When all was said and done, the top two players taken in the 2018 NFL Draft proved to be the top two offensive rookies in the league this past season. Baker Mayfield, the quarterback drafted first-overall by the Cleveland Browns, set a rookie record with 27 touchdown passes, while New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley became just the third rookie to record over 2000 yards from scrimmage.
By the end of the season, however, it was Barkley, the number two pick, who was formally recognized as the Offensive Rookie of the Year, something that Mayfield can never get back. But it can also drive him to get even better in his second season and beyond.
He did receive the Professional Athlete of the Year Award in the city of Cleveland, and during his address in receiving that honor, he did talk about the fact that he was passed over for the NFL honor, and in particular the fact that it went to Barkley, whom he considers a friend.
Mayfield said that he and Barkley made a wager toward the end of the season about who would win the award, the loser owing the winner a chain necklace. And so the Browns quarterback is in the process of getting that to Barkley sometime in the near future.
“It’ll say ‘Quads’ on it”, he joked. “Not ‘Sa-quads’ but just ‘Quads’. The two extra letters in there cost a little bit of extra money, so we’ll stick with just ‘Quads’”. But “the more important thing is winning football games”, he said.
“Yeah, it’s more frustrating than anything because Saquon, that’s my guy and he’ll hold it over my head forever. But you know what, I’ll use that as motivation and I’ll be better in the long run”.
Mayfield took over for an injured Tyrod Taylor in the middle of the Browns’ Week Three game, inheriting a deficit before leading a comeback for Cleveland’s first win since late in the 2016 season. He would remain in the starting lineup for the final 13 games, going 6-7 in them and nearly leading the Browns to their first winning record in over a decade. They would ultimately finish 7-8-1.
Mayfield posted a quarterback rating of 93.7 as a rookie, completing 310 of 486 passes for 3725 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Three of those interceptions, however, came in a loss in the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens. He did throw eight of his 27 touchdowns in the final three weeks, including three against that Ravens defense.
The first-overall pick was by far the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2018, at least in terms of evaluating their passing abilities. Some will argue that Lamar Jackson was the better player, and that is a debate worth having, but if I had to pick one of the two for 2019, it would be Mayfield without question. The first team to face Jackson twice learned how to stop him.