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Wilson or Manziel? The good, bad with OU QB Baker Mayfield

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Who is Baker Mayfield?

For now, Oklahoma's ball-of-fire quarterback is drawing comparisons any top prospect at the position would want, like Russell Wilson, and one nobody would want: Johnny Manziel.

The right answer is in there somewhere, hiding among the countless shades of gray between the Seattle Seahawks' two-time NFC champion and the Cleveland Browns draft bust.

For NFL scouts, it's a little like the Rorschach Test, the psychological exam in which subjects are asked what they see in an ink-blotted symmetrical design. One can look at Mayfield and picture a dynamic future pro with the potential to anchor a franchise; another can see a prospect with too many red flags.

One key difference: the Rorschach has no wrong answers. The Mayfield evaluation will ultimately have just one right one.

In the months leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, clubs will unearth layer upon layer of information on top draft prospects -- from on-field evaluations to character and medical assessments -- and in the case of Mayfield, the layers appear endless.

It's an aggregation of marvels and mettle and moxie, but also of mistakes and misgivings. In an effort to help answer the Mayfield Question, we spoke with various sources, both in and out of the quarterback's circle, to produce 12 facets -- a Baker's dozen, if you will -- of his remarkably complicated story:

THE SNUB

The list means nothing to most, but it's a list Mayfield knows well. Cody Thomas, Kohl Stewart, Kenny Hill, Chris Johnson and Zach Allen are just five of the quarterbacks from Texas who signed with Big 12 or in-state schools in Mayfield's 2013 recruiting class.

He was passed over for all of them, and he hasn't forgotten it.

Major Applewhite, an assistant at Texas at the time before moving on to become head coach at Houston, raved about Mayfield's arm when he came to scout a game in 2012, Mayfield's senior year at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas.

Mayfield describes the chip on his shoulder as a "boulder," a force that constantly keeps him motivated. (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

"Wow, he can spin it!" Applewhite told Lake Travis coach Hank Carter.

Unfortunately for Mayfield, the compliment came too late. By that time, Texas wasn't considering another quarterback for its signing class, and the Longhorns weren't alone.

"He got an offer from Army and from Florida Atlantic. Washington State offered him at one point but they took another kid before that could come together," said Carter. "TCU recruited him for awhile, but there were a lot of quarterbacks in Texas that year. The Texas schools and Big 12 schools were filled up and he didn't get a lot of love from them."

The chip on Mayfield's shoulder is a big one; a "boulder" is how he describes it. And the Texas-schools snubbing is one of the reasons for it. TCU -- whom Mayfield is undefeated against in five tries, including a 41-17 decision in the Big 12 title game last weekend -- recruited him extensively, but late in the process told him there would be no offer.

Mayfield hasn't forgotten that, either.

He feels TCU's handling of his recruitment left him out to dry, because he passed on other options while waiting for the Horned Frogs' offer that was expected but never arrived.

Since then, the Mayfield-TCU relationship has had its terse moments. In 2014, when he was sidelined due to NCAA transfer rules, he was accused of stealing signals. In 2015, he was knocked out with a concussion by linebacker Ty Summers, on a hit for which Summers was ejected for targeting. Then this season, as TCU players were making their way around Oklahoma's pre-game warmups for a Nov. 11 game, Mayfield threw a pass that plunked a TCU player directly in the head. TCU coach Gary Patterson would have nothing of any suggestion that it was accidental, calling the prank "common practice" at Texas Tech when Mayfield was there.

When asked about it, a bluntly honest Mayfield didn't suggest it was an accident, either.

"It wasn't supposed to be that serious. I didn't think it'd blow up like that," Mayfield said. "You live and learn, but it wasn't malicious. You learn from it and move on."

THE MULDROW DORM

By all accounts, Mayfield brims with confidence. But don't tell Hayden Shaw that his friend of four years is overly obnoxious or over-the-top cocky, a feeling many outsiders get about the brash quarterback.

Shaw was among several residents on the sixth floor of the Muldrow Tower dormitory with whom Mayfield made fast friends upon his arrival at OU in 2014 as a transfer from Texas Tech. At that point, Mayfield hadn't even told the OU coaching staff he planned to walk on. He says now he was advised not to make contact with the OU staff before enrolling because Texas Tech would not release him to transfer within the Big 12, and he didn't want to violate any NCAA contact rules.

Under the circumstances, who could have blamed the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of Year for being surly or withdrawn in a dorm cell with regular students, as an as-of-yet uninvited walk-on at a new school?

Except, Mayfield wasn't that way at all.

The day he was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, Mayfield announced his intention to leave Texas Tech. When he landed at OU, he immediately fit in. (LM Otero/Associated Press)

He organized two powerhouse intramural teams in softball and football with the rest of the Muldrow gang, and ultimately formed permanent bonds with Shaw and others.

"We watched him play against Oklahoma the year before at Texas Tech, Big 12 freshman of the year and everything, and a couple months later, here he is showing up at Muldrow to move in with us. It was weird," Shaw said.

The softball team formed in the spring of 2014, and Mayfield played shortstop. The team never lost and eventually won the championship. And the same Mayfield swagger that has driven Big 12 defenses nuts the last few years was on display with the Muldrow nine.

"First game, we played a team of musclehead guys from the gym. We hit twice through the lineup before they got a single out on us and we won 41-1," Shaw said. "Baker hit a bomb, and on his next AB, he switch-hit. That's Baker."

As for intramural football, the team decided to play Mayfield at wide receiver in order to keep a lid on his identity. Having the Big 12 OFY playing quarterback would have been the ultimate intramural ringer, but also would have drawn scrutiny. For mere intramural mortals, of course, Mayfield was uncoverable at receiver. But when the team needed him for a desperation TD pass at the end of a game, his cover was blown. Shaw received word that Mayfield, as a member of the Sooners football team, couldn't play anymore.

"I want to say we played three, four games and nobody noticed who he was, just a guy who would get open against anybody," Shaw said. "We've asked ourselves what could have been if he hadn't been discovered, but the game he threw the TD pass was a must-win game. We had to have it."

Less than a year later, Mayfield uprooted Trevor Knight as the Sooners' starter at quarterback. Knight had gone from being the toast of the program, after upending Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, to eventually transferring himself.

THE MANZIEL COMP

The Mayfield-Manziel comparison is not only rooted in the brashness of how the quarterbacks conduct themselves on and off the field, but is also rooted in the frequency with which Mayfield breaks off the design of a play and resorts to improvisation. Manziel did the same thing at Texas A&M, often with great success, and Mayfield is highly dangerous as a scrambler as well. While scouts see the ability to turn a broken play into a big play as a positive, it's not a good sign if a quarterback is more effective outside of a play's design than within it.

Nevertheless, one NFC scout we talked to sees the Manziel comparison as a lazy one.

"Manziel was all over the map with his footwork, he'd throw the ball jumping out of bounds, or just throw it up and count on Mike Evans," said the scout, who believes Mayfield will be a first-round pick. "Baker doesn't do any of that type of stuff. He doesn't take so many stupid chances. Baker sees the field. When you rush him, he keeps his eyes downfield. That's more like (Russell) Wilson."

Mayfield gets compared to Russell Wilson and Johnny Manziel, but perhaps it's somewhere in between. (Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports)

Other top quarterbacks in the college game might look more the part but have given scouts cause for pause; Wyoming's Josh Allen, for instance, has struggled against much inferior competition than what Mayfield has faced. Mayfield's needle, however, has continually moved forward. He's completed 71.0 percent of his passes for 4,340 yards, 41 touchdowns and only five interceptions this season, and his previous two years generated very similar production. But beyond the stats, scouts see a special talent with top-notch accuracy and touch on the deep ball.

He's also got a steep experience edge over his peers. By the time this season is over, Mayfield will have made either 47 or 48 college starts, depending on whether OU reaches the College Football Playoff title game. Many NFL teams believe 30-plus starts make for the best baseline for a quarterback evaluation. Other top quarterbacks who could be in Mayfield's draft class offer scouts smaller sample sizes: Lamar Jackson (33), Josh Rosen (30), Allen (25) and Sam Darnold (22).

As for his arm strength, you could just take Hayden Shaw's word for it. Remember Mayfield's intramural softball teammate? He played first base as Mayfield fired "absolute rockets" at him from shortstop.

"My left hand, it got cooked sometimes," Shaw said. "I tried my best to catch it in the webbing, but if it caught the palm, yeah, it hurt a lot."

Softball arm strength, for Mayfield at least, translates to the football field. NFL scouts have little concern in this area.

THE TRANSFER

In December 2013, about eight miles from the Texas Tech campus at BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse in Lubbock, four Red Raiders quarterbacks gathered for what amounted to a goodbye dinner.

Davis Webb was the only one among them who would stay at TTU, and even he would transfer out, to Cal, two years later. Also at the table were three others who already were making exit plans. Michael Brewer would follow his gut, finishing up his final two years of eligibility at Virginia Tech; Clayton Nicholas would follow a coach, Sterlin Gilbert, to Bowling Green; and Baker Mayfield would follow his dream: to be the quarterback at Oklahoma.

The decision to transfer to OU was an easy one for Mayfield, who didn't see eye to eye with his coach at Texas Tech. (Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports)

"There were four of us in that room that knew each of us could play, and we obviously weren't going to play at one time at one school," said Nicholas, now at his third school in Faulkner University.

For Mayfield, however, it was a little more complicated than that. Just three months earlier at Texas Tech, he had become the first true freshman walk-on quarterback to ever start a season opener at a Power Five program. In that game, he threw for 413 yards and fired four TD passes in a 41-23 dismantling of SMU. The Red Raiders opened the season 5-0 with Mayfield at the helm until a right knee injury sidelined him for a month, at which point Webb took over.

Mayfield reclaimed the starting job to end the regular season, but Webb's performance in his absence -- he averaged 421 yards over four starts -- made for a debate about the program's future at quarterback. To Mayfield, there was no debate.

He cited poor communication from coach Kliff Kingsbury's staff as the reason for his transfer, along with the fact that he wouldn't be on scholarship for the spring semester.

In classic Mayfield fashion, he announced his decision to transfer on the very day he was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.

THE MEASURING STICK

Mayfield is officially listed at 6-foot-1 on the Sooners roster, but many are skeptical. Scouts don't get to take their own measurements of OU prospects until pro day, so the NFL's first verified handle on Mayfield's size will either come at the Reese's Senior Bowl (if he accepts an almost sure invitation), or at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February.

Fractions of inches matter to NFL clubs when it comes to quarterback prospects. The shorter the quarterback, the more evaluators will doubt.

Carter, the football coach at Lake Travis High, is convinced Mayfield will measure 6-1 or even a shade taller. An NFC scout thinks the QB will size up closer to 6 feet, but isn't especially concerned.

"He'll be a solid 210 pounds. He's put together. He's not going to be frail," the scout said. "He's got a similar build as Russell Wilson. He carries good weight in his lower half."

Mayfield uses his size as motivation. "I was the undersized underdog who people never gave a chance," he says. (Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports)

Mayfield's been hearing he's too small for a long time, so his decision to walk on at Texas Tech wasn't exactly the genesis of what Carter calls his "dare-you-to-doubt-me" mentality. But it certainly strengthened Mayfield's resolve.

When he entered the ninth grade at Lake Travis, he was already showing a lot of the charisma and intangible qualities that make him the frontrunner to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy this weekend.

One problem: He was only 5-foot-5.

It took him two years to become the varsity starter, and despite a wildly successful run as the caretaker of the Cavaliers' offense -- he was 25-2 as a starter with a state title as a junior -- his scholarship offers weren't at all to his liking.

Carter remembers a winner, but one who had some growing to do.

"He was a late bloomer, physically," Carter said. "Other players made the physical change from boy to young man a couple years before him. He's got the biggest baby face you've ever seen on the state championship picture on our wall in here. He wasn't doing any shaving in high school; he's probably got to shave every 10 minutes now. So he had to figure out a way to succeed athletically not being very strong or fast, or very big. But he could always throw it. Once his body caught up, he'd already developed a lot of skill."

Mayfield himself acknowledges he could measure "just under" 6-1, joking he might engage in some stretching exercises to validate his official OU listing. But for any other validation, he'll gladly point to his game film.

"I was the undersized underdog who people never gave a chance," he said. "From that, the motivation to prove people wrong just grew and grew. .... Looking back now, I'm glad I didn't hit puberty until later."

THE CHIMY'S AFFAIR

Chimy's Cerveceria, a popular local restaurant, sits on the east side of the Texas Tech campus. At another of its four Texas locations, in College Station, Manziel's 2014 first-round selection by the Browns was celebrated with customers getting a beer and a shot of Fireball on the house, paid for by Manziel.

Later that year, the Lubbock location found its way into the Mayfield narrative.

The quarterback was enduring a sit-out season at OU under NCAA transfer rules but was back in Lubbock in November, as the Sooners faced the Red Raiders the following day. He was asked to leave for no reason other than being Baker Mayfield, and left without causing a disturbance, according to the account he gave of the incident more than a year later. He was speaking to former TTU teammate Jace Amaro when management requested he leave, and said he was booed by customers as he did so.

Amaro did not return messages for this story, nor did Chimy's management, and per a 2016 Tulsa World report, Chimy's employees hinted that Mayfield's account is missing something, but did not reveal exactly what.

If the story does swerve off Mayfield's version, it will only be a matter of time before NFL clubs have the rest of it. But the quarterback's character isn't regarded by scouts as being anything close to the risk that Manziel's was.

"As long as it doesn't have an effect on what's happening between the whistles, I think any problems he's had will fade with maturity," an NFC scout said.

THE KNOXVILLE SHOCKER

Over a four-year career at two schools, Mayfield has thrown for at least 250 yards 34 times (in 45 starts), 300-plus yards in 25 games, and has surpassed the 400-yard barrier five times. Prolific performances have been, for the most part, a weekly occurrence.

But to find one of Mayfield's finest moments, you've got to dig two years deep into his catalog, in a road game in Knoxville, Tenn., where nothing came easy.

After three quarters, Mayfield had completed just 8 of 25 passes with two interceptions, had moved the Sooners offense across the 50-yard line just twice all night, and Tennessee led 17-3. In only his second start at OU and his first in a high-profile game, he'd not yet won the hearts of Sooners fans, and at the time, UT coach Butch Jones hadn't yet lost the hearts of his.

Then, the playmaker got to work.

"That game was a moment to see what I was made of," Mayfield says, looking back on that September 2015 game. "We weren't playing well at all. We played like crap for three and a half quarters. (Then-offensive coordinator) Lincoln Riley and I had a conversation to just focus on the job. He said, ���You're capable, that's why you're starting.' "

With two touchdown passes and a touchdown run in the final quarter, Mayfield knotted the Volunteers 24-24, forcing an overtime in which his third TD pass stole a 31-24 win. Then-coach Bob Stoops called it perhaps his favorite win in 17 years at Oklahoma.

"That's when it clicked for me. Let's let it all loose and go play ball," Mayfield said, three days before the Heisman Trophy ceremony. "That's when I settled in, we started playing well and won in a very hostile environment."

And he reveled in every minute of it.

THE ARREST

Around 2:30 a.m. last Feb. 25, Mayfield made an error in judgment that will draw perhaps the most scrutiny from NFL clubs as the 2018 draft approaches.

Fayetteville, Ark., police had been flagged down to investigate a claim of assault and battery by a man who was yelling at Mayfield, and after being asked to stay at the scene to give a statement, the Sooners quarterback instead tried to run. He was caught by police and charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and refusal to submit to arrest. Video from the police car's dashboard camera was later released, showing Mayfield barely got a few steps before being tackled into a retaining wall.

That Mayfield was intoxicated isn't anything abnormal for a college kid, and he was of legal drinking age at the time (21). But for someone aspiring to be a pro quarterback, the repercussions for him are much greater. NFL clubs don't need the face of their franchise caught up in drunken misdemeanors.

Mayfield apologized following the incident, and in June, just a week after Stoops announced his retirement, Riley announced that his starting quarterback would be required to complete an alcohol education program and perform 35 hours of community service.

A few days later, Mayfield reached a plea deal that resulted in fines and restitution payments of just under $1,000. One of the charges, for resisting arrest, was dropped.

Opposing fans, of course, haven't dropped it at all.

Last week, after Oklahoma and Georgia were paired for a College Football Playoff semifinal, Bulldogs fans managed to procure Mayfield's cell phone number. In the space of a few hours, he was bombarded with nearly 300 text messages and phone calls, until Mayfield got AT&T to change his number.

Asked which message was the most creative, the ever-honest Mayfield didn't hesitate with his reply: "One said they were going to hit me harder than an Arkansas cop."

THE SYSTEM

The Air Raid offense has taken its lumps, reputationally speaking, where the NFL draft is concerned. And the offense Mayfield runs is a strain of it.

Riley, who replaced Stoops as Oklahoma's head coach last June, apprenticed under Mike Leach -- the Air Raid's active Godfather -- at Texas Tech. At East Carolina, and later at OU, Riley jiggled the scheme a bit and his stamp has made the Sooners' offense more of an Air Raid cousin.

Mayfield, in turn, will be scrutinized by NFL evaluators based on his ability to adjust to the scheme differences that await him in the pros.

Lincoln Riley has completely trusted Mayfield with his version of the Air Raid offense. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

The list is long of Air Raid college quarterbacks who have failed in the NFL. Manziel, Tim Couch, Brandon Weeden, Kevin Kolb, Geno Smith, and Nick Foles are some of the more notable names who operated the prolific offense in college but came up short in the pros.

Rams QB Jared Goff ran an Air Raid cousin at Cal known as the "Bear Raid," and his successful second NFL season can't do anything but strengthen Mayfield's case.

Some Air Raid quarterbacks have little control at the line of scrimmage and receive a sideline signal for the play, a common criticism of NFL evaluators. Mayfield, however, has plenty of control.

"(Riley) cut back a little on the quarterback freedom (as coach at East Carolina), but Mayfield has taken a lot of it back," said Chris B. Brown, author of "Smart Football" and a respected football scholar. "Recognizing things up front might be more of an adjustment for him than reading coverage, but I think he'll come in with a better grounding than some of those other guys."

THE FLAG PLANT

Amid the revelry of Oklahoma's 31-16 road win over Ohio State in September, which avenged a Buckeyes' victory at OU the previous year, Mayfield took a massive Sooners flag and stuck the pole on the Ohio State logo at midfield.

To Buckeye fans, it was a show of disrespect. To Sooners fans, it was just a kid having fun.

Siri, the voice of Apple artificial intelligence, took the latter position. In the days following the game, when asked who owned Ohio Stadium, Siri responded: "It's Baker Mayfield."

Opposing fans jeer at Mayfield, but the Oklahoma faithful adore their star quarterback. (Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)

Others, like former Buckeyes tackle Taylor Decker, didn't take it in such a playful manner. "Baker Mayfielf (sic) can drink bleach doing that," Decker tweeted.

Whatever label anyone wants to put on it, this much is certain: It was Mayfield being Mayfield.

After all, this is a guy who's got rabbit ears for criticism, engaging in trash talk with opposing fans and/or players against Baylor, OSU, Kansas, and surely more exchanges that have gone unreported. Heck, he was even voted the Big 12's "Biggest Trash Talker" last August in a vote of players attending Big 12 Media Days.

It can't be said that planting a flag on an opposing team's logo was out of character for Mayfield. He subsequently apologized, noting that he would have been angered had OSU players done the same after a win in Norman. But he's not one to apologize for being himself.

"I think people see what they want to see," he says. "You can focus on the few things that give people a negative image about me, or you can see the other things I've done, or talk to people in my inner-circle who know more about who I really am. I've learned I can't change every opinion or have everyone's approval. If I get caught up in that, I'm worried about the wrong things. ��� I'm not ashamed to speak my mind. What you see is what you get. You're not going to get a two-faced person who is going to say one thing and mean another."

THE KANSAS CROTCH GRAB

Kansas started it, Mayfield finished it. If only the ugly subplot to Oklahoma's 41-3 win in November was that simple.

Instead, a game that should have been a forgotten stretch on Mayfield's road to the Heisman Trophy has become fodder for critics, talk-show gold, and an unpleasant subject that the Sooners star will have to address 32 different times during pre-draft interviews with clubs.

It began when Kansas' game captains refused to shake Mayfield's hand before the coin toss. Mayfield had a close-up, helmet-to-helmet exchange with a KU player immediately after that, and the stage was set. Mayfield told some heckling fans the school should "stick to basketball," and it only went downhill from there.

With an ability to block out distractions, Mayfield takes on his doubters the only way he knows how: head-on. (Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports)

When Jayhawks CB Hasan Defense delivered a blatant cheap shot to Mayfield's throwing shoulder late in the first half, the quarterback simply lost it. Following his third TD pass of the day, he shouted expletives across the field and gestured toward the Kansas sideline by grabbing his crotch. In the post-game news conference, he apologized, and followed with a lengthier Twitter apology.

Too late.

That a 1-9 Kansas team baited him will, in time, be easily forgotten; that the Heisman Trophy frontrunner bit the hook won't be.

Then-ESPN analyst Chip Kelly, who has since been named the new coach at UCLA, summed up the scene immediately following the game this way: "You have to learn how to play with emotion, not let emotion play with you."

According to an NFC scout, Mayfield's actions at KU will not ultimately cost him standing in the draft, but nevertheless, they were "uncalled for and part of why his makeup can be a double-edged sword."

In the aftermath, Mayfield insisted the incident "isn't who I am," while acknowledging some might not completely buy that. Later in the week, after Riley announced his quarterback would not start on Senior Day against West Virginia and would be stripped of his captaincy, Mayfield shed tears in a news conference. Many questioned the authenticity of the emotional display.

If Mayfield's tears can't be trusted, perhaps Riley's can. The first-year head coach also got choked up in announcing the punishment, pausing 35 seconds to collect himself before mustering this endorsement: "We've been through a lot together. He's a tremendous teammate, the best football player in America, and he's got a great heart that a lot of people don't get the chance to see like I do. I'm proud as hell to be his coach."

THE ROAD WARRIOR

Mayfield has always relished playing the villain role in enemy territory. In elementary and middle school, he was known to show up in Oklahoma gear -- a bold move for someone born and raised in Austin.

He feeds off doubters and haters as motivational nourishment. But to truly carry the weight of being the man fans love to hate, those fans can't just show up mad; they have to walk away bitter, too, and there is no bitter taste like a home loss.

Mayfield went 14-0 in road games over three seasons at OU, beginning with that shocking comeback at Tennessee in early 2015. He dropped a couple games at neutral sites, but every time he walked into his opponent's stadium, he walked out with a victory. It's a remarkable footnote to his highly successful career; half of those opponents were ranked, and the victims include schools from three different Power Five conferences.

The last team with a shot to beat a visiting Mayfield?

Kansas, of course, where the villain role reached a different level.

So, who is Baker Mayfield?

NFL clubs see a gifted passer, one who makes quick decisions, throws with accuracy and, despite his propensity to improvise, one who is highly effective from the pocket when he chooses to stay there.

They also see a quarterback who lacks classic height for the position, and must project him to a league where short quarterbacks are few and far between. Yet the league's two shortest starters -- Wilson and Drew Brees -- are highly successful.

They see a temperament that is, on a positive note, highly competitive, but one that can also teeter on the edge of being volatile and disruptive.

They see the Air Raid offense, and all its underwhelming pros, and wonder if Mayfield will be on its assembly line of NFL mediocrity, or the mold-breaker.

They can see Manziel if they want, or if they look a little closer, Wilson. The ink blot won't be interpreted the same way twice, but as his college career starts to pivot to draft preparation, this much is clear: He's most of what NFL clubs look for in a franchise quarterback, plus a little of what they fear most.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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