By Eric McClung, Player Profiler
Special to Yahoo Sports
The clear highlight matchup at the top of the Week 9 marquee is Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. Sunday Night Football pits arguably the most talented quarterback of all time in Rodgers against Brady, the passer with the best career of anyone to ever play the position.
The late afternoon undercard features the undefeated Los Angeles Rams facing Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. Even the early-game slate has a number of interesting divisional matchups.
Yet, it’s an early game that fans with an eye toward the future of fantasy football and the league as a whole ought to watch. When the Kansas City Chiefs face the Cleveland Browns, we’ll get Round 1 of Patrick Mahomes vs. Baker Mayfield — two of the best quarterback prospects to enter the league over the last half decade.
These two share a history and were incredible performers at the collegiate level. Given the special nature of both players, this matchup could evolve into the premiere quarterback showdown for the new generation.
PlayerProfiler helps to illuminate Mayfield’s sterling pedigree: a 98th-percentile college QBR and a 99th-percentile yards per attempt are mind-boggling figures. In fact, Mayfield set the all-time passing efficiency rating as a junior and then topped that mark as a senior. This all came despite a significantly downgraded supporting cast.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Mayfield hit 60 miles per hour on the radar gun during the passing drills for a 97th-percentle throw velocity. Mahomes throws just as hard and is a bigger, more agile athlete. Back in 2014, Mahomes enrolled at Texas Tech. Mayfield left that very same school to transfer to Oklahoma. The year prior, Mayfield became the first walk-on true freshman quarterback to start a season for a BCS team.
In 2015, Mahomes and Mayfield each threw 36 touchdowns in their first season as full-time starters. Oklahoma beat Texas Tech the following year in a stunning 66-59 fireworks display of offensive production. Mayfield threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns. Mahomes also accounted for seven total TDs, but he passed for 734 yards and ran for another 85 yards in a losing effort.
Fast forward to today. Past his redshirt rookie season, Mahomes is excelling in Kansas City with incredible weapons and an outstanding head coach to support him. Mahomes has now thrown four or more touchdowns in five of his nine career games. That kind of production makes someone like Sammy Watkins a buy-high player to acquire in trades.
It’s time to shed the boom-or-bust label placed on Watkins after a disastrous 2017. Watkins is producing with consistency while being elevated in a premiere passing offense. Over his last six healthy games, he’s been targeted seven or more times on five occasions with a pair of 100-yard games. He also has four contests with more than 70 yards. Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill is dealing with a groin injury. His absence would thrust Watkins — a former top-five pick — into a featured role, in addition to making Chris Conley a play in deep leagues.
On the flip side, Hue Jackson is finally out in Cleveland after the Todd Haley experiment lasted just eight games. This is the brain trust that did not give Mayfield — the top pick in the draft — a single practice rep with the first team until after Tyrod Taylor was hurt in Week 3. This came a week after Josh Gordon was traded for a fifth-round pick from the New England Patriots.
According to the game charting done by PlayerProfiler, receivers targeted by Mayfield have committed a league-high 23 drops — nearly a third by Antonio Callaway alone — on passes delivered accurately and deemed catchable. Despite the bad hands, Mayfield’s deep-ball completion percentage of 40 percent is 13th in the league. Slightly better than Mahomes, although the latter leads the league in long throws by volume. Also promising for Mayfield, he’s already sixth with 15 money throws despite not playing in the first two and a half games. For comparison, Mahomes has 20 money throws on 62 more pass attempts. Both quarterbacks are pushing the ball down the field with a nearly identical average pass distance per attempt (9.6 and 9.5) and are among the league leaders in the metric.
Mayfield is now below 40-percent ownership in Yahoo Fantasy leagues. Even so, he remains a very fine streamer over the next two weeks. After facing Kansas City — who just gave up 262 yards and two touchdowns to Case Keenum — Cleveland stays at home against a fantasy-friendly Atlanta Falcons defense before heading into a bye week. It’s worth noting that Rashard Higgins (knee) could return for that contest. From Weeks 2-5, Higgins caught 12-of-15 targets for an average of 51.5 yards per game.
After ghosting fantasy gamers a week before Halloween, tight end David Njoku draws the perfect defense for a séance. Kansas City has allowed the second-most receiving yards to tight ends and has been scored on by C.J. Uzomah and Jeff Heuerman in consecutive games. Despite last week’s air ball in the box score, Njoku ranks No. 6 in total target distance among tight ends with a target share of nearly 20 percent. Fantasy players should not panic. Either hold Njoku or look to acquire him.
At first glance, Chiefs vs. Browns is just another game. Mahomes is an MVP candidate while Mayfield seeks to overcome the latest round of coaching turmoil in Cleveland. Yet, these are not two ships just passing in the night. Assuming everything we see from Mahomes is legitimate and Cleveland lands an offensive-minded coach worthy of Mayfield’s ability and promise, plenty of exciting chapters of this budding rivalry are yet to be written. This could be the future Brady vs. Manning. Both fans and fantasy football players alike have a lot to look forward to, this week and beyond.