Is the Sooners' gunslinger worth a first-round pick?
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has emerged as the Heisman Trophy favorite after leading his team to an 11-1 record and an appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game this Saturday against TCU.
The senior has shined in 2017, throwing for 4,097 yards and 37 touchdowns to go along with just five interceptions. But Mayfield’s on-field success comes amid several controversies, including being arrested last February and making an inappropriate gesture at Kansas on Nov. 18.
While the final chapter of Mayfield’s college career is still to be written, the question of the gunslinger’s NFL draft stock is a hot topic of debate. The overwhelming consensus among draft pundits is that Mayfield will be selected – it’s just a matter of when and where.
Earning His Stripes
Mayfield has never had opportunities served to him on a silver platter. After graduating from Lake Travis (Texas) High School, Mayfield choose to walk-on at Texas Tech over offers from Florida Atlantic, New Mexico and Rice.
He earned the starting QB nod as a true freshman in 2013, and led the Red Raiders to a 5-0 start. However, a knee injury derailed Mayfield’s season, and he later transferred after falling out of favor with head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
The signal-caller landed with the Sooners and sat out the 2014 season due to transfer rules. He was granted a scholarship midway through the year and eventually beat out Trevor Knight for the starting job in 2015.
“Johnny Manziel acted like the world owed him something,” Shonka said. “On the other hand, Mayfield was a walk-on and has remained hungry (for success).”
Accurate and Athletic
Mayfield has completed 71 percent of his passes in 2017, consistent with his output of 68 percent in 2015 and 70.9 percent in '16. The Austin native also is a threat to escape the pocket — Mayfield has run for more than 1,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in his college career.
“(Mayfield) is electric and brings a rare combination of athletic ability and accuracy,” Shonka said. “Quarterbacks have to have good decision-making ability and accuracy, and Mayfield has both of those skills.”
Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com echoed Shonka’s sentiments, but he isn’t sold that Mayfield’s athleticism will translate to instant NFL success.
“He's best when he's decisive and can show off his impeccable downfield accuracy,” Trapasso said. “Mayfield's athletic enough to elude rushers in the Big 12... (but) at the NFL level, I don't know if he'll be able to create Russell Wilson-type magic while ad-libbing.”
Coming Out Party
Mayfield is certainly making the most of his senior year — his 4,097 passing yards are the most he’s had in a single season. After competing for the Big 12 title on Saturday, he is expected to be among the Heisman Trophy finalists, which will be announced on Dec. 4.
Mayfield’s quarterback rating of 203.3 tops the national leaderboard, and he sits in second place in both passing yards and touchdowns.
The lone blemish thus far is a 38-31 home loss to Iowa State on Oct. 7. However, the Sooners have since reeled off seven consecutive victories, including five by double digits.
If Oklahoma can win the Big 12 championship, Mayfield will earn another chance to showcase his talents in the College Football Playoff and to elevate his NFL stock.
“It’ll be just be one outing, but (Mayfield’s) bowl game — or games — will tell us a lot about him when the Sooners play an opponent with similar talent across the board,” Trapasso said.
Perhaps the two biggest questions of Mayfield are his size and his character. At 6-foot-1, he stands a few inches shy of the typical NFL QB prototype.
“While Mayfield is undersized, he is a good athlete and his feet make him dangerous,” Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com said. “He has issues reading defenses... his footwork needs to improve significantly for the NFL, but I think that is something he can fix with his athleticism.”
There are also concerns that Mayfield dances in the pocket too often and tends to lock in on certain receivers.
“He has a tendency to stare down his wide receivers, which helps underneath defenders make plays on the football,” Trapasso said. “(In the NFL), the passing windows will be much smaller on a more regular basis... (but) I do think he'll ultimately be picked in one of the first few rounds.”
In addition to his February arrest, Mayfield has issued two public apologies for his actions this season. The first came after he planted a Sooner flag on Ohio State’s logo at the Horseshoe, and the second followed his crotch grab during the Kansas game.
Campbell said NFL teams aren’t shying away from Mayfield despite the questions surrounding his character.
“I think he does have some football leadership traits that teams like,” Campbell said. “ In fact, I think his confidence will be considered a positive and help his draft grade."
The Final Word
Should Mayfield finish his college career on a high note and stay out of trouble between now and the draft next April, he’s a lock to be selected. Oklahoma’s Pro Day and the NFL Scouting Combine will allow Mayfield to have a final word with his doubters — an ever-decreasing pool of analysts and scouts.
“I see a lot of Drew Brees in him — I think he’s going to be tremendous,” Shonka said.
Where seven NFL Draft experts project Mayfield to be selected:
|Chris Trapasso||CBS Sports||5||1||30||New Orleans Saints|
|Charlie Campbell||Walter Football||5||2||43||New York Jets|
|Matt Miller||Bleacher Report||4||1||7||New York Jets|
|Ryan McCrystal||Bleacher Report||3||1||7||New York Jets|
|Dane Brugler||NFL Draft Scout||4||1||11||LA Chargers|
|Dan Kadar||SB Nation||3||1||7||New York Jets|
|D.J. Boyer||Draft Site||6||2||58||Buffalo Bills|
Other rankings include:
Todd McShay’s Big Board, ESPN: No. 4 QB, No. 28 overall prospect
Dan Shonka, Ourlads Scouting Services: No. 2 QB, 1st or 2nd round pick
*Please note that predictions are as of Tuesday, Nov. 28 and that the 2018 NFL Draft order has not yet been finalized.