It is kind of perplexing to see Saquon Barkley installed as the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year in Las Vegas. He's a hefty fave too, as noted by the folks at Oddshark.com, with Mayfield all the way out as a 3-1 underdog for the award.
I get it -- Barkley has been great for 90 percent of the season. He's the first-ever rookie to produce an 1,100-yard rushing season and a 70-reception season. He's done it with 10 touchdowns while averaging over five yards a carry. Saquon is a Pro Bowl running back out of the box., Barkley is a very worthy candidate for the award. No one's saying Barkley is bad.
But Barkley is a running back. And if you haven't been paying attention, running backs don't matter. That's not to be a jerk, but Le'Veon Bell was arguably the best running back in football, he skipped the entire season and he was easily replaced by James Conner. When Conner got hurt, rookie Jaylen Samuels stepped in and ran for 142 yards against the defending AFC champs in a must-win game for Pittsburgh.
Running backs are fungible in the modern NFL game. Barkley's skillset might be difficult to duplicate, but his production isn't impossible to replace. The Giants won their last Super Bowl with Ahmad Bradshaw as their leading rusher. Saquon is making history and New York just fell to 5-9 after being shut out by the Titans at home.
In a must-win game for the Giants, who are now eliminated, they couldn't score a single point on offense despite having Barkley on the field the entire game. Barkley ran 14 times for 31 yards and caught four passes for 25 yards. He was snuffed out by the 13th ranked defense in football by DVOA. The Giants were supposed to win eight games this year according to Vegas. They're going to max out at seven if they can win their last two games, neither of which they'll be favored in.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, all Baker Mayfield's done is step in for an injured Tyrod Taylor and cement himself as the future of the franchise for the Browns, making people believe in a land where belief and hope are borderline sad words. Mayfield has been impressive statistically -- he has 11 interceptions on the season, but his accuracy (63.4 percent) has been very impressive. He's also thrown 21 touchdowns this season, which puts him in pretty exclusive company. There are just 15 quarterbacks in NFL history -- ever, mind you -- with more than 20 passing touchdowns in a rookie season.
Mayfield is one of them, and he didn't start the first three weeks (he came in shortly before halftime against the Jets in Week 3) and he has two weeks remaining. If Mayfield can throw six touchdowns in the final two games of the season, he'll break Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson's record for most passing touchdowns as a rookie. Again, without playing the whole season.
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Take his current numbers and extrapolate them over a full season and the results would be historic. No rookie quarterback has ever thrown for more than 4,000 yards with more than 25 passing touchdowns, less than 15 interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes in NFL history.
Just using his current pace, Mayfield would be the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 3,500 yards with 24 touchdowns, less than 15 interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes.
The only remotely comparable season to what we're seeing? Dak Prescott's 3,685-yard, 23 touchdown, four interception season in 2016. Dak won Offensive Rookie of the Year that season and he even beat out a highly-drafted, game-changing rookie running back to do it. Ezekiel Elliott had a heck of a year, led the league in rushing even, but he's not a quarterback.
Playing the position as a rookie is infinitely more difficult than stepping in as a first-year running back. Again: not knocking running backs, but the difference in making that leap is pretty chasmic.
This year, Barkley's exploits are highlighted, because we don't have a crew of young running backs exploding for huge stats. There have been 12 running backs to topple the 1,200 scrimmage yard barrier in a rookie season since 2015; it's just not that uncommon. T.J. Yeldon did it. And Barkley stands out a little bit because his running back competition from the rookie class, like Mayfield, was held back a bit.
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Saquon is better, but he's not that much better. Chubb is the guy you pointed to when noting the Giants could have Sam Darnold and [insert running back from later round here] -- he went 35th and the Giants took Will Hernandez 34th. Lindsay went undrafted. The position is interchangeable.
Barkley was shoved into the starting lineup immediately because he was the No. 2 overall pick. Lindsay was held back because of coaching. So was Chubb.
Speaking of which ... here's the best argument for Mayfield over Barkley: if the Browns had fired Hue Jackson in the offseason (which they obviously should have done) and if the Browns had started Baker Mayfield in Week 1 (which they obviously should have done), Cleveland would be in the playoff hunt with Baltimore, Tennessee and Indianapolis.
That doesn't feel like remotely a stretch. The Browns tied the Steelers Week 1 in a game they should have won. They lost a game in Week 2 against the Saints -- in New Orleans! -- they should have won. Overtime losses against the Raiders and the Buccaneers? Sure they are on the road, but the Browns were the better team in both of those games.
Cleveland was up 17-7 early against Oakland, then up 28-14 in the second half, eventually DOWN 34-28 before being back up 42-34 before losing 45-42 in overtime. Take Hue out of the picture and that's a win. I'm sorry, it just is.
The game in Tampa Bay shouldn't be looked at as a free win with a better coaching staff, but the stuff between Todd Haley and Hue was seriously boiling up at that point in time. If the current iteration of the Browns heads into Tampa and plays the Bucs, at any point on Tampa's timeline for this season, I would pick the Browns to win and I would feel confident they pull it off.
So let's be conservative here and give the Browns 1.5 wins. Just beat the Steelers and Raiders. The Browns would be 8-6 and in a dogfight for the division (the Steelers would have another loss) and in the thick of the playoff race. The world would be rallying around Cleveland making a run.
You know who's responsible for that run? Baker Mayfield, the give-no-effs quarterback who rose from an unrecruited walk on at Texas Tech to Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma to No. 1 overall pick to budding superstar quarterback.
Oh right. And Baker is freaking incredible. What amazes me watching Mayfield play is how quickly he bounces in the pocket and the natural way he slides back and forth, all without every looking like he's losing control. He's calm and collected and the game doesn't look too fast for him. That's really rare for a rookie. Mayfield can run if he wants, but he doesn't look to do it.
Typically he just uses his legs to extend plays and then make people pay down the field. I could watch this throw on an endless loop.
This might sound weird, but he's crazy accurate throwing into good coverage. My favorite throw of the season -- I think -- is this stupid pass from Mayfield to Jarvis Landry against the Panthers. Mayfield is pressured and he still calmly steps outside the pocket, scans downfield, doesn't panic and rips the ball loose. Landry is double covered when the ball arrives but the throw is so perfect that not only can the defenders not make a play on it, but Landry doesn't have to adjust at all. It's an absolute DIME.
OK, saying it might be my favorite is dumb. It's definitely my favorite. He's even kind of throwing across his body and the ball is a laser way down the field. Rookie quarterbacks don't do this. Imagine if Baker had a full season in his current system. We would be talking about something utterly and completely historic. Instead we're just left with a really good rookie season from a guy playing in a place that rookie quarterbacks don't succeed.
Running backs come and running backs go. Mayfield is altering the course of football history in Cleveland. Give him the hardware.