Clutch Performers

Offensive player rankings, Week 13: Aaron Rodgers plummets

"We have people that we believe in calling the plays now." -- Baker Mayfield

The Browns' rookie quarterback certainly didn't hold back in his postgame press conference Sunday after beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 35-20, in the jungle. Of all the brutally honest comments from the QB, this one stands out the most, because it illustrates the budding relationship between Mayfield and new play-caller Freddie Kitchens.

After the Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley in late October, I wrote that Kitchens -- who replaced Haley after more than a decade as a position coach -- should use Mayfield as a point guard by spreading the field and giving him opportunities to make decisions out of run-pass option plays. That's exactly what I've seen the last three games, and it has allowed the young signal-caller to develop more in his brief time under Kitchens than he did in half a season with Jackson and Haley.

The proof is in the pudding. In his past three games, with Kitchens calling the shots, Mayfield has completed 73.9 percent of his passing attempts for 771 yards and nine touchdowns, throwing only one interception and taking just two sacks. In Mayfield's first five starts, he completed 56.5 percent of his passes, threw eight touchdown passes against six picks and was sacked 19 times. Per Next Gen Stats, Mayfield has also thrived against blitzes, under pressure, on quick throws and on designated runs, showing massive improvement in each category since Jackson's exit.

As a former quarterback, I know firsthand the importance of having a great relationship with the offensive play caller. The relationship is based on trust. As a quarterback, I had to trust that the play caller was putting me in the right position to succeed. On the flip side, the play caller had to trust that I would use my talent and football IQ to make the right decisions on the field. This relationship is so important to having a successful offense. If these two people aren't on the same page, the offense will struggle.

Kitchens and Mayfield are off to a promising start, but we'll need to see how the rest of the season plays out, along with the Browns' search for a new head coach. Based on what I've seen, though, I do think Kitchens has done enough to deserve consideration for the offensive-coordinator job in 2019, regardless of who is hired as the head man.

While the jury is still out on Kitchens and Mayfield, here are three new QB-play caller marriages in 2018 that we can already safely say ARE built to last:

Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears: I was excited for this pairing when the Bears hired Nagy last offseason. Coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree, Nagy has taken advantage of Trubisky's athleticism by using the second-year passer on designated run plays and play-action passes. Trubisky, who's currently battling a shoulder injury, is one of the better rushing quarterbacks in the league right now, with 363 rushing yards (7.1 yards per carry) this season. Nagy has allowed Trubisky to settle in and develop, unlike in his rookie season, when he was asked to do too much from the pocket. In turn, Trubisky has been far more productive this season than he was in 2017.

2018 in 10 starts: 7-3 record, 246.9 pass yards per game, 20 TDs, nine INTs, 97.7 passer rating.
2017 in 12 starts: 4-8 record, 182.8 pass yards per game, seven TDs, seven INTs, 77.5 passer rating.

That's quite the difference, all thanks to Nagy's system catering to Trubisky's strengths.

Frank Reich and Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have undergone a huge turnaround, going from a 1-5 team to one of the league's hottest clubs, heading into December at 6-5. The offense is producing at its highest level since 2014 (the last time they made the playoffs) in several categories: points per game (29.5), yards per game (388.2), pass yards per game (275.3) and yards per play (5.8).

All of this has been made possible, in large part, by a vastly improved offensive line. Reich has been instrumental in Luck's return to form by dialing up packages to get the ball out quickly instead of relying heavily on downfield passes. Luck has excelled, especially in personnel groupings with at least two tight ends this season. Luck leads the NFL with 14 TD passes from two-plus TE sets this season, according to Next Gen Stats. Most quarterbacks would excel under Reich's direction, let alone one as talented as Luck. As long as Luck stays upright, like he has this season, the Colts' offense will be tough to stop.

Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs' head coach has been one of the league's best play callers for years. To make matters worse for the rest of the AFC, first-year starter Mahomes fits like a glove in Reid's scheme. A year ago, with Alex Smith under center, the Chiefs' offense excelled by using designed QB runs, gimmicky plays (with sweeps and motions) near the line of scrimmage, and getting the ball into the hands of dynamic playmakers. The Chiefs still do all of those things with Mahomes, but Mahomes has the ability to extend broken plays with his legs on the regular and can heave the ball literally anywhere on the field. The Chiefs are one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL and will stay that way as long as this pair remains in K.C.

Each week in the 2018 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 13 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

Brees gave Saints fans reason to feel thankful Thursday night when he threw four touchdown passes on just 171 passing yards. All four of those TD passes in the Saints' 10th straight win were to players who entered the league as undrafted free agents -- Tommylee Lewis, Austin Carr, Dan Arnold and Keith Kirkwood.

Mahomes has been the biggest surprise of the 2018 season with an NFL-leading 37 touchdown passes through 12 weeks. With the MVP race heating up heading into the final stretch, he is one of the favorites to take home the hardware.

Goff showed his value when Todd Gurley was limited against the Chiefs a couple weeks ago. The quarterback's big Week 11 performance prompted his climb in the rankings along with a well-deserved spot in the MVP conversation.

Gurley is slowly falling out of the MVP race but has a legitimate case for earning back-to-back Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Kamara had an OK day against the Falcons, finishing with 14 carries for 89 yards and one reception for nine yards. Expect more from him as the Saints aim to lock up home-field advantage.

With Drew Brees getting literally everyone on the offense involved Thursday, Thomas didn't get a ton of attention (for once), finishing with four catches for a season-low 38 yards. Don't expect this to be the norm going forward.

With 147 receiving yards against the Saints, Jones is on pace for 1,898 this season. That would be the second-most receiving yards in a single season in NFL history behind Calvin Johnson's 1,964 mark from 2012. Definitely a possibility for Atlanta's WR1.

Hopkins surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the fourth time in his career with his solid effort in Monday night's win over Tennessee. He ranks seventh in receiving yards (1,024) and is tied for fifth in receiving TDs (eight) this season.

Aiming to climb the ladder in the NFC playoff picture, Wilson orchestrated the 22nd game-winning drive of his career against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Wilson has the Seahawks firing on all cylinders heading into the final stretch.

Rodgers has played well in 2018 but has YET to win on the road. Injuries have certainly played a part in Green Bay's 4-6-1 record, but Rodgers and Mike McCarthy need to get on the same page.

Against the Cardinals, Rivers set an NFL record for the most consecutive completions to start a game with 25. The veteran quarterback is having one of the best seasons of his career and must maintain his high-level play with Melvin Gordon battling an MCL sprain.

Helping his team dig out of a late 10-point deficit Sunday, Luck was excellent in the Colts' final two drives of the game: 6-for-6 for 110 passing yards, one TD, zero INTs and a 158.3 passer rating. He's played extremely well during the team's five-game winning streak, posting a 129.6 passer rating in that span.

It's crazy to think that JuJu Smith-Schuster is as much of a threat as Brown right now, but JuJu has outproduced Brown when it comes to receiving yards. When watching the film on JuJu's 97-yard TD reception, Brown ran the exact same route on the opposite side of the field and Ben Roethlisberger chose to throw to the youngster. Interesting, right?! That said, Brown has obviously done his part for Pittsburgh this season, as he's gotten into the end zone in eight of the last nine games. He has 11 total receiving touchdowns -- the reason he's in and JuJu's not.

Among tight ends, Kelce leads the NFL in receiving yards (914) this season and is second in receptions (67) and receiving TDs (seven).

Hill has been a touchdown magnet this season and is tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns (11) with Antonio Brown and Eric Ebron. I'm excited to see what Andy Reid has drawn up for Hill and the rest of the Chiefs coming out of the bye week.

Dropped out: Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs (previously No. 14); Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers (No. 15).

JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: In New England's win over the Jets, Brady passed Peyton Manning for most passing yards in NFL history, including playoffs (79,416). Between TB12 and Drew Brees, it feels like there's a record being set every week.

Adam Thielen, WR, Vikings: On the night when Randy Moss received his Hall of Fame ring, Thielen passed him for the most 100-yard receiving games in a single season in Vikings history.

Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: Ertz continued to produce against the Giants with seven catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. The sixth-year tight end leads the Eagles in receptions (84), receiving yards (895) and receiving TDs (six) this season.

Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs: Hunt has been a perfect complement to Patrick Mahomes. He's been dynamic in both the run and pass games with 14 scrimmage touchdowns.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers: Despite the loss to Seattle, the second-year pro had a career-high 237 scrimmage yards. McCaffrey also became the fifth player since 2000 to post both 100 rushing and receiving yards and score both a rushing and receiving touchdown in a game.

Eric Ebron, TE, Colts: Tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions (11) heading into Week 13, Ebron is having a banner year. He has as many TD receptions already this season as he did in his first four seasons combined.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys: A huge reason the Cowboys sit atop the division, Zeke leads the league in rushing yards (1,074) and already has a career-high 47 receptions this season.

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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