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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Baker Mayfield: Bucs Allow Me to Best Version of Myself

Through the first quarter of his first season with the Buccaneers, QB Baker Mayfield has proved to be a good for the team both on and off the field, and it's bringing out his best ball


Baker Mayfield entered the NFL as the first overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Cleveland Browns, and the first part of his career unfolded in a completely unsurprising fashion for a player of that pedigree.

He showed plenty of promise as a rookie, throwing 27 touchdown passes in 13 starts, compiling a 93.7 passer rating and finishing second in the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. The Browns, who had won a combined four games over the previous three seasons, won six of his 13 starts. Mayfield's second season was not a significant step forward but he did threw for 3,827 yards as the Browns went 6-10. The breakthrough for both quarterback and team came in Year Three, the 2020 season in which Mayfield threw for 3,563 yards, 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 95.9 passer rating as the Browns went 11-5 and won a playoff game.

Again, this was in no way an unexpected trajectory for a young but gifted passer. The next two seasons of Mayfield's career, however, were not nearly as satisfying. His numbers regressed during an injury-plagued 2021 campaign and the Browns dropped back to 7-10. The Cleveland organization then made the dramatic decision to trade for former Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson and sign him to an extremely lucrative long-term deal. This prompted the Browns to trade Mayfield to Carolina in 2022, and after a rough stint on a troubled team that fired its head coach midstream, he was later waived and then signed and dropped right into action by the Los Angeles Rams.

On Wednesday, as he looked ahead to his fifth start for his fourth NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mayfield noted that the opposing quarterback in that contest will also be a former first-overall pick who was traded away by his original team. Jared Goff originally seemed like a throw-in to the trade that sent former Lions star quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams in 2021, but he has rejuvenated his career in Detroit and currently owns a 104.4 passer rating for a 4-1 first-place team.

"Jared is a stud – coming from somebody that needed a fresh start, as well (emphasis added)," said Mayfield. "Jared is a stud. I think he's playing really well. I think you can tell his leadership and all of the [reasons] why he got chosen that high – he's truly showing that now. Not every fit is perfect. For him, I think his confidence continued to grow and he's got all the tools you want."

View pictures from Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice on 10/11/2023.

Fit and confidence seem to be the right words to apply to Mayfield's equally fast start with the Buccaneers, who signed him to compete to be Tom Brady's replacement in the spring. After beating out third-year man Kyle Trask in the competition to be the starter, Mayfield has led the Bucs to a 3-1 start while throwing for seven touchdowns, two interceptions and a 101.5 passer rating. It's fair to say that the team, to this point, has exceeded national expectations for the Mayfield-Buccaneers marriage.

Mayfield said he was drawn to the Bucs by previous interactions with Head Coach Todd Bowles during the lead-up to his draft, and that he has appreciated the way the franchise has operated in recent years. Joining forces with Bowles and the Bucs has worked out well for him.

"It takes a lot of hard work to have that groundwork laid," said Mayfield. "Coming in here, they've always said from the beginning to just be myself and be the best version. When you allow people to be confident in that and believe that's more than enough to have success, good things will happen. They've been, obviously, really welcoming since the beginning."

One can definitely make the argument that Mayfield has been the best version of himself so far as a Buccaneer. Statistically, Mayfield is off to the best start of his career. His passer rating is higher than it's ever been after his team's first four games and his 7-2 TD-INT ratio matches how his strong 2020 season opened. His interception rate (1.6%) is the best it has been, as is his sack rate (3.10). He did throw for more yards in the first four weeks of the 2019 and 2021 seasons but the Buccaneers are making a concerted effort to have a balanced offense and are averaging nearly 30 rushing plays per game.

None of this comes as a surprise to the Buccaneers' decision-makers, who signed Mayfield in large part because they felt like his skillset – which, again, was good enough to get him drafted first overall – was a good fit for what they wanted to do under new Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales. That included being able to move out of the pocket and make throws on the run. This ability, not to mention his willingness to run for tough yards at key moments, is a big reason why he currently lead the NFL in passer rating on third downs (140.7).

"I think it kind of fits his game," said Bowles. "It is kind of like he was in college – some half rolls, some bootlegs, some drop backs. It's not like he is handicapped, he can throw the football. He can throw a deep ball; he can throw from the pocket. He is a good quarterback. I don't think that needs to go unnoticed. At the same time, he understands this offense [and] it fits him. He has been around a couple teams since before he came here. He has matured a lot and a lot of it has to do with timing. It was perfect for us. As a leader, he was perfect for us and, as a team, I think it fit both parties."

It's clear that Mayfield has been a good cultural fit in the Buccaneers' locker room, too. That was made obvious on Wednesday when he was named one of the team's captains, which is decided by a vote by the players. Bowles purposely delayed that vote until the team had been playing for about a month so that leaders could emerge naturally. That didn't take long for Mayfield, who got his team fired up with a lethal stiff-arm on Vikings' cornerback Byron Murphy in the season opener.

"I'm not going to lie," said safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who was also named a captain on Wednesday. "It was the first game when he stiff-armed somebody, and then he was talking his trash. I'm like, 'Oh yeah, that's what I'm talking about. That's my type of quarterback right there.'

"It's just makes you want to go harder. You see him going out there balling, making plays, fired up, and it gets everybody jacked up, so that's what you need on the team like this. Having him up there has been huge for us, and he's playing well."

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