Baker Mayfield is one of the crown jewels of the 2018 quarterback class after a spectacular career at Oklahoma that saw him post video-game-like numbers at the position. Mayfield threw for 12,292 yards in three seasons at OU while posting a gaudy 119:21 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 69.8 percent completion rate that suggests he's an efficient playmaker at the position.
Not to mention, he led the Sooners to two appearances in the College Football Playoff and racked up some notable wins against established programs around the country.
With Mayfield playing a key role in his team's success as the driver of the offense, he should be in line to be the top pick of the 2018 draft ... right?
In most instances, that would be the case, but it's still hard for some scouts to accept a 6-foot quarterback as an elite prospect, despite the success of Russell Wilson (5-11) and Drew Brees (6-0). Skeptics also wonder if Mayfield's success is a byproduct of playing in an Air Raid system that's produced a number of statistical wonder boys but only a few legitimate NFL QBs. With character concerns also clouding his evaluation, Mayfield is certainly not a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.
After taking some time to assess his game and solicit opinions from my scouting colleagues in the business, here's The Book on Baker Mayfield.
What I'm hearing
"I love him. He's tough and competitive. He can make all of the throws and he has tremendous confidence. I know he's a little undersized but he has big-time game. I think he has the stuff to be a franchise guy." -- AFC personnel executive
"I'm not as high on him as some guys. I love his toughness and leadership. He throws a deep ball with good touch and timing. He's pretty accurate in that offense, but I worry about him working the middle of the field on traditional intermediate routes. Can he find the passing lanes to hit moving targets from the pocket? That's the biggest question that I have on him. If he can't consistently make those throws from the pocket, it's going to be hard for him to succeed as a pro." -- AFC scout
"He is like the Energizer Bunny. He brings a lot of energy and passion to the field. You can sense it when you watch him warm up prior to games. I think his teammates feed off of his swagger and confidence. I think that's important. It might be more important than the physical stuff that he brings to the table. ... Yeah, he can make all of the throws and do all of those things you want to see from a quarterback, but it's the 'it' factor that sets him apart from others in the class. He has the juice that you want to see from your franchise quarterback." -- NFC scout
"I think he's a very good college player, but I'm not convinced that he will light it up as a pro. He has a lot of weapons around him and I think they elevate his play a bit. He's a good player, but I don't know if he's a top-tier guy." -- AFC college scouting director
"He's a good college player, but I'm not ready to proclaim him a franchise guy. He has some talent, but he's not as accurate as a young Drew Brees and he's not nearly as explosive or dynamic as Russell Wilson. ... I think he can be a good player at the next level, but I think scouts and coaches need to know exactly who he is before they bring him in." -- NFC scout
What I'm seeing
Mayfield is a feisty competitor with the swagger and dynamic game to be a longtime QB1 at the next level. As an undersized playmaker, he doesn't fit the traditional mold. However, he's a "gamer" with a resume and highlight reel that suggests he can succeed as a starter in a system built around a quick-rhythm passing game that features a number of "catch, rock and fire" concepts (screens, quicks and run-pass options) and intermediate routes.
As a passer, Mayfield can make every throw in the book with zip, velocity or touch. He has one of the quickest releases in football. He's also capable of delivering the ball from a wide array of arm angles that allow him to work around bodies in the passing lanes. From a pure arm-talent perspective, Mayfield rates at a B-plus level. His arm strength and velocity are certainly good enough by traditional standards.
He's at his best firing darts to the perimeter on screens, pop passes (play-action slants) and short crossing routes. He gets the ball out of his hands quickly and is deadly accurate with his ball placement on those throws. Mayfield hits his receivers in the strike zone, which allows them to chew up "RAC" (run-after-catch) yardage in the open field.
Mayfield also shows good accuracy and ball placement on intermediate throws between the numbers and along the boundary. He routinely throws strikes to receivers on out-breaking routes, particularly on corners and comebacks on the sideline. He can make throws from the pocket or on the move as part of a bootleg or movement package designed to give him options on the perimeter as a mobile playmaker with some running ability. Although he isn't a dynamic or electric runner, Mayfield's movement skills make him a credible threat on zone-reads and bootlegs, which is enough to make defenders pause in coverage when he attacks the perimeter.
From a critical standpoint, Mayfield's deep-ball accuracy and "happy feet" are concerns. Despite posting outstanding numbers as a deep-ball passer, he routinely underthrows his receivers on vertical throws. Although his targets frequently make plays on these tosses, Mayfield's inconsistency as a deep-ball thrower is something that needs to be investigated in pre-draft workouts.
As for his footwork, Mayfield needs to exhibit better attention to detail on his drops and fundamentals within the pocket. He tends to drift in the pocket, and his undisciplined movement can lead to inaccurate throws or unexpected sacks. While some of his movement is needed to help him spot windows at the line of scrimmage, Mayfield's "popcorn" footwork could throw off his timing on rhythm throws at the next level.
Mayfield's character is also a concern for scouts during the pre-draft process. He was arrested on public intoxication charges a year ago and later reached a plea deal in the case. His obscene gesture in the Kansas game last season led to questions about his maturity. Although it's possible that no teams will view those incidents as deal-breakers, coaches and scouts will want to vet his character to make sure he can handle the responsibility of being a QB1 at the next level.
Overall, Mayfield has a dazzling resume that screams franchise quarterback. He has a long history of production as a starter and a handful of notable wins against elite competition throughout his career. While questions about his size and athleticism will affect his draft stock, it's hard to dismiss his chances of succeeding as a pro when factoring in his competitiveness and confidence as a playmaker.
I know Mayfield has been compared to Russell Wilson and Drew Brees due to his size, athleticism, and arm talent, but I'm not quite convinced that he's as explosive as Wilson or as precise or detailed as Brees from the pocket. I believe the Heisman Trophy winner is more like the Minnesota Vikings' Case Keenum.
Now, I know that comparison will draw some raised eyebrows from Mayfield supporters, but I believe their physical dimensions (Mayfield measured 6-0 3/8, 216 pounds last month at the Senior Bowl; Keenum measured 6-0 1/2, 208 pounds at Houston's Pro Day when he was a prospect in 2012), collegiate production (Mayfield finished with 12,292 passing yards and a 119:21 TD-INT ratio at Oklahoma; Keenum amassed 19,217 passing yards and posted a 155:46 TD-INT ratio as a Cougar) and playing style are very similar.
Each is a productive passer capable of winning games, but the presence of a strong supporting cast is needed to elevate their play as starters. While that's true for the overwhelming majority of quarterbacks in the NFL, I think it's extremely important for Mayfield to be surrounded by explosive playmakers and "catch-and-run" specialists to thrive as the quick-rhythm passer that lit up scoreboards across the Big 12 as Oklahoma's QB1. Given Keenum's success in Minnesota with an all-star cast on the perimeter, I believe Mayfield could have a similar impact on a team employing a QB-friendly system with established playmakers in place.
Where he should be picked
If he's being picked based purely on his talent, production, and physical dimensions, Mayfield would come off the board at the top of the second round. It's uncommon for 6-foot quarterbacks to earn first-round grades in a league where size matters at the position. Remember, Drew Brees (second round) and Russell Wilson (third round) were selected outside of Round 1 primarily due to concerns about their height. Those concerns still exist in some meeting rooms around the league.
If I currently worked for a team, I would place a borderline first-round grade on Mayfield with the expectation that he could be a starter, but I don't necessarily see him as an elite prospect or a franchise quarterback. I think he can win games in the right situation (QB-friendly scheme with a strong supporting cast) but I don't think he's a transcendent player at the position with the potential to reverse the fortunes of a franchise with his mere presence.
That said, I expect Mayfield to come off the board in the first round for a team in desperate need of a quarterback. While I would pause before taking an undersized quarterback with average athleticism and a bit of a frenetic game with a top-10 pick, I fully expect to hear Mayfield's name called early on draft day. He has the "it" factor some coaches and scouts covet. That could be enough to make him a compelling choice for a QB-needy team sitting at the top of the board.
If I could play matchmaker for Mayfield, I would cite the New York Giants (No. 2 overall), New York Jets (No. 6), Arizona Cardinals (No. 15), and New Orleans Saints (No. 27) as ideal fits for his game. The Giants, in particular, have the "catch-and-run" specialists (see OBJ, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram) to elevate his play as a quick-rhythm passer. Not to mention, head coach Pat Shurmur is a proven QB whisperer with an adaptable scheme that showcases his QB1.