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2018 Scouting Report: Scouting Oklahoma quarterback, Baker Mayfield

Taking a deep dive on one of the most electric, and perhaps most polarizing, players in college football over the last few years.

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NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Where do you start with a guy like Baker Mayfield? One of the most prolific players in college football history, one of the best success stories as the first ever walk-on to win a Heisman trophy, and a guy who has generated enough media buzz and attention to rival another former Heisman winner who played for Denver.

A lot has already been written about Mayfield leading up to the draft; so my goal is to hopefully provide a unique perspective on a guy that I have watched closely throughout his entire college career.

Full disclosure: I am an Oklahoma Sooners fan on Saturdays when I’m not a Broncos fan, and, thus, love Baker Mayfield by default. However, I was/am also a fan of Tim Tebow, but that didn’t preclude me from being realistic about his limitations as an NFL quarterback. Additionally, as an avid fan, this also means I have seen nearly every game Mayfield has played in his career, not counting additional film study. So I’d like to think that I have the ability to be objective, while also being factually persuasive; either way, you’ve been warned.

Background

Baker Mayfield was a walk-on (a player on the roster, but not on a football scholarship) at Texas Tech after coming out of high school in Texas as a 3-star recruit, but only receiving scholarship offers from Rice, Florida Atlantic, and New Mexico. After Tech’s starter went down with injury, Mayfield stepped in as a true freshman and led the team to a 5-0 start before being injured, himself, and replaced by Davis Webb (3rd round pick in 2017 by the New York Giants, and original identity of Jason Bourne).

After the season, Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma without a scholarship offer and again walked on to a major program. After sitting out the 2014 season due to a conference eligibility rule, Mayfield burst onto the scene in 2015 and captained the Sooners’ offense for three years.

In those three years, Mayfield racked up 12,292 yards, 119 passing touchdowns, and 21 INTs for a 5.6/1 TD/INT ratio, and a 69.8 completion percentage, and was a Heisman finalist in both 2016 and 2017, winning the award in 2017.

Tangibles

Despite Mayfield’s small stature, he has all the physical traits you want in a quarterback:

  • Good arm strength and ball velocity
  • Solid mechanics
  • Ability to throw from multiple platforms and on the move
  • Good pocket awareness and ability to maneuver within it
  • Mobility and ability to create as a runner. Had 18 rushing TDs in three years at Oklahoma
  • Deadly accurate.

Mayfield is widely regarded as one of the most accurate passers of this draft.

  • Elite production

In nearly every statistical category, Mayfield stacks up as one the best, if not the best quarterback of this class. Here are some examples:

This one particularly impressed me. Under pressure, his passer rating still outscores the other QBs’ ratings from a CLEAN pocket.

I intentionally stayed with chartable statistics from Pro Football Focus as opposed to their grades, as those can carry more subjectivity.

The numbers are at times eye-popping. Mayfield’s 2017 season was absolutely dominant. And he produced at this level after losing his top two rushers and leading receiver from the previous year to the NFL.

Intangibles

Believe it or not, I actually think that Mayfield’s intangibles/mental side of his game are stronger than his raw physical abilities.

Anticipation/Reading defense

Football IQ

He shows excellent mental processing ability and can digest plays quickly. He’s a fast learner. Take a look at him on the whiteboard with Steve Mariucci. The buzz from the Senior Bowl, as well as the Combine and private workouts, is that Mayfield has blown teams away with his football IQ and ability on the whiteboard.

Here’s an excerpt from MMQB’s Robert Klemko, who has been doing an excellent series on Mayfield leading up to the draft:

Mayfield says he clicked really well with Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, and with the Broncos staff as well. Miami, Denver and New Orleans were among a handful of teams that structured the meeting as follows. First, a coach diagrams a play on a white board. He runs down the protection, the routes, the progressions, how to attack a defense in Cover 2, Cover 3 and Man. Then he erases the play and the questions begin. Who’s one teammate you’d like to take to the NFL with you? Tell us about this play in the Oklahoma offense? What’s your drink of choice? What do you plan on running in the 40? At the end of the 15 minutes, Mayfield is handed a marker. Teach us the play.

Mayfield believes he aced those tests, and even recalled a handful of those plays a day later. “Miami’s was a gun, Richmond protection, with an out route and backside go,” he says. “Denver was Dice right, 72, seam on the backside and a dig.”

In addition to quizzing Mayfield on a pro-style offense, teams have also been interested in learning about the offense he ran at Oklahoma, as head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense is extremely well-designed:

“Some teams are just analyzing our offense,” Mayfield says. “You look at Philadelphia running RPOs, and what McVay is doing with the Rams. Some of what we did is the next step for the NFL. They have to adapt to the players and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not old-school football anymore. You’ve got to play to your players’ talents.”

The processing ability doesn’t just stop in the classroom, though. It translated on the field as Mayfield grew every year and demonstrated a control and mastery of the offense in his final year.

He also shows good decision-making. For an aggressive quarterback who loves the big play and pushes the envelope in terms of “backyard” style plays, he takes care of the football, throwing only 6 interceptions all of last year.

Inside the Pylon writer, Mark Schofield broke down five of Mayfield’s interceptions here, and for the most part, it was excellent plays by the defense, or a rare instance of the defense fooling or baiting Mayfield rather than just carelessness with the football.

Leadership/Competitiveness

Additionally, one of his best traits is his competitive nature and relentless drive for winning. Teammate, Mark Andrews said this about him:

“He was always the guy to text everybody to get together and get in work that was not scheduled with the football team. Getting in routes and going over things, etc. And that’s huge. When you haven’t played football in a while you need to go run some routes and catch some balls with your quarterback and stay in rhythm. Having that person who demands everyone be there three or four times a week even when it’s not mandatory, was huge for us.”

On Mayfield finding success in the NFL:

“There’s no other person in this draft who can change a franchise, other than Baker Mayfield. He’s the type of guy who can flip a program. That’s just the type of player he is. He’s passionate. He loves the game. He’s a competitor. There’s no one else in this draft that’s like Baker Mayfield. I believe it’s going to translate incredibly well.”

This is a guy whose teammates and coaches have nothing but praise and good things to say about him. They would run through a wall for him, and his leadership was on full display throughout the season as he would put the team on his back and rally them to victory.

Several teams used the combine as an opportunity to ask Mayfield’s OU teammates about the QB. One team asked fullback Dimitri Flowers if Mayfield’s personality fit the media portrayal. “I say Baker’s a great person,” Flowers says. “I think the media tries to make something more than it is. He’s a fiery competitor and he lets his emotions show. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And the bad is what people dwell on.”

Some Oklahoma prospects were on the receiving end of a favorite question asked by most NFL teams when quizzing a prospect about his college teammates: If you could take one teammate with you to your future NFL team, who would it be? Here’s the thinking: If one player is far and away the most talented prospect from a school, but no one says they’d take him along to the next level, there’s a problem. Some players refuse to name just one. On his shortlist, Flowers listed Mayfield first. Tight end Mark Andrews was asked: If you could take four teammates with you to a golf tournament, who would they be? (Mayfield made that cut too).

Some of the reason his teammates love him is that they know he has their back as well. This clip really stuck out to me from Mayfield’s Pro Day.

Mayfield’s teammate, left tackle Orlando Brown, had a horrible showing at the Combine and the rival University of Texas quarterback had recently taken a shot at Brown on social media. So Baker sticks up for his guy. He also defended him another time when asked, pointing to Brown keeping him clean and not allowing sacks.

I remember watching the West Virginia game this year, and their players were being extremely chippy and adding extra-curricular physicality after nearly every play. This was after the sideline incident for which Mayfield got in trouble, and his approach this time was much different.

He immediately jumped into scuffles to pull his guys away to break up any potential fights. During a timeout, he rallied his guys together telling them to “stay focused and not worry about them”. He then proceeded to march down the field and score on West Virginia, the best way to shut opponents up.

Some may criticize Mayfield for his demeanor and cockiness, but you can’t deny that any trash he talks, he always backs up with his play.

Mythbusting

As one can expect with a polarizing player like Mayfield, there have been several narratives that have developed over the course of this draft season that I would like to clear up specifically.

But he plays in a spread offense

This is a very common one and is a legitimate question for quarterbacks coming out of something other than a pro-style offense. But not all “spread QBs” are created equal. Let’s dig into Mayfield’s offense and role within it.

As part of his series, Robert Klemko actually sat down with Oklahoma Head Coach, Lincoln Riley to get his take on Mayfield’s role within the offense. This is required reading for anyone who wants to have an informed opinion on Baker Mayfield. Not only does it break down Mayfield’s growth within the offense, Riley is able to give insight only a coach could on assignments and how much responsibility Mayfield has.

Before the lights go down and the film clicks on, Riley answers everybody’s first question: Just how much responsibility does Mayfield have within the framework of the offense? In other words, how much of it is Riley, and how much is Mayfield?

“He’s probably got more responsibility here than he would have with any NFL team he would go to,” Riley says.

“Some places do it where you hold up a board on the sideline and he tells everybody what to do and he doesn’t have any communication responsibilities, but he plays a larger hand here, a pivotal role.

His accuracy numbers are all from throwing to wide open receivers.

This is one of the most common knocks on Mayfield, is that his accuracy numbers are inflated due to the offense he played in scheming guys open. It is true that Lincoln Riley’s offense is excellent at getting receivers open, but even with that, Mayfield still charts out as one of the most accurate passers.

Benjamin Solak from NDT Scouting creates an in-depth guide every year in which he charts every throw from the top QB prospects and provides some extremely insightful data. You can download the full guide here, and I would encourage everyone to check it out.

In his guide, he has two accuracy metrics he uses, accuracy and placement. Accuracy is what you would expect, in terms of completion %, but placement goes a little deeper:

“Placement” considers three main factors—along with unique considerations of individual plays, where applicable. Without hierarchy, they are: the maximization of YAC; the protection of the throw from defenders; the protection of the WR from hits.

If we step into our mind, we can easily see how this translates: a wellplaced back-shoulder fade is away and high, but not too high as to expose the receiver to being shoved out of bounds; a well-placed sit route leads the receiver away from the closing safety he cannot see; a well-placed slant in the end zone sticks right between the numbers.

“Placement” is inherently less concerned with receivers and more concerned with defenders—as such, it responds to the underthrow issue of “Catchable.” A deep ball two yards underthrown may be “Catchable,” but is likely “Poorly Placed,” as it exposes the ball to the defender to make a play. A deep ball two yards overthrown may not be “Catchable,” but it is “Decently Placed” (half a point) or even “Well Placed” (full point) relative to the coverage.

Additionally, he classifies certain throws that are “tight window” throws in order to see who is accurate at threading the needle, and who is throwing layups to wide open receivers.

So how did Mayfield fare among other passers in tight spaces? If the narrative about his success and offense are true, one would expect him to be outpaced by the more “pro-style” throwers.

As it turns out, not only is Mayfield’s volume of throws attempted into tight windows one of the highest of the class, but his accuracy and placement in tight windows is also superior to most of the top quarterbacks.

Lastly, to beat this horse further, Pro Football Focus did a version of this as well in which they attempted to qualify throws that were “NFL Throws”.

An example of an “NFL Throw” is an over-the-shoulder throw made in-rhythm into tight coverage more than three yards past the line to gain whereas an open crossing route thrown five yards or more short of the line to gain would fall into the “non NFL Throw” bucket.

Here is their conclusion:

In 2017, the highest-graded passers on NFL throws were:

1. Drew Brees

T2. Tom Brady

T2. Jimmy Garoppolo

4. Russell Wilson

5. Matt Ryan

The first three are also the leaders in the percentage of NFL throws that were accurate with Carson Wentz falling in at fourth.

We can analyze this year’s quarterback class on this subset of “NFL Throws.” Using PFF grade the consensus top-six passers stack up as follows:

1. Baker Mayfield

2. Josh Rosen

3. Mason Rudolph

4. Sam Darnold

5. Lamar Jackson

6. Josh Allen

Mayfield was the most accurate on these throws. Darnold was the second most accurate, while his grade was hurt by having the most turnover-worthy throws on NFL Throws this past season.

So again, Mayfield comes out on top.

He’s never taken snaps from under center

While this is mostly true, the significance of this is way overblown as this just isn’t as big of a requirement of NFL quarterbacks like it used to be. The number of snaps taken under center in the NFL continues to trend downward.

Last year, in the NFL, only around 40% of total snaps were taken under center, and only 12% of total snaps were passes from under center.

The splits for Denver and a Bill Musgrave offense are even lower.

So while it is still a skill that needs to be learned, the amount of times a quarterback is called upon for this is more a tertiary part of the job, rather than primary.

That hasn’t prevented Mayfield from working under center for his draft prep, however.

He took extra practice reps under center at the Senior Bowl and when I talked to him there, he said the Denver coaches were working with him on his drops and things under center he wasn’t as familiar with.

Additionally, he conducted his entire Pro Day from under center to show teams his drops and that he is continuing to work on it.

Limitations/Concerns

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled Baker Mayfield commercial to get real about some of his limitations and concerns I have about his transition to the next level.

  • Off the field

While I love Mayfield’s attitude and demeanor on the field and his competitive toughness, the truth is he’s made some dumb decisions off of it. His two most famous are the run-in with police in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and his incident on the sideline of the Kansas game in which he yelled obscenities at the opposing players while grabbing his crotch.

The major question he will have to answer (and is being asked about repeatedly at the Combine, meetings, etc.) is his maturity level and how/if he has grown past those behaviors.

I would like to optimistically think he has and won’t have any problems at the next level. There were much larger concerns about Jameis Winston, for instance, and he has been fine so far in the NFL (weird pre-game speeches notwithstanding). But if I’m an NFL GM about to make you the face of my franchise, I’m taking a long hard look at these incidents, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a team passed on him due to them.

John Elway On Mayfield’s off-the-field demeanor

“I saw him at the Senior Bowl, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. We’ll get some time to spend with him and we’ll probably have him to the complex for one of our 30 visits to get a chance to know him and kind of ask those questions. What I’ve seen is obviously there are some things that he’d admit that he’d want to take back. A lot of times you get tied up in the emotions of the situation and where he is. I like to see a guy with that kind of passion.”

  • Size

For as much as Mayfield does to compensate for his height, there’s a reason not a lot of shorter quarterbacks are successful at the next level. MHR’s Scotty Payne has said it well before, if Mayfield was 6’4” he would be a #1 overall pick. But he’s not, and his lack of size will hurt him in some evaluators’ eyes.

  • “Backyard” style

This is part of the allure of Mayfield’s game in college. Running around shaking tackles and heaving a pass last minute to somehow complete the pass. In the NFL, however, keeping the offense on schedule is the quarterback’s primary job, and freelancers don’t last long.

Mark Schofield wrote a great piece back in 2016 about how it was concerning that Mayfield at times seemed to prefer chaos or create chaos where none existed, instead of opting for the safer, smarter play.

All that said, he only had 6 interceptions last year and ranks low in terms of “interceptable passes” as well. Part of that is his improvement in 2017 in operating within the structure of the offense. So he has shown some growth in that area each year of his career. But it is still an area of concern, especially his reckless abandon running style, as that will get him hurt at the next level.

Fit with the Broncos

Lastly, how does Mayfield fit with Denver? I think it’s a great fit, and Denver has certainly been showing plenty of interest, and have had the best chance to get to know him with the added time at the Senior Bowl.

Bill Musgrave is familiar with peppering in spread concepts for his quarterback as he did that with Derek Carr in Oakland. He actually incorporated a lot RPOs for Carr, that was extremely effective, and I could see him using that to tailor an offense based on what Mayfield did well in college.

Vance Joseph also seems willing and open to doing that, should they draft a quarterback this year:

“I’ll say this about the college game and the pro game: You look at Philly and you look at Kansas City—we have to adjust also as pro coaches. We’re drafting these guys for their skillset that we see on tape. So we can’t take these guys and assume they can do something else. What we draft them for, we have to play to their strengths. You watch [Chiefs Head Coach] Andy Reid over the years, he’s evolved from being a typical West Coast [offense] guy to almost a straight college guy. You watch Philly. So we have to evolve as coaches also, take these kids’ skillsets and put it to work. So what we see in these players that we love, we have to apply to our game. It’s simple as that in my opinion.”

Mayfield also fits what John Elway has been talking about all off-season to a ‘T’. Elway seems to be much more focused on intangibles, competitiveness, and the mental side of quarterbacking, and that is where Mayfield shines.

Denver has been searching for that franchise guy ever since Peyton Manning retired. Where they sit currently in the draft, they may have a shot at finally finding that guy, and I’m convinced Mayfield can be it.