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Debunking the Debate: Deshaun Watson vs. Baker Mayfield

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Don’t get star power confused with performance. Too many talking heads already have.

Detroit Lions v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Every year, the NFL looks for its next darling. Last year it was Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs’ then second-year quarterback put up video game numbers during his MVP season, so they didn’t have to bother justifying its obsession. No need to prop him up; Mahomes’ performance speaks for itself.

Luckily, in that same year, a six-foot quarterback from the University of Oklahoma was selected first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by an organization that at the time seemed ill-equipped to match up against your local public high school varsity team. Baker Mayfield is now the next “thing” in this league. Just like Robert Griffin III, who was never better than Andrew Luck. Like 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 value per play of a quarterback. The top of the list is basically what you would expect. Patrick Mahomes finished far ahead of everybody else, while Drew Brees and Philip Rivers finished second and third.

Average completed air yards (CAY) are 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 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%. Mayfield was ranked twelfth at a 26.8% 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 he was created as a custom “Madden” player.

The reason I show this play is not to take a shot at Baker. It simply further demonstrates Watson’s elite playmaking ability. Russell Wilson and 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 led a team to nine straight victories after an 0-3 start. He was coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2017 campaign and he was forced to make things happen behind the worst offensive line in the league. Watson suffered a collapsed lung early in the middle of the season that forced him to ride a bus to Jacksonville. Notable wins for the Texans include Indianapolis, Dallas, and a near-completed comeback at Philadelphia before the Texans’ defense blew it.

Mayfield took the reigns of a team that 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 against the Baltimore Ravens when the Cleveland defense did not allow a single touchdown.

Perhaps the overshadowing of Watson is because he came out in the same draft as Patrick Freaking Mahomes. Hard to be overshadowed when your draft peers are the 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 photo shoots. So be it.

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

I will not listen to this debate any longer.