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Next Brees, Vick? Ranking Heisman finalists as NFL prospects


The finalists for the 2017 Heisman Trophy were revealed Monday night, with Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Stanford's Bryce Love and Louisville's Lamar Jackson making the cut. With a number of recent winners enjoying success in the NFL, I thought it was a great time to project how this year's class could make their mark in the league. I've ranked the finalists based on how I view them as prospects and offered an NFL comp for each below.

1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

NFL comparison: Drew Brees

The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the scouting community after putting up video-game-like production this season. Mayfield leads the nation in passer efficiency rating (203.76) and has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns. Those numbers come on the heels of a stellar junior campaign where he posted over 3,900 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. Given that kind of production and efficiency in a Power Five conference, scouts are certainly intrigued by his dynamic skills.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Mayfield, like Brees, lacks the prototypical dimensions evaluators typically look for in QB1s, but Mayfield's electric game has prompted some to ignore those standards.

He's a pinpoint passer with outstanding timing and anticipation. Mayfield is one of the best "catch-and-fire" tossers that I've ever seen, exhibiting a quick release and versatile delivery that allows him to work around defenders in his throwing lane. Mayfield's unique delivery allows him to play among trees in the pocket, which is critical for a short QB1 in the league.

Mayfield is a disciplined and refined pocket passer. He fully exhausts all of the options in a play, which allows him to occasionally create big plays in the passing game when he targets the third or fourth option in the progression. Although he will drift and float in the pocket while waiting for his designated receivers to come open, Mayfield's consistency as a passer will lead some evaluators to ignore his occasional "happy" feet.

On the move, Mayfield is a dangerous dual-threat playmaker on the perimeter. He's capable of making accurate throws rolling to either side of the field and he can pick up chunk yardage on impromptu scrambles. Although he isn't an elite athlete (expected to run in the 4.8s in the 40-yard dash), Mayfield flashes enough speed and quickness to run away from defenders in the open field while picking up critical first downs. As a prototypical "WCO" (West Coast offense) quarterback, Mayfield's mobility and improvisational skills make him a perfect fit for a number of offenses in the league.

If I had to cite a couple of concerns, I would point out Mayfield's extensive experience in an Air Raid system and questions about his character as potential issues in the evaluation process. Although we've recently seen Jared Goff grow into a solid QB1, the NFL track record of Air Raid alums isn't good and some scouts will worry about Mayfield being a "system" player at the position.

In regards to his character, the series of incidents surrounding Mayfield this season will turn some teams off. From his offseason arrest for public intoxication to his lewd gesture during the Kansas game, evaluators will question his maturity and leadership skills. Although his Oklahoma teammates and coaches vouch for him, the list of transgressions will prompt scouts to dig a little deeper into his background for answers.

Overall, Mayfield is an intriguing prospect with a game that suits plenty of offenses in the NFL. He isn't a prototypical QB1, but his production and performance could make him a long-term starter in the right situation.

2. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

NFL comparison: Michael Vick

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has flown under the radar this season but remains the most electrifying playmaker in college football.

Jackson is a touchdown machine who's capable of scoring from anywhere on the field as a dynamic dual threat. Whether it's dropping passes over defenders on deep throws or slipping past tacklers on designed or impromptu runs, Jackson is a big play waiting to happen whenever he has the ball in his hands. With 93 total touchdowns (55 passing; 38 rushing) over the past two seasons, it's easy to fall in love with the Cardinals' prolific scorer as an explosive playmaker at the position.

At 6-foot-3, 211 pounds (school measurements) with exceptional stop-start quickness, burst and wiggle, Jackson is a Houdini-like escape artist on the perimeter with the ball in his hands. He can get out of any jam in traffic and defensive coordinators must commit extra defenders to the box to keep him contained as a runner on designed runs (QB draws/QB power) that allow him to split creases between the tackles. As a scrambler, Jackson is dangerous due to his uncanny ability to spot seams in the middle of the pass rush. He will take off at a moment's notice and his explosive quickness makes him difficult to corral in the open field.

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In the passing game, Jackson is best described as a "thrower" instead of a passer. He displays outstanding arm strength and range, but struggles with his ball placement and accuracy. He's at his best throwing isolation routes (skinny posts and seams) or simple reads (slants and curls to the flat) that allow him to let it fly when he reaches the top of his drop. When Jackson throws in rhythm from the pocket, he is more than capable of making every throw in the book between the numbers. On outside throws (deep outs and comebacks), he is inconsistent delivering the ball within the strike zone. He frequently misses high and wide and doesn't give his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball. While most of his issues can be attributed to his shoddy footwork, Jackson's accuracy woes will make it hard for some offensive coordinators to fully embrace his game.

That said, Jackson's overall explosiveness, big-play ability, and production as a dual-threat playmaker could lead some evaluators to entertain the possibility of building an offense around his talents. He's such a threat to score from anywhere on the field using his legs or arm that it's hard to ignore his impact potential in a league where spread offenses and read-option concepts (RPOs) are making the game simpler for quarterbacks. If Jackson can continue to show progress as a traditional passer, he could change the game as a dual threat at the next level.

3. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

NFL comparison: Giovani Bernard

It's hard to ignore a runner with a resume that features 11 100-yard games and nearly 2,000 rushing yards. That's why there's plenty of love in the scouting community for the Cardinal's RB1 after his spectacular junior campaign.

Love is an explosive runner with the speed, quickness and acceleration to take it the distance from anywhere on the field. Although some scouts will question his size (listed at 5-foot-10, 196 pounds) and durability as a diminutive back, he has compiled the bulk of his yards on hard-hitting runs between the tackles (power and power pitch). Love has a knack for finding creases up the gut and exploding past defenders at the second level on the way to the end zone.

As a patient, slippery runner with outstanding speed and quickness, he's ideally suited to play in a power-based scheme that allows him to hit the hole from a "dot" position (aligned directly behind the quarterback at seven or eight yards). Love flashes a nifty jump cut at the line before gobbling up yardage as a downhill runner, exhibiting more power than anticipated as a smaller back. On outside runs, Love's speed, quickness and acceleration make him a threat to take it the distance whenever he slips past the first wave of defenders at the line. He is such an explosive athlete that creative offensive coordinators will contemplate using him on fly- or jet-sweeps as a pro to take advantage of his ability to turn the corner.

From a critical standpoint, Love hasn't been a major factor in the passing game despite being built like a prototypical change-of-pace back. He has 29 career receptions in three seasons and hasn't shown enough on tape to convince evaluators that he could be a dangerous playmaker on screens or isolation routes out of the backfield or out wide. He will need to refine his route-running skills, but his speed and explosiveness would make him a dangerous weapon in the passing game. Love must also show evaluators that he can hold up in pass protection. He gets knocked around a little at this stage of his career, but his effort and desire can't be questioned when he's assigned to take on hard-charging rushers in pass pro.

Overall, Love is a dangerous runner ideally suited to play as an RB2 in a committee situation. He adds speed and big-play ability as a complementary weapon in the backfield.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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