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Oklahoma's Riley can help Mayfield develop as NFL prospect


Editor's note: analyst and former NFL scout Bucky Brooks shares some of his college scouting notes, including:

» Brooks' report on UCLA's Josh Rosen after recently seeing the star QB work out up close.

But first, Brooks' take on how the sudden coaching change at Oklahoma could affect the NFL outlook for QB Baker Mayfield.

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With the news of Bob Stoops' retirement dominating the headlines over the past 24 hours, NFL scouts are quickly trying to figure out how the elevation of Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma offensive coordinator to head coach will change one of the biggest football factories in college football. During Stoops' 18-year run as the head coach, the Sooners produced 13 first-round picks, including 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford.

While few NFL executives or coaches would tout Oklahoma as "QB U", the elevation of Riley to the top post could change the way the program develops quarterbacks. Riley is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in football and his ability to put his personal stamp on the program could help the Sooners' QB1s develop into five-star prospects worthy of consideration at the top of the board.

With that in mind, I believe scouts will closely monitor the evolution of Baker Mayfield's game this fall to get a better sense of how the young coach will help future quarterbacks prepare for the NFL game. Although the 2016 Heisman Trophy finalist is not a prototypical franchise quarterback prospect based on his size (generously listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and system experience ("Air Raid"), he is an outstanding college player with a spectacular game. He's a big-game player with a flair for the dramatic as an electric, athletic playmaker.

Last season, Mayfield posted a completion rate of nearly 71 percent while passing for 3,965 yards with a 40:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Those numbers come on the heels of a 2015 campaign that saw Mayfield compile a 69.8 percent completion rate with 3,700 yards and a 36:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Obviously, those numbers look fantastic on paper, but scouts craft their evaluations off the film to project a prospect's long-term potential.

In studying the tape, I see Mayfield as a dynamic quick-rhythm passer with B-plus arm talent and polished passing skills. He is quick and decisive with the ball from the pocket, exhibiting a compact delivery and quick release. The ball comes out "hot" from his hands, but he also displays an outstanding feathery touch on soft tosses to his backs and receivers on the perimeter. Part of Mayfield's ability to change speed and trajectories on his passes is due to his varied release. He will release most of his passes from a 3/4 over-the-top launch point, but he will drop it down to a sidearm release when he needs to work around defenders in the passing lanes.

As a pocket passer, Mayfield is at his best delivering quick timing routes to the perimeter. He excels at throwing skinny-post routes, seams and speed outs (10-yard outs) but is also effective targeting running backs on swings and option routes out of the backfield. Considering how well he works within the 10-15-yard box near the line of scrimmage, Mayfield's game is ideally suited for a West Coast Offense built around "catch-and-run" concepts at intermediate range.

On the move, Mayfield shows potential as a dual-threat playmaker on the perimeter. He is athletic enough to move the chains with his legs on naked bootlegs but also displays the arm strength, accuracy and timing to be an effective passer on movement plays. In fact, Mayfield's combination of athleticism and passing prowess would make him a solid fit in a "stretch-bootleg" system (think of former Broncos and Texans coach Gary Kubiak's offensive system) that keeps passers on the move.

From a critical standpoint, Mayfield needs to work on his deep-ball accuracy to earn a higher grade from evaluators down the road. He misses a number of layups down the field on vertical plays, which will lead NFL defensive coordinators to tighten up coverage and dare him to win on "shots". In addition, Mayfield must continue to evolve as a mobile playmaker inside and outside of the pocket. Although he is quick enough to avoid and elude Big 12 defenders, he's not an A-level athlete capable of running away from speedy pass rushers on the perimeter. Thus, he will need to learn how to use his quick feet and agility to maneuver around the pocket while looking to throw the ball from an open lane. This is a skill that has helped Drew Brees survive within the pocket despite his diminutive stature, and it is one that Mayfield will need to master to become an effective playmaker as a pro.

Finally, Mayfield needs to learn how to fully exhaust plays before fleeing the pocket as a runner. With most route concepts featuring as many as three options in the progression, Mayfield should be able to find an open receiver against most defenses without leaning on his legs to get him out of jams. While he is certainly able to run around and generate splash plays as a collegian, he is not an elite athlete or runner and he will have a tough time thriving in the NFL as an improvisational playmaker against ultra-athletic pass rushers and linebackers with superior speed and quickness.

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This is where Riley can really help his young quarterback grow as an NFL prospect. By challenging Mayfield to become a high-level surgeon from the pocket, Riley can equip his passer with the tools that he needs to succeed at the next level. Sure, the Sooners run a version of the "Air Raid" offense that hasn't produced an NFL star, but the staple plays of the scheme are eerily similar to some of the bread and butter concepts in the West Coast Offense and other NFL schemes. Thus, Mayfield can get a jump on his NFL development if the Sooners expand the playbook to feature a few more concepts with more options in the progression.

In addition, Riley can help his young quarterback grow as a leader as he tries to move beyond an offseason incident (Mayfield was arrested on four misdemeanor charges in February; he entered a not guilty plea to the charges). If Mayfield can avoid further incidents while emerging as a captain for the squad, he can eliminate some of the questions that scouts might have regarding the quarterback's maturity and behavior.

Heading into the 2017 season, I see Mayfield as a fringe QB1/QB2 prospect with a game that reminds me a little of Tyrod Taylor. While he is not quite as explosive as the Bills' quarterback, he is an athletic playmaker with a set of skills that could make him an effective starter as a pro. If he can master some of the nuances that affect most undersized quarterbacks (timing, anticipation and pocket awareness) and become a surgical passer from the pocket, he could be the developmental prospect that coaches fall in love with during the pre-draft process.

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UCLA's Rosen looks like he's all the way back from injury

I know that summer camps don't really matter when it comes to player evaluations at the NFL level, but I'm sure a number of NFL scouts would've loved to see the action that took place at the Elite 11 finals over the weekend. While 24 of the nation's top high school quarterbacks competed to earn a spot at "The Opening" finals (a showcase camp for some of the top high school football players in the country), a handful of college counselors -- Josh Rosen (UCLA), Malik Zaire (Florida transfer), Will Grier (West Virginia) and Trace McSorley (Penn State) -- had a chance to learn some skills and compete in front of a small group of elite quarterback coaches, including Trent Dilfer, George Whitfield and Jordan Palmer.

Over a three-day weekend, campers and counselors were exposed to an intense classroom curriculum that featured a variety of pro-style passing concepts and verbiage. In addition, they went through a battery of on-field drills designed to improve their footwork and mechanics inside and outside of the pocket. They also participated in a mock pro-day workout and a 7 vs. 7 scrimmage that allowed observers to evaluate their games in a competitive environment away from their high school and college campuses.

Now, I know some will question whether an evaluator can get a true assessment of a player in a t-shirt and shorts at a camp designed to challenge high schoolers, but any chance to see a quarterback throw live is valuable in the evaluation process. As an Elite 11 counselor (I've worked with skill players at this event for the past five years), it's very valuable to see quarterbacks work outside their collegiate systems, particularly those who play in spread schemes that are vastly different from NFL offenses. I've seen the likes of Carson Wentz, Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Connor Cook, Deshaun Watson, Davis Webb, Joshua Dobbs and others showcase their skills as collegians at this event.

While it's not always an accurate gauge of their long-term potential, it does shed a little light on how quickly these quarterbacks can pick up NFL-like concepts and throw using traditional footwork (three-, five- and seven-step drops). Not to mention, it allows observers to get a feel for each quarterback's personality and leadership skills.

Take a look at the top 10 players from UCLA to play in the NFL.

Considering how much attention has been given to Rosen, I spent the majority of my time watching the UCLA standout over the weekend. I wanted to see how well the 2015 Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year threw the ball after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last year. As a classic pocket passer with A-plus arm talent at the time of his injury, I wanted to see if Rosen could spin the ball with the same zip, velocity and touch that has scouts and coaches salivating over his potential as a passer. Additionally, I wanted to see if he still displayed the spot-on accuracy and ball placement that makes him one of the best pure passers in the country.

Rosen passed every physical test with flying colors. He blew me away with his natural arm talent and pure pocket-passing ability. He is unquestionably one of the best passers I've seen in my 20-plus years in scouting. From his flawless footwork and mechanics to his rare ability to change ball speed and trajectories, Rosen can make every throw in the book with minimal effort. He can fire a fastball between multiple defenders at intermediate range or toss a rainbow to a receiver 45 yards down the field on a post-corner route with a feathery touch. He is efficient with his footwork and throwing motion, exhibiting a balanced platform and compact delivery on nearly all of his throws. Thus, he can throw the ball over and around defenders while showing touch and pinpoint placement.

On the move, Rosen showed observers that he could deliver dimes while rolling to either direction. He put the ball well within the receiver's strike zone (from facemask to stomach) while flashing outstanding anticipation on those throws, particularly when rolling to his left. Considering the challenge of making pinpoint throws while rolling away from his strong side, Rosen's ability to drop dime after dime on these throws says a lot about his natural talent as a passer.

Now, I know a pro-day-style workout should be kept in perspective, but I must underscore how a live viewing can affect an evaluation, particularly with a quarterback. Evaluators walk away with a better feel for the quarterback's arm talent and potential when watching them throw in person, and that has certainly happened in this case. Rosen is a top talent on his sheer passing ability and his rise will continue if he checks the boxes in two critical areas: injury history and football character.

Based on how well he threw the ball over the weekend, I believe you can put a check in the box from a physical standpoint, but his football character will be evaluated during the fall when scouts get a report from his teammates and coaches on his leadership skills, work ethic and love for the game. If scouts get positive reviews on his character, there might be no slowing his momentum.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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