Debunking the Debate: Deshaun Watson vs Baker Mayfield

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Every year the NFL looks for their next darling. Last year it was Patrick Mahomes. But the Chiefs third year quarterback put up video game numbers during his MVP season so they didn’t have to bother. No need to prop him up, his performance speaks for itself.

Luckily, in the same year, a six-foot quarterback from the University of Oklahoma was selected first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by an organization who at the time seemed ill-equipped to match up against your local public high school varsity team.

Baker Mayfield is the next “thing” in this league. Just like Robert Griffin III who was never better than Andrew Luck. He’s the NFL’s Bryce Harper… who will never touch Mike Trout.

Baker Mayfield is not better than Deshaun Watson. Emphasis on the “not.” No matter what the celebrity talking heads in sports media want to tell you.

It would be boring for me to list off the typical touchdowns/interceptions/yards stats that show it. Let me dig a little deeper with a few stats for the nerds.

In DVOA, Watson finished the 2018 season 1.5% above Mayfield. DVOA is a stat that measures per play value of a quarterback. The top of the list is basically what you would expect. Patrick Mahomes finished far ahed of everybody else while Drew Brees and Philip Rivers finished second and third.

Average completed air yards (CAY) self-explanatory. Average intended air yards (IAY) is the correlating statistic. According to Next Gen Stats, Watson finished with a CAY/IAY ratio of 6.8/8.8. Mayfield was 6.3/9.1.

An important test for a quarterback is their performance under pressure, meaning when defenders are in their face or when the pocket collapses.

Football Outsiders ranked Watson as the fifth best quarterback under pressure while experiencing it at a rate of 41.1 percent. Mayfield was ranked twelfth at a 26.8 percent clip. Watson is less reliant on offensive line protection (although it would be nice for him to actually have some).

Forget the fact that he was better in every regular, football card statistic.

Now, let us now look at their off-script playmaking ability.

This one is a masterpiece.

The way Watson is able to slip away from four potential sacks and deliver a third and long dart is uncanny. His elusiveness and athleticism is like a custom Madden player.

The reason I show this play is not a shot at Baker, but it further demonstrates Watson’s elite playmaking. Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes are the only other quarterbacks in the league who *might* be able to make this play.

That being said, I am feeling fair today.

The way Baker is able to extend this play and scramble while throwing a dime to Jarvis Landry was beautiful. I could watch it on loop for hours. But there is a clear difference.

So what else do we have besides statistics?

Let’s compare their situations. Watson spearheaded a team to ten straight victories after an 0-3 start. He was coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2017 campaign and was forced to make things happen behind the worst offensive line in the league. Watson had a punctured lung in the middle of the season that forced him to ride a bus to Jacksonville. Notable wins include Indianapolis, Dallas, and a near-completed comeback at Philadelphia before the defense blew it.

Mayfield took the reigns of a team who had just finished 0-16 the year prior. His team went 1-5 against clubs with winning records. The one victory came in overtime at home vs. the Baltimore Ravens when the Cleveland defense did not allow a single touchdown.

Perhaps the overshadow of Watson is because he came out in the same draft as Patrick freaking Mahomes.

Hard to be overshadowed when your draft peers are inconsistent Sam Darnold and a running back disguised as a quarterback (Lamar Jackson).

Let me make this clear. I believe Baker Mayfield is a fine young quarterback with a bright future, especially with the talent Cleveland has been able to accumulate on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons.

But, there is something to be said for “star power” and the pundits would have you believe it is the same thing as ability.

Baker Mayfield is the bigger celebrity. He is more entertaining on social media and in press conferences. He is good for magazine covers and photoshoots. So be it.

On the football field? Watson is more efficient, a better playmaker, a by-example leader, and has a higher ceiling.

I will not listen to this debate any longer.

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Matt Burnham


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