As we approach April’s NFL draft, plenty of comparisons will be thrown out surrounding Oklahoma’s polarizing quarterback, Baker Mayfield. And plenty of people will say he’s too small, or too cocky or too much like failed experiment Johnny Manziel.
While it’s easy to compare Mayfield – who plays with a massive chip on his shoulder – to Manziel, it would also be untrue. The reality is he’s far more similar to the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson than Johnny Football.
One NFL executive told me he thought Mayfield’s footwork was sound, which includes not throwing off his back foot very often. It’s true. Watch him instead opt to step into his throws, a trait of Wilson’s. He is also excellent while operating within the pocket and what he lacks in prototypical size and stature, he makes up for in grit and sheer arm talent.
Moreover, like Wilson, Mayfield, who is generously listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, maintains superb consistency with his feet in the pocket and has the intelligence to manipulate defenses. He will often freeze a safety just long enough to then let his sensational arm strength take over and fire a bullet into a tight window. There is a certain level of fluidity to his game.
The old adage that a QB has to be 6-4, 230 pounds has been debunked. Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and the perennial Pro Bowler Wilson are also around 6-feet tall and both own Super Bowl rings.
What about the system?
Wilson ran a pro-style system during his lone season at Wisconsin, while Mayfield ran the Air Raid, like Manziel – and Tim Tebow, Geno Smith, as well as Tim Couch.
Undoubtedly, a laundry list of Heisman winners – not just Manziel and Tebow – have failed as quarterbacks in the NFL: Robert Griffin III, Troy Smith, Matt Leinart, Danny Wuerffel, Jason White, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Charlie Ward, Andre Ware, Gino Torretta and Ty Detmer are all prime examples.
How GREAT has Jared Goff been? #Rams
John Elway (first 24 starts): 4,261 yards passing, 25 TDs, 29 INTs, 6.6 YPA, 51.9 completion percentage, 65.9 passer rating
Goff (first 22 starts): 4,893 passing yards, 33 TDs, 14 INTs, 7.2 YPA, 59.8 completion percentage, 89.4 passer rating
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) January 1, 2018
But consider 2016 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff – not a Heisman winner – but more importantly, a quarterback who ran the “Bear Raid” at Cal. Goff ran spent a robust 99.8 percent of his pass snaps from pistol or shotgun running the spread during his final collegiate season. Those numbers mirror Mayfield’s during both his one season in Lubbock (he transferred from Texas Tech) and three in Norman. Keep in mind too, that NFL offenses have been transitioning more and more to shotgun over the previous two decades.
After a brilliant second season with the Rams, Goff has clearly demonstrated that a specific college system is hardly a barometer for failure. What matters most isn’t the system, but instead who is under center – or for that matter, in the gun.
With that in mind, consider that Mayfield had nearly full control of the line of scrimmage at OU, meaning he was afforded the opportunity to make any check he deemed fit. Again, this hardly guarantees success as a pro, but it shows that he is familiar enough not merely with his playbook, but with the opposing defense to consistently audible to a better play.
The rare athleticism and touch
Mayfield, who possesses a thick, durable and strong lower body, is as natural a runner as they come. But his remarkably deft touch throwing the football, like Wilson, is a huge plus. He extends plays extremely well with his feet and his genius is that he then possesses the physical fortitude to make tough throws rolling in either direction.
And he does all of this without the onslaught of turnovers that more highly touted prospects like USC’s Sam Darnold – whose 22 total turnovers this season bothers me greatly – UCLA’s Josh Rosen (nearly one interception per game for his career) and Wyoming’s painfully inaccurate Josh Allen (56.2 percent career completion rate) are accustomed to committing.
En route to becoming the first former walk-on to win a Heisman Trophy, Mayfield tossed just six picks this season despite averaging a healthy 11.5 yards per attempt and completing an impressive 70.5 percent of his passes.
A proven winner
Mayfield, 22, is also ready to play immediately. More important, he is ready to win. He’s won his entire life, guiding Lake Travis High School to a 25–2 record in two seasons, including a prestigious 4A State Championship. Not only was the Austin, Texas native 33-6 as a starter for OU, but he’s battle-tested too. In 17 career games verses ranked opponents, the ultra competitive Mayfield won 13 while amassing a stellar 46-13 TD-INT ratio. He never lost a road start at Oklahoma and twice reached the College Football Playoff.
In fact, Mayfield’s 131 touchdown passes are tied for the fourth most in FBS history. He owns the FBS single-season passing efficiency rating record with a 198.9 mark, up from his record-breaking 196.4 clip in 2016. He is also the first quarterback to finish in the top four in the Heisman balloting three straight years.
That same NFL executive told me he believed Mayfield, who captured three Big 12 titles in three years while at OU, would go somewhere in the middle of Round 1, if not the top 10.
Better yet, consider Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who, after surviving the Sooners’ 54-48 in double-overtime during the College Football Playoff semifinal, told reporters: “He’s thick, he’s physical, he’s durable, he’s not going to get hurt very often. He’s plenty tall enough – look at Russell Wilson. So I don’t know what would be wrong with his measurables. As far as I know, these NFL teams are drooling for the guy.
“The guy believes he can make every throw. He’s seen every defense known to man. He’s made every check known to man. He knows how to check and adjust.”
It’s worth noting that during his five seasons as a collegian, Mayfield – who also swept the college football awards by capturing the Maxwell, Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien and Chic Harley trophies – has morphed into a true pocket passer.
One of the main criticisms early on in his career, common in young quarterbacks, was his overzealousness to abandon the pocket when he felt pressure. During the Rose Bowl, he showed vast improvement.
Take the Sooners’ opening six-play, 65-yard drive, which culminated in a gorgeous 13-yard touchdown pass. The entire arsenal was on display as Mayfield went through multiple progressions and not only didn’t leave the pocket, but delivered a series of aggressive, accurate strikes. On the two designed rollouts, he fired a couple on-target bullets, leaving no doubt of his supreme arm strength.
Mayfield may not be for everyone, and that’s OK. He is as brash as he is talented, but he is a proven winner who comes to play in the biggest of games. That’s what being a top-flight NFL quarterback is all about. It’s why Russell Wilson has defied the odds and it’s ultimately why Mayfield will do precisely the same thing. Whichever franchise is lucky enough to draft him will be very happy for a very long time.
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Follow Jordan Schultz on Twitter @Schultz_Report
Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.
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