August 10, 2022

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How Baker Mayfield can be a top-tier NFL…

5 min read
How Baker Mayfield can be a top-tier NFL...

(Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

It seems another cruel irony in the Mayfield scenario that the Browns acquired former Raiders and Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper this offseason. Cooper is just 28 years old, he is a near-peerless route-runner when healthy, and he understands how to develop chemistry with his quarterbacks. Which is something Mayfield really hasn’t had to date. Even when the Browns had Odell Beckham Jr., things didn’t always work out between Mayfield and Beckham.

The Browns used Beckham as a decoy for other receivers when he was their best receiver. They didn’t allow him to exploit one-on-one matchups as much as they should have. And Mayfield-Beckham combo just never got on the same page as a result. When Beckham became more of a threat in Sean McVay’s offense, with Matthew Stafford as his quarterback, it should have come as no surprise.

Beckham’s one deep catch, that 26-yarder, came against the Bears in Week 3, his first game back from an ACL injury. The Bears played Cover-1 with deep safety Deon Bush cheating to the trips side. When Higgins ran the intermediate out route, and Bush recovered to help cornerback Jaylon Johnson with the potential Beckham deep route, Beckham responded by cutting his route and giving Mayfield an open target.

“Odell came in and caught the balls that were thrown to him his way,” Van Pelt said a few days after the Bears game. “He looked really good running routes. He drew coverage his way, which helps us in a lot of different ways in the run game and in the pass game, as well. He definitely had an impact out there, and we expect that to continue.”

It’s just as easy to scheme things open for Beckham as it is to use Beckham to scheme things open for everybody else. What that takes in an inherent understanding of what Beckham does well, and how he can take the top off a defense in so many ways.

Getting Beckham open on crossers and switch releases should also have worked. It very nearly did against the Vikings in Week 4. This was a deep incompletion, but the outcome did not reflect the process. Beckham was in the right slot with Anthony Schwartz outside.  When Schwartz took cornerback Cameron Dantzler out on the deep over, it was up to safety Harrison Smith, one of the best in the NFL, to work Beckham through his route.

This, he did not do. Beckham just demolished Smith on a nasty out-and-up, and had Beckham not stumbled on the turf, this would have been an easy six.

“They were very close,” Van Pelt said after the Vikings game of the Mayfield-Beckham deep connection. “Really, if you complete two of those throws, Odell is well over 100 yards, and everybody is not saying a word. That is tough. Deep balls are tough to complete. Your completion percentage is lower on those, but we were just off a hair. The one ball he had down the right side, he had to step up and maneuver some pressure, which was a tough throw, that one was close.

“The one at the end of the game [the play illustrated above], I take as much responsibility for that as anybody. As the coordinator, I repped that play multiple times versus a zone coverage, and we have driven the ball into that spot, knowing that the safety and the corner would react, and this was a man look that we have not and I had not prepared those guys for. I take as much responsibility as anybody.”

The other deep incompletion Van Pelt referred to was another situation where the Vikings were in conflict covering both Schwartz and Beckham. This time, Beckham was the iso receiver to Mayfield’s front side, and Schwartz made it more complicated with a deep over from trips to the other side. Smith was in a bind, Beckham beat Dantzler… and Mayfield underthrew the ball.

“I cannot sit here and lie like, ‘I do not want the ball,’” Beckham said this week. “Like I tell you every time I get up here, they do not pay James Harden for defense, you know what I mean? He is a shooter. I feel like I am a shooter. As I get down in the red zone and I am running a corner route and three people come with me and Higgy (WR Rashard Higgins) is wide open, I have to know that happens. I know that I bring a lot of attention to defenses on the other end, and other people are going to be open. You just have to live with that. Ultimately like I said, the Chargers are not some slouch team. They are a 4-1 team, and the only team they lost to is a 4-1 team. They were just were a better team that day. Like I said, they did the little things they had to do.”

If you have a shooter, you put the ball in the shooter’s hands. Michael Jordan had to adapt to Tex Winter’s team-integrated triangle offense, but evolution eventually won: He was Michael Jordan, and he was going to get the damned ball. In the end, that made everybody better.

Whoever has Mayfield in 2022 and beyond should realize to to develop that chemistry. This is where the Seahawks, with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett as their primary targets, would seem to be of great interest to Mayfield — and probably to Metcalf and Lockett, who would rather catch footballs from Mayfield than errant stuff from Drew Lock and Geno Smith. The Panthers have a decent group of targets with Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Rashard Higgins (who played with Mayfield in Cleveland from 2018-2021), but the high side isn’t quite what Metcalf and Lockett offer. Whichever way this goes, it could be easy for Mayfield to have a better situation with all his receivers.

How Baker Mayfield can be a top-tier quarterback — in the right offense