Baker Mayfield, the rookie quarterback and number one overall draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft, has been nominated as a finalist for the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award, along with Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, and running back and fellow Cleveland Brown Nick Chubb. Mayfield should unquestionably be the frontrunner to win this award, and my logic behind this conclusion is, much like the appeal of Mayfield as a player himself, based in a mix of gaudy statistics and unteachable intangibles.
Right off the bat, we have to acknowledge the position differences in the ROY nominees. Up for this award are one quarterback, one linebacker, and three running backs, a deviation from last year, in which four running backs and a cornerback became finalists. Mayfield is the first quarterback to be nominated for this award since 2016, when both Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz finished in the top five to win the trophy (Prescott ultimately won it). It is also important to note the difference between the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award, about which this article has been written, and the Associated Press Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year Awards, which are considered the “official” ROY awards by the NFL. The Pepsi award is newer, only dating back to 2002 and given to one player instead of two. And unlike the AP awards, which are voted upon by Associated Press NFL writers, the Pepsi award is given to the player who garners the most fan votes. But taking home the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award is still a very prestigious achievement, and the award is presented to the winner at the NFL Honors ceremony in the city where the Super Bowl is being held one day before the game.
In the case of this year’s class of finalists, it may prove difficult to compare players from three separate positions, especially when trying to analyze a defensive player side-by-side with four offensive ones. That’s the downfall of not giving out two separate awards like the AP ROY Awards, but it’s also a positive for the person who ends up winning it. To be able to say a guy beat out not only every other player on his own side of the ball, but on the opposite side as well, is truly illustrious. However, it’s hard enough comparing quarterbacks and running backs. Darius Leonard had a great season for Indianapolis, registering 163 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions in fifteen games for a team that went to the playoffs. But placing his statistics next to those of four offensive players is like comparing apples to oranges. Seeing as Leonard’s Colts are the only team of the four on which the five nominees play to have reached the postseason, the argument could be made that Leonard deserves to win because of his team’s success. But in the NFL, no one can single-handedly win games. It’s a team effort. Outside of special circumstances, players, especially rookies fresh out of the draft, should not be penalized for putting up great numbers for non-contenders. And so while Leonard is undoubtedly an excellent young linebacker on the rise for Indianapolis, his numbers are hard to compare to the rest of the nominees. For our purposes, it makes the most sense to only focus on Mayfield, Barkley, Lindsey and Chubb.
Of the four offensive players left, Baker Mayfield played in the fewest amount of games in 2018, taking part in fourteen total contests. With that said though, only Saquon Barkley of the Giants had more starts (16) than Mayfield (13). Since we’re comparing a quarterback to three running backs, a good way to assess who had the better year is by looking at the total touchdowns scored by all four players. Quarterbacks and running backs have the option to score touchdowns both on the ground and through the air, so tallying up the combined total helps to understand quarterback statistics next to running back statistics. All three running backs had rushing touchdowns and at least one touchdown reception, but Mayfield, although he had the option at his disposal, only attained TDs through the air, not the ground. Barkley had 11 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns in 2018, giving him a grand total of 15. Phillip Lindsey’s total as 10, and Nick Chubb’s was 10.
Do you know how many touchdowns Baker Mayfield scored this season?
Now, I realize the NFL is a passing league and that, aside from the Baltimore Ravens, no one really runs the ball down their opponent’s throat anymore. 10 or 20 years ago, the touchdown totals of Mayfield and everyone else might have been closer, and the gap might have been smaller. Quarterbacks are relied upon more than players at any other position in the NFL today though, and without at least cut-rate play from its quarterback, a team can’t possibly win in this league. But that just further illustrates my point that Mayfield is the best of the bunch. The quarterback is the most important player on the team, so he has to perform. And in the case of Mayfield, who broke the record for rookie quarterback touchdown passes, he’s performed as well as could possibly be expected of him. Granted, he threw 14 interceptions and fumbled seven times, but that’s to be expected of a rookie quarterback learning the ropes in the NFL. No one else on this list even turned the ball over once, but that’s largely due to the nature of the two positions. The quarterback holds the ball on every single play, and unlike running backs, who often never fumble over the course of an entire season, even the best, most seasoned, Hall of Fame quarterbacks throw interceptions. Mayfield’s interception total is not at all surprising for someone in his situation.
Since this Rookie of the Year Award is sponsored by Pepsi, it’s only appropriate to bring up the 2018 Pepsi Rookie of the Week Award and the frequency with which the four players in this conversation won it. Saquon Barkley won it once, Phillip Lindsey won it once, and Nick Chubb won it twice.
Do you know how many times Baker Mayfield won it?
If nothing else, the Rookie of the Year Award is basically the MVP Award for first-year players. And what goes into giving someone the regular MVP Award? Aside from exemplary statistics and numbers greater than his peers, an NFL MVP also exhibits leadership skills, reinvigorating his team and rallying it to victory. He’s selfless and goal-oriented, willing to put winning before anything else. He plays with heart and passion, looks out for his teammates and never gives up.
Sound like anyone familiar?