two inside linebackers and the safety on the right side of the line. But, the safety fooled Mayfield and actually picked up the wheel route by the running back. The quarterback thought he would get a wide-open running back streaming up the right sideline on the wheel route because of the three blitzers. Mayfield wanted to get the ball out quickly to back, so no other defender could get to the back in time. But with the safety picking up the running back, the defender was right there to pick off the pass. Mayfield was too quick to diagnose the play and go with it, that he did not see the defender make the move toward the running back, causing Mayfield to throw the interception.
The last play is also against Texas. This is a play where Mayfield misses the underneath defender on the play. Mayfield takes the snap and is focused on the in route by the outside receiver on the left. He once again sees a blitz from the linebackers, so he thinks the middle of the field is wide open. But, he did not see the defensive end on the right drop back into coverage as the underneath coverage. Mayfield throws right at the defensive end, but he luckily drops the pass.
Creates pressure/Holds onto the ball too long
Mayfield will scan the field and search for his open receivers. He will let the play develop in order to get the situation he wants to happen, happen. But in doing so, he can hold onto the ball far too long, creating pressure from the rush, which can cause sacks. He can also get a little antsy and move around the pocket, running into pressure. Here are some examples of these types of situations.
In the first play, Mayfield is going up against the Iowa State defense. He takes the snap and begins to scan the field, but is unable to find an open receiver. He tries to escape out the left side of the pocket, but he stops when he sees the defender close in on him. So, he tries to pivot back the other direction, looks like he is going to set and throw and then continues to go back to the left. However, a rusher is able to trip him up for a sack. He held onto the ball for around eight seconds. That is entirely too long to hold onto the ball without either throwing a pass, running or throwing the ball away.
The second play is against Georgia. Mayfield takes the snap and almost immediately feels the pressure on the left edge. So, Mayfield moves up a little, allowing his blocker to get in front of the rusher. But, Mayfield does not stay inside the pocket. He gets nervous that the linebacker is approaching up the middle of the line, so he decides to escape the pocket toward the left edge. However, he runs right into the left edge rusher for a sack. Mayfield could have stood in the pocket a little longer and trusted his blocking more.
The last play comes against Georgia again. This is another situation where he holds onto the ball far too long. Mayfield takes the snap and begins to scan the field. But, he is unable to find a throwing option, so he begins to work his way outside the pocket to the left. He is trying to direct a receiver on the right to get open. However, he is taking too long to decide what to do and in doing so he lets the rusher get to him. He had an easy chance to just throw the ball away, but he took the sack instead.
Thing to consider
The final aspect to consider with Mayfield is the scheme he played in at Oklahoma. I am not calling this a weakness, because it is not one. It is just another factor an evaluator must weigh in evaluating Mayfield’s game. At Oklahoma, he was blessed with some great coaching from Lincoln Riley. Riley has installed an excellent system that puts defenses in a number’s game and takes advantage of the defense’s inability to defend all the options. This scheme gave Mayfield situations where he had wide-open receivers. But in the end, the scheme is just the scheme. You can still evaluate the talent of Mayfield while understanding this situation he was in. I have done that and have seen enough that warrants my appreciation and affection for his game. He has elevated the Oklahoma system rather than the system elevating him. Nonetheless, here are some examples of the system he played under.
The first play against Iowa State is an RPO with wide receiver reverse added into the play. The defense has to watch the receiver, the running back, and the quarterback to possibly run the ball. So, the play freezes the linebackers and sinks them too far inside, allowing the fullback in the left slotback position to slip out and be wide open in the middle of the field. But, it needs to be said that Mayfield’s fake and quick decision-making makes this play possible and successful as it is. He faked the handoff well enough to fool the linebackers and threw the pass quick enough before the safeties could close in on the fullback.
The second play against Texas is another RPO play. Mayfield takes the snap and fakes the handoff to the running back. He pulls the ball and stares at the receiver on the left sideline. This allowed the fullback on the left end of the line to slip behind the linebackers. He was wide open for a touchdown. The defense had to account for the run play by either the running back or quarterback, along with the pass to the outside. But once again, Mayfield’s fake and his eyes focusing on the receiver on the left allowed the fullback to go unnoticed. The linebackers were trained on what Mayfield was focused on.
The final play is against West Virginia and is another RPO play. Mayfield receives the snap and has a receiver crossing in front of him to draw attention. Mayfield, then, fakes the handoff to the running back. He waits for a second and then fires the ball to a wide-open fullback, who had slipped through the line faking as a blocker. The fullback then runs for a big gain. In this play, the defense had to deal with the receiver running the reverse, the running back getting the possible handoff and the quarterback keeping for a run. Oklahoma added the disguise of having two pull blockers on the play to make the defense think it was a run play. The defense had all that to consider before they could think of the pass. Nevertheless, Mayfield’s quick read took advantage of this great play call.