The future looked so promising for Baker Mayfield and the downtrodden Cleveland Browns. After replacing Tyrod Taylor as the team’s starting quarterback early in the 2018 season, Mayfield took the league by storm, playing like the quarterback Cleveland had been waiting over two decades to find, earning the second-highest grade we’ve ever given to a rookie quarterback.
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So, with a tremendous supporting cast of skill players, 2019 was supposed to be Cleveland's year. Instead, Mayfield regressed heavily while the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson — Cleveland's divisional rivals — produced an offensive explosion that resulted in a 14-win season and an NFL MVP for Jackson.
2018 NFL Season: Mayfield impresses; questions surround Jackson as a passer
Jackson came out of the box with a ready-made ability in the running game. It helped spark a winning streak that led Baltimore to the playoffs in 2018 — Baltimore’s expected points added (EPA) per running play sat at –0.018 from Weeks 1 to 9 with Joe Flacco as the team's starting quarterback, but it increased dramatically to 0.038 from Week 11 on with Jackson as the starter. That was the seventh-best figure in the league over the regular season's final seven weeks.
In fact, on plays where the former Heisman-winner was involved in either a read option or a designed run for the quarterback, the team generated 0.097 EPA per rush — a number that would have ranked fourth in the league in terms of EPA per play.
Still, Lamar struggled in the passing game and questions remained about whether or not he could carry the team for a full season. On true dropback passes alone in 2018 (straight drops with no play-action, RPO or rollout), the former Louisville star finished with a lowly 55.4 passing grade, the sixth-worst in the NFL that season. And on plays we charted as a “first read” throw (as in not resetting his feet to the backside of a play), Jackson only threw an accurate pass on 49.4% of his pass attempts.