It would have been unfathomable a year ago, but former NFL quarterback and current NBC analyst Chris Simms has ranked Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield above Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan entering the 2021 season.
Following a disappointing sophomore season, Mayfield led the Browns to an 11-5 record and their first postseason appearance since 2002. Hell, Mayfield and the Browns hung 48 points on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a road Wild Card victory. Both from an individual and team standpoint, it was an excellent season for Mayfield, who checked in at No. 13 on Simms' countdown of the top 40 quarterbacks for this upcoming season.
"If somebody told me 'I think he's the No. 9 or No. 10 quarterback.' I'd say 'OK, I get it, I'm not going to fight against it.' It was a huge year for Baker Mayfield. I think the biggest thing that I would say is it's an elite arm. He's an elite passer, an elite thrower, whatever you want to talk about that way. I think the biggest thing that jumped out to me was the amount of high-level, high-degree difficulty throws that Baker Mayfield made throughout the year. And he doesn't blink, he doesn't flinch and he hits the bullseye."
Mayfield, a former No. 1 overall pick, tossed 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions in his first season in Kevin Stefanski's offense. Mayfield was aided by an improved offensive line and a dominant one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the ground. Still, the Browns lost Odell Beckham Jr. for the year in late October, and Mayfield was still the eighth-ranked quarterback in the NFL in 2021, per Pro Football Focus.
As far as Ryan, he was PFF's 12th-ranked quarterback in 2020, and the former NFL MVP comes in at No. 15 on Simms' list for 2021.
"Matt Ryan is a freakin legend of the game," Simms said. "I don't know what to say. It doesn't make me feel proud to sit here and tell you that Matt Ryan I think is the 15th-best quarterback in football right now. He's another guy I look at where you could win a Super Bowl, you could do special things. Matt Ryan is still capable of playing at a very high level.
"...So, he's dropped a little bit. Yeah, we've had some young guys who certainly have flourished, and some other guys who were young in their career and improved a lot last year that jumped him to a degree. But I think the one thing that kind of bothered me when I went back and watched was the conservative nature in the competitive part of the football game. There wasn't enough of a 'Wait, my team doesn't have it. We're down 10-0, I gotta start making something happen.' You can't wait until it's 24-0 to start making it happen."
For both Mayfield and Ryan to be out of the top 10 gives you an idea of how strong quarterback play in the league is currently.