Mayfield was a fantastic college quarterback but there are some glaring holes in his game that must be addressed one way or another. What follows are five steps the Browns must take to assist his development.
Open up the offense
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley and head coach Hue Jackson are going to have a different player under center than either have ever employed. Mayfield thrived in Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid system at Oklahoma, which is nothing like the offenses Haley and Jackson have run. They’re going to need to change things up to fit with their new quarterback.
Haley and Jackson have employed similar philosophies, with a reliance on beating single coverage to the outside and throwing over the top to soften up defenses. That can’t be what they expect from Mayfield. While he has a solid arm, it’s not a cannon.
People often compare Mayfield to fellow diminutive quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, and neither one of those is accurate. Wilson ran a 4.55 40 at the combine in 2012, and Mayfield ran a 4.84. He’s not even close to the same kind of athlete Wilson is. His scrambling and speed worked in college, but it won’t in the NFL. And Mayfield doesn’t have the arm Brees or Wilson has. He’s easily a notch below them. That’s not a knock on his throwing ability, but the other guys have superior arm talent.
The two veteran offensive minds will have to be willing to spread things out to take advantage of Mayfield’s strengths. He thrives when the field is spread and throwing lanes are open. His accuracy (70.9 percent as a junior, 70.5 percent as a senior) largely relied on spread formations where he could rely on his superior wideouts beating single coverage, or using his intelligence to find his targets beating zones. He was also so successful in Riley’s offense because he routinely had receivers matched up on linebackers and safeties. Which meant he typically had them running wide open.
Two tight end sets aren’t going to help him. The Air Raid relies almost exclusively on four-wide sets, which can’t be the norm in the NFL. But going three-wide, with a single running back and David Njoku at tight end might work. They could also split Njoku off the line as well.
If they want Mayfield to feel comfortable immediately, Haley and Jackson are going to have to be creative. He’s going to have to be out of the shotgun a lot — he was exclusively a shotgun quarterback in college — and he’ll need multiple targets spreading the field. This isn’t a guy who is going to step in and thrive in a conventional NFL offense.
There’s a reason Air Raid quarterbacks struggle in the NFL, and it’s because NFL coaches don’t adjust for them.