Mayfield's arrival changes the fantasy appeal of Cleveland's offense moving forward
The Baker Mayfield era in Cleveland has begun, which is good news for Browns fans AND fantasy owners. About halfway through Thursday's night against the New York Jets, a struggling Tyrod Taylor left the game with what was later diagnosed as a concussion. Prior to that, Taylor had completed four passes (out of 14 attempts) for a grand total of 19 yards. He did have 22 rushing yards, but it was an otherwise abysmal performance and the restless home crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium didn't hold back on expressing their frustration.
Taylor's departure cleared the way for Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick of this year's draft, to make his much-anticipated NFL debut and the change under center was noticeable from the very first snap as the Browns' offense finally showed a pulse. Mayfield's arm strength and talent was apparent from the first pass he attempted and it's certainly fair to say he passed the eye test (and then some). For the game, Mayfield went 17-for-23 for 201 yards. He didn't have a touchdown (and he almost lost a costly fumble on his first drive when he held onto the ball too long and wasn't paying attention to the pressure around him), but he did catch a two-point conversion from Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Special?) for his team's final points.
And most importantly, he was the main catalyst in the Browns finally getting into the win column and giving fans a reason to cheer. The free beer probably didn't hurt either.
From a fantasy perspective, Mayfield's arrival meant good things for Jarvis Landry (15 targets, 8 receptions for 103 yards), and he also looked for rookie Antonio Callaway (4-20 but on 10 targets). Moving forward, Landry, Callaway and tight end David Njoku (2-36 on two targets from Mayfield) all get a boost in fantasy value.
Even Carols Hyde (23 carries, 98 yards, 2 TDs) and Duke Johnson get a slight bump because Mayfield's effectiveness in the pocket should open up things for the running game. Johnson also should see more targets as the primary pass-catching back. Mayfield's arrival benefits the receivers more but the Browns' offense overall suddenly looks a lot more appealing.
But before we get too carried away, the question is simply this — should Mayfield be started in fantasy leagues? Assuming he is the Week 4 starter (not a given at this point but you have to think that will be the decision made by head coach Hue Jackson), he already showed what he could do leading Cleveland's offense in a little more than two quarters' worth of action. He provided an instant jolt of energy, which carried over as the Browns' put together their second-half rally.
Yes Mayfield didn't throw a touchdown pass, but he didn't throw an interception either as he completed a variety of passes to different receivers. Both will come, but at this point the upside trumps the risk that comes with playing a rookie quarterback.
As of now, Mayfield should be picked up off of the waiver wire or become your top target in FAAB leagues. Those who have Tyrod Taylor on their roster would be wise to do what Cleveland is more than likely going to do — make a switch on their depth chart. Mayfield is worth consideration starting in 2-QB leagues but not quite ready for prime time as a QB1 unless it's a very deep league.
Looking ahead, he'll probably wind up somewhere around QB15 for next week's game in Oakland, as the Raiders have had their struggles on defense in the early going. After that it's back-to-back home games against Baltimore and the Chargers, both of which are probably more wait-and-see matchups. Starting in Week 7, however, is where the schedule gets interesting — at Tampa Bay, at Pittsburgh, vs. Kansas City and vs. Atlanta before a Week 11 bye. None of those defenses are particularly scary, which means Mayfield could emerge as a bye week fill-in starter depending on the other quarterbacks on your roster.
Either way, Mayfield is already something he wasn't less than 24 hours ago — fantasy relevant. He's certainly worth adding to your fantasy roster as a backup and he's more than likely Cleveland's starter for Week 4 and the rest of the season. He's got talent, a great arm, ignites the offense and most importantly, he's done what no other Browns quarterback has in 635 days — win.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)