If Kevin Stefanski can't turn around Baker Mayfield — who is 'way more talented' than Kirk Cousins — Browns are in trouble

Yahoo Sports

It’s impossible to believe that someone who had a rookie season as good as Baker Mayfield can be a bad NFL quarterback.

It’s also hard to believe that anyone who played like Mayfield did last season can be a consistently good NFL quarterback.

What do the Cleveland Browns have with Mayfield? The answer isn’t a satisfying one. The truth is, we don’t know. You can make a strong argument for him being a future star or him being a bust from the No. 1 overall pick.

It’s Kevin Stefanski’s job to figure that out in his first year as Browns coach. The franchise desperately needs the answer to be on the “future star” end of the spectrum.

Baker Mayfield ‘way more talented’ than Kirk Cousins

Dianna Russini of ESPN passed along a quote that illustrates what’s at stake in Mayfield’s third season.

Kirk Cousins is a good NFL quarterback. We can argue if he’s worth his salary and he’s not without warts, but he’s a reasonable starting quarterback. Cousins was excellent last year with Stefanski as his offensive coordinator in Minnesota. Cousins made the Pro Bowl.

To say Mayfield is “way more talented” means the bar is high. A couple Pro Bowls and a career 96.8 passer rating with 88 career starts, which is Cousins’ résumé, wouldn’t be good enough. At least if you buy the opinion of one of the three AFC North coaches outside of Cleveland.

Mayfield’s talent is hard to deny. He won a Heisman Trophy, was the first pick of the draft and set a rookie record with 27 touchdowns despite not starting Cleveland’s first three games. Mayfield had some rough moments as a rookie too, but overall it’s hard to have a much better first year in the NFL.

That’s why it’s so hard to figure out last season, and if Stefanski understands what went wrong.

Baker Mayfield didn't have a great follow-up to his fine rookie season. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Baker Mayfield didn't have a great follow-up to his fine rookie season. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Will Mayfield turn it back around?

There are plenty of reasonable excuses for Mayfield last season. Odell Beckham Jr. played through injury most of the season. His offensive line wasn’t good. First-year coach Freddie Kitchens was in over his head.

Still, Mayfield deserves a lot of blame for a terrible season. His decision-making was poor. He threw 22 interceptions and every key stat dipped. Cousins, to go back to that comparison, never had a season that bad.

Stefanski talked with Yahoo Sports’ Terez Paylor last season and discussed his offense, which was heavy on running the ball and setting up play-action. It worked great for Cousins, and Paylor didn’t think Stefanski’s scheme would change much with Mayfield at quarterback.

“We want to play to our strengths, and any time you’re thinking about that, you’re always thinking about the quarterback,” Stefanski told Paylor. “We saw an offense that Kirk could excel in with the keeper game and the play-action, because he’s so accurate on the move. And then, with the threats we had to get down the field … we just thought there was potential there.”

The potential is there with Mayfield too. The Browns have a notoriously rough time finding a franchise quarterback. Mayfield’s 2018 season gave everyone hope. His 2019 season brought about a lot of concern.

If Stefanski can unlock what worked in 2018 and get Mayfield back to that level, it’ll make the rest of his job a lot easier.

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