Among his peers at his position group, Player A ranks third in yards and tied for fourth in total touchdowns. Among his peers at his position group, Player B ranks 19th in yards and tied for 15th in touchdowns. Yards and touchdowns aren't everything when it comes to the Offensive Rookie of the Year race -- even though they form the basis of football -- but Player A's advantage over Player B extends beyond just yards and touchdowns. Player A is making history on a bad team. Player B is helping a historically awful, now competitive team win games. Both are worthy of praise and recognition. But only one is worthy of Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Player A, if you haven't guessed already, is Giants running back Saquon Barkley. Player B is Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. The two players, taken second and first overall in this year's draft, form this year's Offensive Rookie of the Year race. Except that, there shouldn't even be a race this season. The race should be over.
By every single individual statistic, Barkley has been better than every other rookie this season, including Mayfield. Barkley hasn't just been the best rookie in football, he's also piecing together one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. Yet despite Barkley's clear advantage over Mayfield and the rest of the field, an argument in favor of Mayfield is beginning to form.
Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, and Brady Quinn fail to become the franchise savior they've been looking for, and after passing on quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes in recent drafts, the Browns have struck gold. Mayfield looks like the guy they've been searching for.is rooted in the position he plays and history -- specifically, the tragic history of the Browns, a franchise that went 1-31 in the two seasons prior to Mayfield's arrival, hasn't made the playoffs since 2002, and has been searching for the answer at quarterback for seemingly forever. Finally, after watching quarterbacks like
As a starter, Mayfield has led the Browns to five wins and six losses. If you count his debut, when he came on in relief of Tyrod Taylor, Mayfield has won six games. It might not have been good enough to mount a late season playoff charge, but it has been good enough for the entire football world to recognize that Mayfield is, in fact, The Prince That Was Promised.
Mayfield has the narrative. He has the #wins. But the argument ends there. His statistics don't measure up to the narrative, which only formed due to circumstances entirely outside his control. If the Browns hadn't been a mess before he arrived, Mayfield wouldn't be garnering that much consideration. If the Browns weren't 6-7-1, Mayfield wouldn't be garnering that much consideration. But wins are not a statistic that one individual player can claim ownership over. While Mayfield has undoubtedly contributed to the Browns' win total, a very good defense has also contributed significantly.
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The truth is, Mayfield is garnering consideration because he's been a league-average quarterback on a team that hasn't had a league-average quarterback in forever. So far this season, he's completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 3,065 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 92.6 passer rating.
Among qualified quarterbacks this season (not just rookies), Mayfield ranks 23rd in completion percentage, 16th in yards per pass attempt, tied for 15th in touchdown passes, tied for the 11th most interceptions thrown (even though he didn't play in Weeks 1 and 2), and 21st in passer rating. By QBR, Mayfield ranks 25th, one spot ahead of Blake Bortles, two spots ahead of Derek Carr, and three spots ahead of Eli Manning.
By DYAR, a Football Outsiders metric that measures a quarterback's total value, Mayfield ranks 16th. By DVOA, a Football Outsiders metric that measures a quarterback's value per play, Mayfield ranks 15th. If you're doubting the validity of those two metrics, consider that Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers -- -- make up the top three in both categories. By most statistics, Mayfield has been an average quarterback compared to his peers.
To be clear, simply being an average quarterback as a rookie is an accomplishment. Just look at the growing pains Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Sam Darnold are enduring. Mayfield's been the best quarterback of the bunch by a wide margin. What he's doing this early in his career is incredibly impressive.
It's just that, Mayfield's individual statistics don't measure up to Barkley's. By most statistics, Barkley has been one of the best running backs in football. So far this season, he's totaled 1,809 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage on 305 touches.
Among qualified running backs this season (not just rookies), Barkley ranks third in rushing yards, seventh in yards per rushing attempt, and tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns. He has 14 runs of 20-plus yards, which leads the league. He ranks second in receptions, fourth in receiving yards, second in yards after the catch, and seventh in touchdown catches. Put together, he ranks third in yards from scrimmage and tied for fourth in rushing/receiving touchdowns. As a rookie, Barkley is already among the best running backs in all of football.
Barkley has also been more reliable than Mayfield on a game-to-game basis. For all the the talk of how many games Mayfield has been winning in Cleveland, he's also lost the Browns a few along the way. In losses to the Raiders, Chargers, and Texans, Mayfield threw seven interceptions. In six of his 12 appearances, he's finished with a passer rating below 85. Mayfield's been brilliant at times, but he's also been below average in half of his appearances.
Barkley's almost always been brilliant. He's reached the 100-yard mark (from scrimmage) in 12 of 14 games this season. Only Eric Dickerson had more 100-yard games as a rookie with 13. With two games remaining in the season, it seems like a forgone conclusion that Barkley will at least tie Dickerson's record. He has recorded at least five catches in seven games, the third-most for a rookie (Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey each had 10 such games last season).
Barkley is making history. My colleague, Jared Dubin, compiled a few statistics that demonstrate how rare a rookie season of this magnitude is. Per Dubin's findings, Barkley is the first rookie ever with 200-plus rushes and 80-plus catches. He's the 12th player ever with 1000-plus rushing yards and 80-plus catches. Barkley is on pace to finish with 2,067 yards from scrimmage -- 26 fewer yards than Todd Gurley's incredible near-MVP campaign last season and 73 more yards than Ezekiel Elliott's electric rookie season, which ended with him getting usurped by his own quarterback, Dak Prescott, for
Prescott's award was deserved. He finished that season as one of the best quarterbacks in football, ranking third in passer rating, third in QBR, fourth in DYAR, and third in DVOA. Mayfield ranks 21st, 25th, 16th, and 15th in those same categories. There's a very good chance Mayfield will become a better quarterback than Prescott in the long-run -- he might even be better right now -- but he hasn't had a better rookie season than Prescott.
The Mayfield argument says he deserves credit for taking a team as broken as bruised as the Browns and turning them into a competitive team. The problem is, we shouldn't take into account the Browns' past when we award a player for their achievements from this season alone. The only thing that matters is what has happened since Mayfield entered the league. If we look at this season alone, it's Mayfield who has the better supporting cast. The Browns have been historically awful, but the team Mayfield joined wasn't awful. Both can be true at the same time.
The Browns aren't just Mayfield. Mayfield has the benefit of playing with a defense that ranks 10th in DVOA and second in takeaways, which has played a role in the Browns' success this season. So much of Mayfield's argument hinges on the belief that he's led the Browns to wins, something that no other quarterback has been able to do. But the defense is also responsible for those wins. They deserve credit too.
Barkley doesn't have much help outside of one player, Odell Beckham, a receiver who can hardly impact the running game. According to Football Outsiders, the Giants have the seventh-worst offensive line in terms of run blocking, yet Barkley still ranks in the top five in most rushing categories. Barkley is forced to make his own yards. According to Pro Football Focus, he's fifth among running backs in elusive rating and tied for third in yards after contact per carry. According to Sports Info Solutions, he's second among running backs in broken tackles, only one behind Chris Carson.
This isn't an unfamiliar sight:
Watch Malcolm Jenkins try to tackle him:
None of this should be meant to, in any way, take away from Mayfield's season. Mayfield has been incredible for a rookie. Assuming the Browns don't mess up in their coaching search and torpedo Mayfield's development, Mayfield should eventually emerge as one of the best quarterbacks in football. He has all the tools. And even as a rookie, he's performing like an average quarterback, which doesn't happen for most rookie quarterbacks. Imagine what he'll be able to accomplish once he has some experience on his side.
It's just that, while Mayfield has been an average NFL quarterback this season, Barkley has been one of the best offensive players in football. If Barkley doesn't win Offensive Rookie of the Year, it won't be because he wasn't good enough for the award. It'll be because of quarterback bias, a statistic (wins) that shouldn't be used to measure individual success, and a strong narrative that relies more on the past than the present. There's nothing more Barkley could've done to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. He's already submitted the best offensive rookie season, but because he plays running back instead of quarterback, that might not be enough for him to walk away with an award he deserves.
Barkley shouldn't lose Offensive Rookie of the Year because he doesn't play quarterback. Mayfield shouldn't win Offensive Rookie of the Year because he does play quarterback. Barkley should win Offensive Rookie of the Year because he's been the best offensive rookie of the season, which is reflected in both his film and statistics. The best player, regardless of position, should be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. That player is Barkley.