Folks, draft szn is upon us. This year, I’m going to be covering the draft in a way different than we’ve seen it typically be covered in previous years. The draft, in my opinion, should be the starting point for our evaluations of these prospects. Placement and fit matters so much for prospects, yet we grade them as if they’re finished products before we even know where they’re going. Why do we do this? The easy answer is, for clicks. People don’t care about the rookies once the draft is over until they start playing in real games. It makes no sense to do the bulk of the coverage after the draft, because the traffic it would generate for the sites and media outlets will be severely diminished.
I’ve found a way to marry the ideal process with the practical one, and that’s how I’ll be covering the draft this year. I’m going to be bringing you weekly-ish reports on prospects that will provide them with a grade and full coverage of the type of player the prospect is, but I won’t be releasing any rankings before the draft happens. Instead, I’ve added a variable to my grading process that factors in the landing spot of each prospect, and when that fit is added to the pre-draft grade the prospect receives, it will give me the final grade for the prospect. Teams will be sorted into 5 categories of fits; Great, Good, Neutral, Bad, Disaster. These fits are determined with a variety of factors involved, including but not limited to scheme fit, organizational stability, and current players at the position on the team. Once I have the prospects’ final grades, I will release a post-draft big board of the prospects I covered. This way, their landing spots can impact how I feel about them, but the content is still primarily coming before the draft, when most of you will care much more about it. This intro is going to stay in every prospect article I write as a refresher/introduction to those who are reading for the first time. Now, let’s get to it: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma **All clips taken from YouTube.com. RIP DraftBreakdown.**
From walk-on at Texas Tech to Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, 22 year old Baker Mayfield has carved out a seriously impressive college career. Although Mayfield is expected to be a first round pick in the draft, it wouldn’t shock me if he fell for a variety of reasons that have no impact on his talent as a player. There’s a lot to love about Mayfield, however, so teams would be wise to break the prototypical round 1 QB mold.
Mayfield throws a beautiful ball, and displays accuracy to all levels of the field. I’ll get into some examples in a second, but first check out NDT Scouting’s Benjamin Solak’s (@BenjaminSolak on Twitter) charting of Mayfield here. Not only was Mayfield accurate to all levels of the field, but his ball placement-how well he positioned his receiver to catch it-was absurd as well. Per Solak, the only section of the field where his ball placement% was below 50 was 20+ yards down the middle of the field, the area of the field where placement matters the least. The only other section that was even below 60% was 10-19 yards in the middle of the field. Simply put, Mayfield’s ability to put his receiver in a positive position to make a play is already that of a high-quality starting NFL QB.
This first quarter near-TD (review ruled he didn’t finish the catch) is an excellent example of Mayfield’s ability to put the ball where only his receiver can make a play. Rolling out to his right, his target heads to the corner and gains separation from his defenders, and Mayfield throws off-platform 35+ yards in the air, right into his receivers hands, leading him away from both trailing defenders. The WR can’t pull it in cleanly and subsequently makes it look much more difficult than necessary, but this was a perfectly thrown ball.
Here’s another beautiful throw by Mayfield. Defender on his targets back, defender trailing, and a defender closing in ready to lay him out if Baker leads him too far. Mayfield goes right over the defender, in a place only his receiver can reach it and in a spot where no defender can touch him. Gets it out early enough that the receiver can make the play and get his feet down in bounds (that’s an NFL touchdown, too). Arguably the most impressive play of my viewing.
Poor quality on this gif so apologies for that, but this is the type of subtle ball placement that shows off not only Mayfield’s talent, but his mental acuity as well. Seeing his receiver come open in the end zone, with the sideline quickly approaching, Baker identifies and gets the ball out quickly to allow his receiver to make a play in the end zone. Just getting the ball out quickly enough is a successful play, but look where the ball is placed. Up high to get over the underneath defender, on his receivers back shoulder knowing the trailing DB is too far to get back into the play. Putting it on his back shoulder slows down the receivers momentum, and instead of needing to make a nice sideline toe drag to complete the touchdown, the receiver has plenty of room to get both feet down. Making your receivers job as easy as possible is a key to successful quarterbacking.
Mayfield carries more than just elite accuracy. He has more than enough arm strength to make any throw, and knows how to adjust his velocity depending on what the play dictates.
First of all, tight end throwbacks >>>>>. Here, instead of rolling Mayfield away from the tight end, the get motion flowing that way with the play action. This lets Baker peel back towards where the tight end is going, making the throw easier. With a wide open target and a faster defender closing in, Mayfield sets and lofts the throw in to ensure the big play, knowing even if he threw a dart in there his receiver is likely getting caught from behind.
The picture should be coming together for you that Mayfield is an extremely smart QB. He knows where he wants to go with the ball based on the play call and the defense, but he’s also not afraid to come off his first read as soon as he sees it’s not working.
Mayfield’s first read here was always the whip route away from the bunch. He gets the defenses eyes flowing to the bunch formation, but his footwork is set up to get back to the whip route, while still allowing him to hit someone out of the bunch if something gets busted on the defenses end. He whips his head-and feet- back around right as his target is coming out of his break, and hits him cleanly for a first down.
Here, Baker is initially looking for the go route to his right side. Seeing the corner is all over it, he doesn’t wait around to see if his receiver can separate. Instead, he comes back to his secondary read and finds his running back running free thanks to a slip (push? It hard to say,,) from his defender. Mayfield takes his time and makes sure to complete the play instead of rushing and missing a huge opportunity, and Oklahoma comes away with 6 points.
Finally, Mayfield is a good athlete who can make plays with his legs, without resorting to becoming a runner as soon as he leaves the pocket. He’s comfortable keeping his eyes downfield all the way until he clears the line of scrimmage, but as soon as he transitions to a runner he’s extremely dangerous. I’m not a huge fan of showing off QB running clips unless it’s a core part of their skillset, but I did enjoy this one.
Designed QB run that looks like it’s DOA. Just not enough blockers for the defenders in the box. 3rd down, two high scoring teams where field goals are barely a step above punts. Mayfield gets lateral, hits the linebacker with an initial stiff arm to gain some separation, and then keeps away the LB’s atrocious tackle attempt like a grown man with his hand on the head of a child. Finish it off with a dive for the pylon, and Oklahoma has their third touchdown in a quarter + one play.
It’s not all good with Mayfield, unfortunately, and the key issue that stands out when watching him is his overall mechanics. I’d like to preface this by saying in a world where everyone seems to want picture perfect qualities-especially with throwing motion/footwork-I say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Patrick Mahomes was a similar case last year where his fundamentals were very different from what you would teach a young QB, but they didn’t hinder his ability to play successfully. For Mayfield this is mostly true. His mechanics and footwork are incredibly far from the “prototype”, but for the most part it doesn’t hurt him. Occasionally it does, however, and it traces back to one particular thing: the end of his motion. Mayfield has a tendency to fall off his throws, flicking his wrist instead of coming down with a full follow through, and even when he sets his feet (he loooooves throwing off-platform), like his throw he tends to fall off his feet, ending parallel to his target instead of following through.
Here, Mayfield comes off his first read (good), but his feet don’t move with him (bad) and he ends up throwing to the middle of the field even though his feet are angled just outside the hash mark. This results in a throw behind his target, and an incomplete pass.
This play results in a touchdown, so calling this nitpicking is a fair criticism, but this play highlights all my concerns with his mechanics. His running back breaks up the middle of the field and gains a step on the linebacker. Mayfield identifies him (good), but his throw ends up behind his target, allowing the defender back into the play. The defender isn’t able to identify the ball, and his RB makes a nice catch and displays a great effort to get into the end zone. Let’s take a closer look at Mayfield actually throwing the ball.
His wrist flick isn’t as egregious here as it is other times, but it still isn’t as complete of a follow through as we would like. His feet get set, but end up with a bit too wide of a base, and this angle better shows where the ball actually ends up vs. where it should’ve been.
If we zoom in one more time an focus on his feet, we see he ends up in a position where he has to throw across his body, relying on his arm rather than his core and base. Lastly, look at where his back foot ends up. Instead of finishing towards his target, he ends up parallel to it. The play worked out, but his mechanical failure made it a lot more difficult than needed.
His other key weakness (which can also be spun as a strength to some point) is his determination to make a play. Mayfield trusts himself and his receivers to the point that he ends up taking sacks or throwing interceptions trying to make a play instead of living to fight another down. With an electric playmaker like Mayfield, you live with these extended plays that end up in mistakes, but it’s something you hope you can minimize without reducing his propensity for big plays.
Here, Mayfield locks onto his read. He looks him off initially but comes back to him and doesn’t read the defender quickly closing in. Easy interception.
Finally, trying to make a play for the end zone in a shootout, Mayfield locks onto his target again and completely ignores the linebacker who was sitting underneath the entire time, leading to another easy interception.
The Cleveland Browns. Okay calm down. Stop laughing. Guys, it’s getting hurtful. Let me explain: the Browns already have a talented line, a young, talented tight end entering his second year, and Josh Gordon who showed flashes of the dominant receiver he was years ago. Add in an electric playmaker out of the backfield in Duke Johnson, a lottery ticket in Corey Coleman, and a ton of picks to continue to add talent around him, and Cleveland quickly looks much more attractive (which is why they should give my son DeShone Kizer one more year. I still believe.). Mayfield has the confidence, personality, and leadership qualities that are going to be required to finally make the Browns relevant, and they’re in a position where they’ll likely draft a QB or sign a veteran-not both. Somehow, some way, the Browns are an ideal landing spot.
The Cincinatti Bengals. My, how the turntables. One Ohio team is a dream fit and one is a nightmare, and for the first time maybe ever the Browns aren’t the nightmare. Of teams potentially in the QB market, the Bengals already have an established starter (albeit a bad one), and have shown a total indifference to change in a strive for greatness, from coaching staff to front office to ownership. Add in the coaching staff’s disdain for rookies, the atrocious offensive line, and the question marks around every weapon not named Adriel Jeremiah, and the Bengals are about as bad of a spot as possible for Mayfield.
Mayfield is an electric playmaker who is more advanced mentally than given credit for. He should be taken early on day 1 of the draft, but between his height (notice it wasn’t in my weaknesses), his off-field antics (a college kid getting too drunk), and his on-field events (getting into the game and taking it to a borderline place), the stage is set for Mayfield to far just enough for a smart organization like the Saints, Patriots, or Steelers to pick him up as their QB of the future, and sustain another 10+ years of success. Don’t be stupid, bad teams (unless he ends up in New England, then thank you for being stupid).