For the first time in a while, the Cleveland Browns actually had somebody who was reasonably in the running for something that is good. Their first-overall pick in 2018, quarterback Baker Mayfield, was a favorite to receive the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Instead, it went to New York Giants running back—and Penn State alumnus—Saquon Barkley.
Personally, for as great a season as Barkley might have had statistically, I would have given the award to Mayfield. For one thing, it’s not as though the Giants did better than the Browns. And Mayfield ended up nearly driving Cleveland to its first winning record in over a decade. Officially, he was 6-7 as a starter, but was also responsible for the other win, coming in with a losing score and registering a comeback, so he should have a 7-7 record.
For a Cleveland Browns quarterback, that’s actually a pretty amazing feat. And he did that while managing the firing of his head coach and his offensive coordinator in the middle of the season, seeing the running backs coach promoted to offensive coordinator and playcaller. Now, that ended up working well, but that’s a huge adjustment mid-stream.
And Mayfield helped lead them to a 5-3 record after that happened, with their three losses only coming to playoff teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs. They took the Baltimore Ravens, the winners of the AFC North, down to the wire in a must-win game for them in the season finale, on the road as well if I recall correctly.
Oh yeah, and he threw 27 touchdown passes, which is more than anybody else had ever done as a rookie, breaking the record of 26 previously held by Peyton Manning and later tied by Russell Wilson. And both of those quarterbacks started all 16 games, while Mayfield only started 13.
Even taking his rookie status out of the equation, there probably aren’t many players who made more of a difference for their team last season from one year to the next than Mayfield. He literally inherited a 0-16 team and went 7-7 in the games he played, resulting in the biggest season-to-season turnaround in franchise history, and probably one of the bigger ones overall.
As for Barkley, of course he had a very good rookie season. He rushed for 1307 yards with 11 touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry, while adding another 721 receiving yards on 91 receptions with four more touchdowns. He was just the third player ever to record over 2000 yards from scrimmage as a rookie.
Both were very deserving, and in almost any other year Barkley would have been a no-brainer, even though his success rate on his carries was only about 34 percent because he gained so much of his yardage on chunk plays.