Can Mayfield Rediscover His Magic From 2020?


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their cheap veteran QB to compete with Kyle Trask this fall for the starting QB job.  Baker Mayfield, the first pick of the 2018 draft, will finally look to live up to his lofty draft position in Tampa, albeit 5 years later than the Browns, Panthers, and Rams had hoped.

2020 was a very good year for the Browns, and Mayfield was a significant reason why.

Despite the groans and complaints that have come from many Bucs fans on social media after the Mayfield signing was announced, there is reason for optimism with Mayfield if you’re looking for a quarterback with a ceiling of winning the NFC South.  In 2020, his third season as the Browns’ starting quarterback, Mayfield helped lead the Browns to an 11-5 record and a wild card berth.  It was the team’s first playoff berth since the 2002 season.

In their wild card round tilt at Pittsburgh, Mayfield threw for two first half touchdowns as the Browns built a dominating 35-10 halftime lead.  The Steelers found their sea legs in the second half and drew to within two scores at 35-23.  But Mayfield found Nick Chubb, who scampered 40 yards for a backbreaking score in the Browns’ 48-37 win.  They would fall the following week to eventual AFC champion Kansas City 22-17.

For the season, Mayfield completed 305 of 486 attempts (62.8%) for 3563 yards with 26 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions.  His best performance came in a 41-35 win at Tennessee.  He completed 25 of 33 passes for 344 yards and 4 touchdowns, good for a 147.0 passer rating.  His worst performance was arguably in a 38-7 loss at Pittsburgh, where he completed 10 of 18 attempts for 118 yards with a touchdown, two picks and a 54.9 rating.

Long story short: he’s been there before.  But is that success repeatable this fall?

How do the 2020 Browns and 2023 Bucs compare? 

There’s little doubt about how the 2020 Browns found success: a bruising running game and a pair of exceptional running backs in Kareem Hunt and Chubb.  The Browns ran for 2374 yards on 495 carries for a healthy 4.8 yards per carry.  They actually threw the ball 501 times on the season, so the run/pass ratio was almost 50/50.  As such, the Browns did not rely on Mayfield to win games, but he was capable of moving the sticks and making plays when they needed it.

This 2023 Bucs offense is significantly different from that Browns offense.  The Bucs’ offensive line was abysmal last year, especially in run blocking.  The 2020 Browns were definitely not.  I’ve talked about it several times before, but building a strong offensive line has to be of paramount importance for Jason Licht starting this offseason.

The 2020 Browns top three receivers were Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Donovan Peoples-Jones (Odell Beckham, Jr. actually the third-highest receiving yardage total among WRs, but tore his ACL in October 2020).  The 2023 Bucs’ WR room is, well, much, much better across the board with Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Russell Gage.  The Bucs offense is better suited for a downfield passing attack, rather than what Mayfield found success with in 2020.

New offensive coordinator Dave Canales has stated previously that he will implement bootlegs, play action, and keepers to create mismatches.  He also has noted that he will not be shy to run it or throw it more depending on what’s working.  That’s an understandable position to take when you don’t know what your team will look like.  That said, there’s one thing this team doesn’t look like right now, and that’s a physical, run-you-over type of offense.

So, at least in March, there’s little doubt that the 2023 Bucs and 2020 Browns are vastly different teams and situations for Mayfield.  We’ve seen Mayfield excel in a balanced offense that did not call for him to stretch the field often.  Beyond that?  It hasn’t gone particularly well for him in previous stops when the onus is on him to carry an offense.

Can he carry the Bucs on his back if the 2023 Tampa Bay rushing attack is substantially similar to 2022’s underperforming version?  The Bucs hope not to have to find out this fall.

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