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Matt Miller’s Scouting Notebook: Can Baker Mayfield Be a Franchise NFL QB?

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates with the Golden Hat Trophy following the team's 29-24 win over Texas in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

Last weekend I made the six-hour drive south to Dallas with my brother/scouting assistant Marshal to hit up the State Fair of Texas and see our beloved Texas Longhorns face the rival Oklahoma Sooners. It wasn’t the Fletcher’s Corny Dogs, fried Oreos or Shiner Bock beer that made the trip worth it. It was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

There is no substitute for seeing a player live. On screen, everyone looks pretty much the same. You can’t get a feel for size, speed, arm strength, velocity or poise when sitting on your couch like you can when in the stands or on the sideline. A six-hour drive to see the most electric draft prospect in the 2018 class was well worth it.

Mayfield, who is one of a handful of top Heisman candidates this year, has become almost mythical to those in Big 12 country.

Watching Mayfield in person, you can’t ignore his energy and passion. He is the life of the Oklahoma program. What’s rare is to see a hyped-up, swagged-out dude on the sideline become so poised and calm once he steps onto the field. Mayfield has that Deshaun Watson factor where he’s the best any time his back is against the wall. Whether that means escaping the grip of 6’7″, 280-pound defensive end Charles Omenihu in the pocket or hitting tight end Mark Andrews down the field for a go-ahead score, Mayfield is ice-cold.


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His career began in 2013 as a walk-on at Texas Tech, where he would be named the starting quarterback for his freshman season by head coach Kliff Kingsbury in an uptempo, wide-open Red Raiders offense. The story was too good to be true: an undersized true freshman walk-on starting his first game? That’s made-for-TV stuff, but Mayfield was out there against SMU completing 43 of 60 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns. The legend was born, but a knee injury put Mayfield on the bench after a 5-0 start to the season, with Davis Webb taking over as the starter.

Mayfield was named the Big 12 Conference Freshman Offensive Player of the Year after returning for the final three games of the regular season, but in a surprising move, he announced he would transfer due to “poor communication” with coaches and an academic issue.

After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, Mayfield won the starting quarterback job at Oklahoma for the 2015 season. Since then he’s been a nightmare for Big 12 defenses. However, until this year, Mayfield was seen as a great college quarterback but not a premium NFL prospect. Each week he’s changing that narrative.

But NFL teams remain unsure of Mayfield. Some of that is due to his height (he’s listed at 6’1″), and some due to an offseason arrest in Arkansas, where he was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest. The video of the arrest went viral (largely due to the form tackling of the officer in pursuit of Mayfield), and there is no doubt that scouts and executives will dig to find out if this is an example of a kid making a mistake or a pattern.

Let’s talk about on the field. The NFL is traditionally hesitant of quarterbacks shorter than 6’2″ and is equally uninterested in passers from spread offenses. Mayfield is both. But his play on Saturdays looks like that of a future NFL starter. In size (6’1″, 220 lbs) and ability, he’s very similar to Russell Wilson (5’11”, 215 lbs). Wouldn’t NFL teams want another Wilson?

Could Mayfield emulate Russell Wilson at the next level?

Could Mayfield emulate Russell Wilson at the next level?Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Said one area scout, “The difference between Russ and Baker is football IQ. Russ ran a pro scheme at Wisconsin, not this high school offense at Oklahoma.” While it’s true that Wilson was more prepared for the NFL coming out of college, Mayfield is executing more pro concepts this season (reading high to low, working through progressions, throwing from the pocket). And like Wilson, Mayfield will have five years of college experience, which, in theory, can allow for a quicker progression to the NFL.

Anonymous NFL sources might be afraid to come out and say it, but I’m not: Baker Mayfield can be a franchise quarterback.

He might not be a natural fit for every offense, but if you look at the most successful young quarterbacks in the NFL this season (Watson, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott), we see offenses that have been adjusted to fit their strengths. You can do that with Mayfield. His underneath accuracy hasn’t shown up as a strength, but his mobility and toughness would work with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco or John Morton and the New York Jets. He’s athletic enough to run the scheme Tyrod Taylor runs in Buffalo. His downfield passing ability would even be a fit for Sean Payton in New Orleans.

Compared to the much-hyped 2018 quarterback class, where does Mayfield fit in? Said one scout, “I haven’t studied them all yet, but I’d take [Baker] over [Wyoming’s] Josh Allen. Don’t underestimate the kid.”

The three things I look for first when evaluating a quarterback are accuracy, decision-making and toughness. Mayfield has shown all three at a high level every chance he’s had on the field in college. Some teams may overthink this scouting report, but mine will say that Mayfield is a franchise-caliber quarterback.

             

Here’s what else is going on this week:

  • Top five matchups to watch in Week 8
  • A top offensive tackle out for the year
  • Updated NFL draft order
  • Stick to Football Episode 28: Fixing the Cleveland Browns

   


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—One of the draft’s top offensive tackles, Washington’s Trey Adams, suffered a knee injury and will be out for the season. A coaching staff source at the university said the expectation is that Adams will return for his senior season in 2018.

—Call this the Baker Mayfield edition of the Scouting Notebook. Former Washington general manager Scot McCloughan would be fine with that. Appearing on local radio in San Francisco, McCloughan was asked about the upcoming quarterback class and raved about Mayfield. “He reminds me of a shorter version of Brett Favre. Tough guy. He can throw it. And he’s very confident, and he’s not afraid whatsoever, whatsoever. He’s a battler. I know saying Brett Favre’s a big name, and I was around him for a while, but this guy’s got talent.”

—Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard announced that quarterback Andrew Luck was shut down this week after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired shoulder. Luck’s status for this season is completely up in the air, which makes the trade with the New England Patriots for Jacoby Brissett look so much smarter now. Brissett isn’t Luck, but he’s playing solid ball. Given the need for an almost complete rebuild in Indianapolis, having a quarterback you trust when Luck is out will make Ballard’s life much easier moving forward.

Andrew Luck could be on the sideline for rest of the season.

Andrew Luck could be on the sideline for rest of the season.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

—The head coach carousel is starting to spin again, and the name I’m hearing most is Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He was the head coach of the Lions for five seasons and had just one winning year there (10-6 in 2011), but with his defense playing lights-out in Philly and a lack of top-tier candidates out there, Schwartz has a great chance to get back in as a head coach.

—The 2018 linebacker class might be a lot stronger than I originally thought. Going back to look at Georgia and Alabama film this week, two players stood out as potential top-50 picks. Lorenzo Carter (Georgia) and Rashaan Evans (Alabama) both have the range, instincts and overall athleticism to be starting linebackers in the NFL. They’ll be ranked much higher in my next big board update.

—It’s very early, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say the 2018 first round breaks down like this: five quarterbacks, three running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, three offensive tackles, one offensive guard, four edge-rushers, three defensive tackles, three linebackers, four cornerbacks and two safeties.

                   

5. Mason Rudolph (Quarterback, Oklahoma State) vs. Texas Defense

Over the summer, I heard from NFL scouts who had a Day 3 grade (Rounds 4-7) on Mason Rudolph. My own grade is higher (early second round) based on the improvements Rudolph has made to his pocket presence, anticipation as a thrower and what looks like an uptick in arm strength. In the Big 12, you don’t get many tests against top-tier defenses, and Texas has been spotty in coverage, but Rudolph and his awesome wide receiver corps will see NFL-level athletes in the Longhorn secondary. Holton Hill and DeShon Elliott are both playing very well. Perhaps most importantly, Texas has the athletes and depth to cover five receivers at a time. For those who like marquee matchups for evaluation purposes, this is a good game to scout. 

            

4. Sam Darnold (Quarterback, USC) vs. Notre Dame Defense

Two years ago I went to the USC game in South Bend and nearly froze to death waiting for an Uber after the game (rookie mistake). Why does that matter? I was hoping for a similarly cold game to see Sam Darnold versus the elements and the Notre Dame defense, but global warming has other plans, with a high of 73 degrees in South Bend on Saturday. This will still be a very good game to evaluate Darnold in. The Notre Dame defense is seriously underrated this season, and playing on the road in a hostile environment is key. It feels like Darnold is at his best in these moments, but any chance to see him made uncomfortable will be a big key for scouts.         

3. Lamar Jackson (Quarterback, Louisville) vs. Florida State Secondary

This week's matchup is a big opportunity for Lamar Jackson to show off for NFL scouts.

This week’s matchup is a big opportunity for Lamar Jackson to show off for NFL scouts.Gerry Broome/Associated Press/Associated Press

Florida State currently has my top-ranked cornerback (Tarvarus McFadden) and safety (Derwin James), as well as two other top-50 players (Derrick Nnadi and Josh Sweat) on the defensive line. That’s the type of cast you want to see Lamar Jackson against to get a good feel for his NFL prospects. I’m not as high on Jackson as others (QB7 on my last big board update), but seeing him throw from the pocket with touch, timing and vision would do a lot to change that perception. Jackson is an amazing playmaker outside of the pocket, but too often I see him miss progressions or mishandle throws that require velocity outside the hashes. If he makes those mistakes against FSU, the talent on the defense will crush him. My goal for this game is to forget my other notes and thoughts on Jackson and evaluate it with a blank slate. Can he make the throws and reads needed to be an NFL starter? We’ll see on Saturday.

2. Saquon Barkley (Running Back, Penn State) vs. Michigan Defense

The best player in the nation goes against a run defense that’s stout in the trenches and has the speed to keep pace at the second level. Saquon Barkley has proven himself as a runner, receiver, returner, blocker and even passer this season en route to what should be a Heisman win. He doesn’t have anything left to prove to NFL scouts, but there might still be doubters among the masses. A big outing against Maurice Hurst and the Michigan defense might open some eyes.

1. Isaiah Oliver (Cornerback, Colorado) vs. Luke Falk (Quarterback, Washington State)

Tarvarus McFadden (FSU) and Denzel Ward (Ohio State) sit atop my cornerback rankings, but Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver is climbing higher each week and sits at No. 3 right now. He has the size (6’1″, 190 lbs) and speed to match up well against NFL receivers. In a limited viewing, he reminds me of Desmond Trufant at Washington. He’ll get a test this week against Luke Falk, who had a disastrous game against Cal last weekend. Falk will be looking for a rebound game this week, and Oliver will be tasked with shutting him down.   

     

7. Do you know why NFL players have knelt for the national anthem this year? You might think you do, but do you really know the reasons? This week Joshua Perry, a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, explains the reasons why. You won’t get this explanation from Fox News or Twitter or Facebook. 

Whether you agree with the reasons or the method of protesting or not, take a few minutes to read Perry’s thoughts on the subject. The one thing we could all do a better job of in this world is trying harder to understand each other. Here’s a chance to start.

6. One argument I read often about players kneeling for the national anthem is that they should do more to give back in their communities to spark and inspire change. Credit Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles (among others) for doing just that.

Chris Long has been one of the more outspoken personalities this season.

Chris Long has been one of the more outspoken personalities this season.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Long donated his first six game checks this year to establish scholarships in Charlottesville, Virginia. His remaining 10 game checks were just donated to overcoming education inequality. Long was nominated for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2015 after founding a program called “Waterboys” that builds wells in Africa

5. The NFL draft is headed south. The league announced the 2018 draft will be held in Dallas (or Arlington, more accurately) at the Cowboys’ facility. You can bet Jerry Jones will throw one hell of a party for this. The area should also be great for events given the setup around Jerryworld in Arlington (the Rangers play close by). This is also great news for Dallas-area Uber drivers. 

4. The on-and-off status of DeShone Kizer as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns does nothing to help the rookie. This week, after being benched last Sunday against the Houston Texans, Kizer is back in the starting lineup.

What is Hue Jackson’s game plan here? Sitting Kizer so he can learn and observe is fine, but are we really supposed to believe he learned enough in one week of watching Kevin Hogan to be back on the field as the starter?

Hue Jackson (left) could be out in Cleveland if he doesn't figure things out.

Hue Jackson (left) could be out in Cleveland if he doesn’t figure things out.Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Make a decision and stick with it, Hue. Because honestly, it doesn’t matter at this point. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Browns will have another new head coach next season.

3. First-rounder Jonathan Allen, drafted by Washington, is out for the year after suffering a Lisfranc injury. Allen was at one time a top-five player on my draft board, but he fell to No. 8 overall after it was discovered he’d undergone multiple shoulder surgeries at Alabama. He was ultimately selected No. 17 overall.

This goes back to my belief that injured players have a way of staying injured. Allen’s shoulder injuries couldn’t have informed pre-draft that he’d end up with a foot injury, but it should have told scouts that he’s struggled with injuries consistently. A pro-level comparison for this would be guys like Keenan Allen and Kevin White who just can’t seem to stay healthy, even if the injuries don’t necessarily relate to one another.

2. Through six weeks of play, the updated NFL draft order is confirming why I should never bet on football. The Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts all pick in the top 10, while the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles are leading their divisions. Here’s where all 32 teams stand before Thursday Night Football.

Updated NFL Draft Order
Pick Team
1 Cleveland Browns
2 San Francisco 49ers
3 New York Giants
4 Indianapolis Colts
5 Oakland Raiders
6 Los Angeles Chargers
7 Chicago Bears
8 Cincinnati Bengals
9 Dallas Cowboys
10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
11 Jacksonville Jaguars
12 Tennessee Titans
13 Baltimore Ravens
14 Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans)
15 Arizona Cardinals
16 Detroit Lions
17 New York Jets
18 Denver Broncos
19 Washington
20 Seattle Seahawks
21 Buffalo Bills
22 Atlanta Falcons
23 Miami Dolphins
24 New Orleans Saints
25 Los Angeles Rams
26 Pittsburgh Steelers
27 Green Bay Packers
28 Minnesota Vikings
29 Carolina Panthers
30 New England Patriots
31 Philadelphia Eagles
32 Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs)
Matt Miller

    

1. Stick to Football Episode 28 is ready to download—and if you haven’t already, go ahead and subscribe with a five-star review! 

This week, Connor and I take on the impossible task of fixing the Cleveland Browns…and we do it without spending the first overall pick on a quarterback. To close it all out, we take your fan questions in our “Draft on Draft” segment with our intern, Kennedy.

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report. 

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