Buccaneers: Browns can learn about Baker Mayfield from Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Jameis Winston’s time with the Buccaneers has been very similar to what the Browns have seen from Baker Mayfield.

The 2021 NFL regular season is quickly coming to a close and this is the time where teams will begin to evaluate their future if they aren’t in the playoffs. The Buccaneers can’t relate, but the Browns are nearing the end of their season, and this should give them plenty of time to evaluate the future for quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Stats are getting thrown out comparing Baker to previous Hall of Fame quarterbacks at that stage of their career, battle lines are being drawn, and the Cleveland fanbase is ready to come to blows over what the right decision is on their quarterback and his future.

Sound familiar anyone? It should.

The Buccaneers recently went through the same thing as fans made cases for keeping Jameis Winston. Tampa ended up going a different direction, and the rest was history, but there are still plenty of what ifs going throughout the fanbase.

While comparing quarterbacks from different eras is disingenuous at showing true comparisons as the game changes, comparisons between quarterbacks in the same era and in similar situations is effective, and it turns out that the evidence proves there that a legitimate comparison between Winston and Mayfield exists, and the Browns need to keep this in mind before making a decision.

Here is a look at the raw offensive numbers through each quarterback’s first four seasons:

Jameis Winston: 14,628 passing yards, 97 total touchdowns, 96 turnovers, and completed 62% of his passes

Baker Mayfield: 13,940 passing yards, 95 total touchdowns, 81 total turnovers, and completed 62% of his passes

On their face, no one can deny that there are some comparisons here. We will get to the context in a moment, but both quarterbacks were on similar paces for touchdowns, passing yards, turnovers, and did it with a nearly identical completion percentage.

Now, by this point, every Jameis Winston supporter has likely already commented “but wait! Winston’s teams were way worse. This comparison isn’t fair!”

Let’s take a look at that also. Both players joined terrible teams with bad coaches. Winston and Mayfield were both Heisman winners and both went first overall in the draft, meaning they joined the worst teams in the league.

Winston had two different head coaches during his first four seasons (Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter) and Mayfield had three HCs during the same time (Hue Jackson, Freddie Kitchens, and Kevin Stefanski).

Three coaches in four years for Mayfield is slightly tougher than Winston’s two coaches in the same time, but Stefanski is a great coach, so the coaching comparison is a push. Onto the offense.

On offense, quality of pass catches has been an advantage for the Buccaneers. In four seasons, Winston had four 1,000 yard receivers (all Mike Evans). Baker had three in the same category (Jarvis Landry twice and Odell Beckham Jr.)

The area that sets these two apart in this category is depth. Outside of Landry and OBJ, Baker’s depth has been lacking. Outside of Landry and OBJ, Baker’s next best receiving performances through his four seasons from another pass-catcher was from David Njoku in 2018 with 639 yards.

To put that number into context, the Bucs had five receivers during that time not named Mike Evans that performed better than the 639 number. The numbers aren’t everything, but there shouldn’t be a Bucs fan alive that would argue that Baker had better receivers than Winston at any point in his career outside of name alone.

Now, for the running backs. Tampa had one All-Pro running back during the time frame against zero from the Browns, but no one would argue that Baker had a worse run game. The Browns averaged nearly a full yard per carry more than the Bucs during the frame. Advantage Baker.

The offensive lines were nearly comparable. The Browns did find more consistency with Baker during his most recent two years, but Jameis still had names like Ali Marpet and Demar Dotson to protect him, prior to Dotson’s regression, but there is still an advantage for Baker here.

To recap, Winston had much better pass catchers, Baker had the much better run game, and the offensive line went in Baker’s favor. You could argue that this is equalized by having to learn a new system every season for Baker, but either way, acting like Winston’s situation on offense was far worse than Baker’s is disingenuous.

As for the defense, this is likely where everyone has been chomping at the bit. “But Jameis’ defense was terrible!” Well, in many ways, so was Baker’s.

Through four years, Winston’s defense gave up 25.5 points and 364.8 yards per game. Baker’s defense gave up 24.4 points and 358.5 yards per game during his stretch. It is also worth noting that Winston’s defenses created 95 turnovers (23.8 per year) and Baker’s defenses created 90 (22.5 per year).

Again, this is not to argue that Winston had it better than Mayfield, the numbers prove otherwise, but they do show that the gap between the two from an honest perspective is small at best. Acting like this is comparing apples and bowling balls is ignoring what the data consistently shows on both sides of the ball over four years.

Winston and Mayfield are controversial player because their careers have been so similar. Each is the type of player that will prove you right if you watch them long enough. Each has extremely high highs and painful lows, and this inconsistency is why their fanbases are so split.

Whether you are for or against Baker or Jameis, you are probably right. There is enough there that these debates will likely never end, but that is the name of the game. Do the highs outweigh the lows? Can your team overcome the inconsistency?

The Buccaneers said no and went on to win a Super Bowl with Tom Brady. The Browns said yes last season and won a playoff game with Baker, but other options like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers may prove too good to pass up.

These decisions will always get pushback from the most passionate fans defending their stances, but that is the game. The Browns need to decide which version of Baker they will it get. Will he play like Winston with the Bucs or Winston with the Saints? Will fifth year Baker be more like 2020 Baker or more like Kitchens Baker?

There is never any way to know until you do it, and that’s why it’s nice that the Buccaneers have taken the inconsistency out of the equation. Perhaps the Browns will follow suit.

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