Baker Mayfield was drafted by Cleveland in 2018.

Despite going 6-7 and 6-10 his first two seasons as a Brown, he saw his fifth-year option picked up after going 11-5 in 2020.

But that would be his only winning season in Cleveland.

Overall, he went 29-30 in 4 years in Cleveland before being traded to Carolina in 2022, his fifth-year option season.

In those four years in Cleveland, among 34 QBs with 800 total pass att, he ranked:

  • #33 in completion rate (61.6%, NFL avg 65.5%)
  • #26 in EPA/att (+0.01, avg +0.06)
  • #26 in success rate (44%, avg 46%)
  • #27 in TD:INT rate (1.6:1, avg 2.4:1)
  • #30 in INT rate (2.9%, avg 2.1%)
  • #34 in total interceptions thrown (56)
  • #29 in sack per pressure rate (22.7%, avg 19.2%)

He went 1-5 in Carolina before being benched then cut mid-season.

He was signed by the Rams to close out the 2022 season.

He went 1-3 in LA and became a free agent.

In 2023 free agency, he signed a one-year, $4 million prove-it deal in Tampa.

He started the year 4-7…but the Bucs won five of their last six games, held the tie-breaker to win the NFC South, and punched a ticket to the playoffs.

They went 1-1 in the playoffs.

Thanks to those final eight games, of which the Bucs won six, Baker earned himself a $100 million contract to stay in Tampa.

And while the wins and the playoff berth reflected well on him, it wasn’t even Baker’s best season statistically in several areas.

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How good was Baker Mayfield in 2023?

For example, he averaged more YPA in every single one of his four years in Cleveland than he did last year in Tampa.

His success rate passing the football was better in three of his four years in Cleveland than it was last year in Tampa.

His non-RB completion rate (62.1%) was just the fourth-highest in his career and ranked #30 out of 35 qualifying QBs last year.

However, when targeting RBs last year, Baker had insane numbers.

Out of 35 QBs, he ranked:

  • #2 in completion rate (87%) (career high)
  • #4 in EPA/att (+0.15)
  • #6 in YPA (6.8)
  • #10 in success rate (44%)

When not targeting RBs, he ranked:

  • #17 in EPA/att
  • #21 in success rate
  • #22 in YPA
  • #30 in completion rate

Another aspect that similarly helped the Baker statistically but is largely not reflective of sustainable performance was outstanding third down offense.

On third downs last season, Mayfield ranked:

  • #6 in EPA/att
  • #8 in first down conversion rate
  • #9 in YPA
  • #10 in success rate
  • #12 in completion rate

Most of these were, by far, career-best marks.

For example, in his career before Tampa, Baker converted 33% of third down passes into first downs while averaging just 55.9% completions and -0.16 EPA/att.

But last year in Tampa, Baker converted 40% of third down passes into first downs while averaging 63.7% completions and +0.17 EPA/att.

We’ll dive deeper into Baker Mayfield and the 2023 Bucs in my 2024 Football Preview, but the bottom line is, though they were 9-8 and threaded a needle to make the playoffs, this wasn’t an elite rebirth by Mayfield as some might lead you to believe.

Particularly when the context of their schedule is taken into account.

The Bucs were fortunate in many ways with their schedule.

If they played in any other division aside from the NFC South, Baker probably isn’t getting a $100 million contract because he probably would not have make the playoffs.

The NFC South was the worst division in football last year.

As a whole, the NFC South won only 27 of 68 games, and their 27-41 (0.397) record was by far the worst in the NFL. It was the fourth-worst win rate for any division since 2015.

Overall, the Bucs played the #9 easiest schedule in the NFL.

And despite the easy schedule and terrible division, the Bucs needed every bit of schedule assistance to earn their 9-8 record and tiebreaker to make the playoffs.

Last year, Tampa was 0-3 if their defense didn’t record a takeaway.

They went 3-7 vs. teams with a winning record… but 6-1 vs. teams with a losing record.

They went 1-5 vs. playoff teams… but 8-3 vs. non-playoff teams.

They played four games vs. teams that started rookie QBs (second-highest total games in NFL) and went 3-1 in those games.

They went 3-6 in games they did not win the turnover battle.

They went 2-7 in games their opponent scored 18 or more points and 1-6 in games their opponent scored 20 or more points.

Mayfield has been all over the place without winning.

But he was valued more in Tampa than anywhere else thanks to how the 2023 season ended.

It was a smart move by him and a great deal for him to sign, and it’s hard not to feel good for Baker right now.

But I’d still argue that if the Bucs don’t make the playoffs, he’s not getting this contract.

And they only made the playoffs thanks to a terrible schedule and career-best performances in several metrics that aren’t sustainable, such as RB passes and third down performance.