Offensive player rankings, Week 9: Mayfield gets fresh start

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: The Cleveland Browns have already stunted Baker Mayfield’s development by about half. And he’s been in the building for less than a year.

How did this happen?

Six games into his young career, Mayfield’s 78.9 passer rating ranks him 29th out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks, per Next Gen Stats. When comparing passer rating by situation, the No. 1 overall pick ranks in the bottom third when under pressure (28th), against the blitz (29th), on quick passes (25th) and on deep passes (23rd). But you don’t need numbers to know that Mayfield, who struggled again Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been anything but comfortable.

As much as I like the recently fired Todd Haley and Hue Jackson as play designers, their track records should’ve tipped us off early on that neither was a great fit for developing Mayfield. (The reported tension between the two certainly didn’t help matters either.) Both coaches are creative with formations and putting players in positions to succeed — Haley did a good job finding ways to get Jarvis Landry the ball — but both became household names working with traditional pocket passers. And that’s simply not Mayfield. Trying to force the young passer to work between the tackles like an Andy Dalton or a late-career Ben Roethlisberger negates the improvisational skills that made Baker a Heisman Trophy winner.

In all honesty, Mayfield dodged a bullet here and I think he knows it. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Mayfield "won’t miss" Jackson because it was clear the coach wasn’t going to be there going forward.

The Browns have drafted four other QBs in the first round since 1999 and not one has panned out. There’s still plenty of time to prevent Mayfield from suffering the same fate as his predecessors, and that responisbility now falls on to new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. I’d like to see the first-time play-caller use Mayfield as a point guard, spreading the field and giving him opportunities to make decisions as a runner out of run-pass option. At Oklahoma with Lincoln Riley, a top NFL head-coaching candidate, he was just that. Mayfield did major damage with RPOs, extending plays with his legs and using great field vision to get the ball out of his hands to his playmakers. Just look at the success guys like Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Carson Wentz have had early in their careers. Their respective NFL coaches cater the offense to their strengths and in turn, the player and offense thrives. This hasn’t been the case with Mayfield in Cleveland.

I can relate to Mayfield in terms of operating in an unfamiliar offense as a rookie. At Fresno State, our offense thrived in a quick-rhythm pass game that allowed me to occasionally take shots downfield. When I arrived in Houston, a young expansion team, in 2002, we ran a down-field passing game with option routes that required me and my receivers to make reads on the fly. Couple that huge learning curve out of the gate with a poor offensive line, and let’s just say it wasn’t great. I remember how uncomfortable I felt, and I can see Mayfield living those same frustrations.

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Mayfield has shown flashes of greatness and made the Browns competitive for the first time in several years. He has weapons in the pass game with Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and David Njoku, and running backs Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb are good enough to give the offense balance. I have full confidence that he can turn his season around. More important, I have full confidence he can avoid joining that long list of Browns quarterbacks who didn’t reach their potential.

Regardless of what the Browns "do" to him, Mayfield will do fine because of his talent. But, I want to see him get the chance to become the player the Browns envisioned when they drafted him. Come on, Cleveland. Don’t mess this one up.

Each week in the 2018 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the Week 9 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.

1Todd GurleyRBRams
It felt like the Packers did a good job containing Gurley for most of the game. Then, I looked at his stats and he still put up 114 yards on the ground and had six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. (And he could’ve had another.)

2Patrick MahomesQBChiefs
Mahomes and the Chiefs made some impressive adjustments after the Broncos’ defense kept them off balance in the early going. Mahomes finished with four passing touchdowns to give him a total of 26 in his first nine career games (including one start in 2017), the most in a player’s first nine career games in the Super Bowl era.

3Tom BradyQBPatriots
It was nice to see the Brady-Edelman connection in prime form Monday night. Whenever the Patriots were in need of a big play, Brady dropped a dime to an open Edelman, who seemed to be all over the field. Monday’s win over Buffalo wasn’t the prettiest, but Brady and Co. still got it done — as if there was ever a doubt.

4Aaron RodgersQBPackers1
It’s too bad Rodgers, who played well against the Rams’ defense, didn’t get the opportunity to string together another game-winning drive. I think he would’ve done it had he had the chance.

5Drew BreesQBSaints1
Brees threw his first interception this season — after 179 completions on 231 attempts prior to that INT — and had one of his worst outings statistically of the season. Yet, thanks to some Vikings’ miscues, the Saints won their sixth straight game. Brees must be better vs. the undefeated Rams this weekend.

6Alvin KamaraRBSaints
He’s so hard for any defense to account for and proved it Sunday. Finishing with 45 rushing yards, 31 receiving yards and two touchdowns, Kamara was the Saints’ go-to guy when they needed points most.

7Adam ThielenWRVikings1
We all make mistakes, but Thielen’s second-quarter fumble was a big one. That error gave the Saints all the momentum for the rest of the game. However … he did it! He’s the first player in NFL history with such games in each of the first eight games of a season. I don’t see this streak ending any time soon.

8Antonio BrownWRSteelers1
With two receiving TDs Sunday, Brown now has eight in 2018. He’s on pace to far surpass his 2017 season total of nine.

9DeAndre HopkinsWRTexans1
After a slow start against the Dolphins, Hopkins rebounded with a HUGE second half that saw him record four catches on four targets for 74 yards and two touchdowns. The Texans are on a five-game win streak with Hopkins logging four TDs in that span. After the Week 7 win over Jacksonville, he told NFL Network’s James Palmer that no cornerback could defend him. He’s not wrong.

10Michael ThomasWRSaints1
Thomas is off to the best start of his career through seven games — 58 receptions, 669 receiving yards and four TDs. Of players with a minimum of 15 receptions in 2018, Thomas’ 90.6 receptions rate is the best in the NFL.

11Jared GoffQBRams
Goff eventually found his rhythm against the Packers and finished with 295 passing yards, three TDs and a 111.0 passer rating. Interestingly, he struggled using play action — an area in which he usually excels — as he completed just five of his 13 attempts. It was his worst performance of the season using play action.

12Travis KelceTEChiefs
Sunday’s performance saw Kelce haul in six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. He has been great in his last five games vs. the Broncos (dating back to 2016) with 110 receiving yards per game and four receiving touchdowns.

13A.J. GreenWRBengals1
Green isn’t putting up outrageous numbers when it comes to receiving yards, but he is getting in the end zone (six times this season). The Bengals leaned on Green on the final drive of the game, and he came through with two receptions for 39 yards to set up a game-winning field goal.

14Russell WilsonQBSeahawksNR
Now that the Seahawks seem to have a consistent ground game, Wilson’s been able to show off the arm. Against the Lions, all three of his touchdown passes were on throws of 10-plus air yards, according to Next Gen Stats. Furthermore, 14 of his 16 passing touchdowns this season came on such throws.

15Philip RiversQBChargers
Coming off a bye week, Rivers and Co. will be tested when they travel to face the Seahawks. Pete Carroll’s squad has steadily improved since the beginning of the season and will demand Rivers’ best.

Dropped out: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs (previously No. 13).

JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15

Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: Hill continues to be one of the best deep threats in the NFL. In the Chiefs’ win over Denver, Hill hauled in his ninth reception of 20-plus air yards this season. And since 2017, Hill has 13 catches of 40-plus yards (most in the NFL).

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants: Beckham had a big day in Sunday’s loss (eight receptions for 136 receiving yards) and is the reason the 1-7 Giants are still watchable.

Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: It feels like the 3-4 Falcons are in a win-or-go-home situation. Sitting behind the Saints (6-1) and Panthers (5-2) in the NFC South, the Falcons need to find away to get Jones the ball in the end zone. (I feel like a broken record.)

Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: The second-year back leads the team in scrimmage yards (854) and scrimmage touchdowns (10) this season.

Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: Diggs played well against a Saints defense that is improving by the week, with 10 receptions for 119 receiving yards and a TD.

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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