Oklahoma was fresh off a big win against Kansas State, a game in which the team managed to climb back on the efforts of senior QB Baker Mayfield. It was my fifth sampling of Mayfield this season, and I was ready to dig into why he's the real deal as an NFL prospect. And no sooner did I hit send on my first tweet of the evening, the push-back bubbled to the surface.
"Baker Mayfield is the next Johnny Manziel."
I re-read the statement again, just to make sure my eyes hadn't deceived me. And as I contemplated the best way to combat such a take, which in my belief is the furthest thing from the truth, I decided to dig. The mis-information and lazy hyperbole on Oklahoma's Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield spanned far across the internet.
"Mayfield has a below average arm." "Scrambling QBs don't transition well from college to the NFL." "Mayfield is a product of a spread system."
As it turns out, there's a lot of generic negativity centered around Mayfield, but I'm here to tell you that it fails to hold up. Mayfield is a potential franchise QB, with the needed physical abilities, mental toughness and chip on his shoulder to be successful.
Myth: Mayfield Is The Next Johnny Manziel
What do Johnny and Baker have in common?
- They're both undersized QBs
- Each has had a college level brush with the law
- Both are mobile QBs who can freelance and make things happen with their feet
But when looking deeper into this assertion, there's a lot that doesn't add up to a 1:1 relationship. In relation to their size, Baker Mayfield is a reported 6006, 220 lbs. Is that prototypical size for an NFL passer? No. But it is a more sustainable frame than Manziel's 5116, 207 lbs that he checked in at for the 2014 NFL Combine. Manziel's frame was long and lean, where as Mayfield carries his weight well and has some strength to his lower body. Ignore the size issue for Mayfield: he meets baseline thresholds at size and weight. He'll be just fine.
When looking at their respective personalities off the field, Mayfield was a walk-on at Texas Tech who has had to scrap for every ounce of success that he's had. Foiling that background to Manziel's recruitment between Oregon and Texas A&M as a three-star prospect and there's already a greater instilled drive for success from Mayfield.
Manziel flushed for the NFL as a third year sophomore, where as Mayfield had the opportunity to leave early after 2016 but decided to come back, he'll be entering the NFL at the age of 23 as compared to 21 for Manziel. There's a mental maturity that extends beyond each player having a brush with police here that isn't even in the same stratosphere between the two.
Don't believe me? Take this clip from NFL.com's report on Manziel from Nolan Nawrocki.
"(Johnny)...still must prove he is willing to work to be great, adjust his hard-partying, Hollywood lifestyle and be able to inspire his teammates by more than his play-making ability. Overall character, leadership ability and work habits will define his NFL career...he will be challenged to avoid a Ryan Leaf-like, crash-and-burn scenario if he does not settle down and mature."
The party habits of Johnny Manziel were one of the dirty little secrets of the 2014 NFL Draft process and it did not take long for those issues to bubble to the surface in the NFL. Manziel once showed up to practice with the Browns drunk. There was the issue of potential NCAA violations for making money off of his signature in college, the arrest and subsequent fight/misdemeanor charge for producing a fake ID to police in College Station as a 19 year old RS freshman, being kicked out of the Manning Passing Academy for being late every single day he was in attendance, the various documented incidents of partying and late nights as a rookie between being drafted 22nd overall and the start of his first training camp, the first fine in the NFL for showing up late to a August 11th team meeting (as a rookie) and ultimately missing a December walk-through after a night out with WR Josh Gordon just days after admitting he needed to "take it (his job) a lot more seriously.
Where does Mayfield stand? Mayfield pled guilty to three charges stemming from a February 25th incident in which he was tackled by police. Mayfield, who was intoxicated, was charged with and pled guilty to public intoxication and disorderly conduct. That's....it. Mayfield had a lapse of judgement while in an unclear state of mind. He wasn't behind the wheel of a vehicle. He didn't assault anyone. There's no trend of disturbing or problematic behavior here.
It's actually quite the opposite. Mayfield is, by all accounts, a team leader and hard worker. Mayfield penned a letter last month detailing what fuels him and profiling some of his trials as a college athlete, which I highly recommend reading. Mayfield writes that he remembers his middle school health teacher telling him he'd almost certainly never make it as a pro athlete. He talks about the list of names and things people who have doubted him throughout his life. Mayfield gutted out a tough win in the 2017 Red River Rivalry with an injured shoulder before proceeding to sit out the entire week of practice, then come back and throw for 410 yards in a big come from behind win over Kansas State.
Mayfield is out to prove the world wrong. Manziel was given the world and drank, gambled and partied it away.
Myth: Mayfield Doesn't Have A Good Arm
Now comes the fun part. Let's talk about Baker on the field. Here's a throw from the 2016 Red River Rivalry against Texas which shows quite a bit of Mayfield's arm talent.
We could talk about how this route combination is something you'd expect to see at the NFL level. Mayfield's eyes go left before working back to the middle of the field and finding an overaggressive FS in the middle of the field. But just appreciate the throw, first. This throw travels approximately 60 yards down field from the time it leaves Baker's hand at his own 22 yard line to when it reaches his receiver. In stride.
That's a phenomenal level of arm strength, especially when considering this ball doesn't hang in the air. There is of course more to arm talent than just vertical strength. For instance, you want to see a Quarterback zip passes and see the ball explode off of his hand.
Velocity on this throw is good. Very good. Especially considering he's throwing on the move to his left. You'll regularly see Mayfield show juice in the shorter and intermediate areas of the field. But even more importantly, he shows placement both against man to man and zone coverage.
This throw from 2016 is to a SPOT, not to the man. And it's in stride. Just out of the reach of a turning defender in the middle of the field. Again, this is a Sunday throw in a spread offense. Just because a lot of throws will be easy doesn't mean you can't find hard ones. Baker, incidentally, makes even the hard ones look easy.
Myth: Mayfield Is A Product Of A System
Is life easier in a spread system? Of course. But to assert someone cannot play unless in a spread system is a strong stance. It would be one I would be inclined to agree with on a handful of QB prospects over the past few seasons. Those would include former Baylor QB Bryce Petty, Washington State's Luke Falk and others. But not Mayfield. Why? Because although some of the throws are more open than they will be in the NFL, there's ample evidence that Mayfield can throw with anticipation (see the play above), throw in holes against zone coverage and properly read man beating concepts and layered reads.
These are required tasks at the NFL level, and we've seen Mayfield execute. So sure, he throws more screen passes and wide open slants/skinny posts than he'll find in the NFL. But the body of work with NFL concepts is present.
Great spot throw to his TE from Mayfield vs. Texas (2017). Texas shows two safeties on the third level in the pre-snap, indicating to Mayfield that he's going to have a soft spot in the outside pocket behind the CB squatting in the flat. Sure enough, the CB holds the stop route on the boundary and Andrews presses his route outside of the Cover 2 safety.
Mayfield does well to make this decision vs. Cover 2 zone and pulls the trigger before Andrews gets his head around and uncovers in the soft spot (anticipation). The ball is put perfectly over the hook/curl defender (touch!) and into the hands of his receiver There's ample examples of these live action reads on Mayfield's tape. Take this throw in Bedlam 2017:
No, this isn't necessarily Baker's best throw (55 air yards with a slight adjustment from a receiver). But look at the 3 pronged route concept to attack the Free Safety in the middle of the field. TE Mark Andrews presses his vertical stem right up the hash and the FS eagerly steps forward in hopes to challenge the throw. Mayfield's eyes read this play from left to right, so when the LB jumps on the top of the route stem, the FS last saw Mayfield look left, and hinges away from an uncovering receiver up the numbers to the right.
Mayfield sees single safety and knows if his receivers separate vertically it's a go. But reads don't necessarily have to work left to right or vice versa.
Against Kansas State (2016), Mayfield shows hi-lo reads in the short/intermediate/deep levels of one third of the field. The goal? Putting routes in front of the eyes of defenders in zone aims to force someone to commit prematurely. As Mayfield rides the mesh point and pulls the football, the defense has appropriately accounted for Mayfield's initial two reads: the flat and the drag.
The problem? The play side CB responsible for a deep third of the field sees a whole bunch of space in front of him and freezes. Just long enough for Mayfield to put the ball over the top and in a place where a rotation middle third Safety cannot impact the play.
Myth: Scrambling QBs Don't Translate Well
Well...yeah. About 98% of QBs in general don't transition well from college to the NFL. 98% (I'm approximating, by the way) of players in general cannot cut life in the NFL. But you cannot simplify a player assessment by typecasting him because of a trait he does or does not have.
But let's touch on this concept that Baker Mayfield is a scrambling QB, shall we? Some of the rushing attempts (to date) for notable 2018 QB prospects:
- Baker Mayfield: 369 rushes in 43 career games to date (8.6 rushes per game)
- Josh Allen: 225 rushes in 25 career games to date (9.0 rushes per game)
- Mason Rudolph: 204 rushes in 38 career games to date (5.4 rushes per game)
- Sam Darnold: 117 rushes in 23 career games to date (5.1 rushes per game)
- Josh Rosen: 95 rushes in 27 career games to date (3.5 rushes per game)
- Lamar Jackson: 586 rushes in 34 career games to date (17.2 rushes per game)
While the perception is present that Mayfield is a scrambling QB, why hasn't the same narrative grown for Josh Allen, who is averaging more rushing attempts per game throughout his college career?
What if I told you Mayfield's rushing attempts had declined significantly over the first two years as a starting QB in college football vs. the last two? 11 rushes per game (8 games, 2013) and 10.8 rushes per game (13 games, 2015) vs. 6.0 rushes per game (13 games, 2016) and 6.8 rushes per game (9 games YTD, 2017).
It's lazy. It's inaccurate. Mayfield uses his legs as a weapon but does so primarily to extend passing opportunities.
Would have been very easy for Mayfield here to tuck tail, drop his eyes and flush the pocket. Instead, Mayfield gets his eyes out to his receivers after avoiding pressure (masterfully so, by the way) and throw an accurately placed football. Mayfield's greatest hits collection is juking and shaking some of the best defenders in college football out of their cleats before ultimately passing the football. He's done it to Ohio State, Tennessee, Auburn and Texas, to name a few.
Mayfield is a mobile quarterback, but he's not a scrambler. For instance, this throw against Ohio State is a great showcase of mobility, arm touch and the value of a mobile passer.
Textbook throwing mechanics on the move. Mayfield consistently finds himself in a balanced and proper throwing motion when he's off his platform. It makes him, this athleticism and mobility a dangerous and potent mix. Mayfield can kill pressure and pass rush by moving off of his spot and still being able to identify receivers open down field.
Texas brings 6 against Mayfield (2017) on 3rd down but Mayfield's mobility causes rushers to miss their target. Mayfield "gets skinny" flushing through an inside gap and ultimately finds himself in a balanced position to throw late and is accurate with the throw. Mayfield did the same to Ohio State this year as well.
This is a pass first Quarterback with excellent field vision and composure under pressure. Mayfield may run, but he certainly doesn't run with the frequency you saw in 2013 and 2015. And when Baker does take off and absorb hits, he does so at 220. He'll need to be smart taking contact, as any successful QB would, but he's not frail. As a matter of fact, he's tough as hell. Plays like this one against Kansas State (2017) are not ideal for the contact but do wonders for the psyche of a team.
Oklahoma is down 14 and going for it on 4th down on the road. They need a spark. Enter Mayfield, who drops the boom on a tackler with a shoulder that hurt him so bad he couldn't throw with it until the day before the game. The medical staff told Mayfield he could do no additional damage to the injury, so here we are. And guess what? Oklahoma won the game.
Don't do it. Don't underestimate Baker Mayfield. Or pass him over because he's not a prototype athlete. Or make assumptions. Watch the film. Mayfield is a first round prospect, with traits comparable to Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Mayfield plays the game with intensity, drive, leadership and he's fully capable of shouldering an offensive load. The Sooners lost their top two rushers and leading receiver from 2016, yet Mayfield's game has advanced to a point we simply hadn't seen.
I liked Mayfield a good bit entering the 2017 season, forecasting him as a mid-round prospect. I cited some inconsistencies with footwork as a primary root of his issues, plus the previously discusses height issue. I also mentioned many of the things that make Mayfield magic on the field: creativity, mobility and clear decision making/ball security.
Things have come together for Mayfield in 2017, as he's risen to the occasion as the individual leader of his team. With his trajectory continuing to point up, consider me on board for Baker Mayfield as a potential franchise QB and a player worthy of a 1st round selection. You won't find me on his list.