Baker Mayfield is too short.
Baker Mayfield doesn’t have a big enough arm.
Baker Mayfield has character issues.
At one time or another, draft analysts have expressed concerns about the Oklahoma quarterback, and now that he’s on the eve of the biggest Thursday night of his 23-year-old life, the most decorated walk-on quarterback in college football history will hear his name called early.
Mayfield can play. The rest will take care of itself.
So he’s not 6-foot-5. Neither are Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, 6-foot and 5-11, respectively. Both have led teams to Super Bowl titles. Mayfield is a couple of hair follicles taller than his fellow Austin product Brees and plays much bigger than his frame.
Character issues? We’ve all seen the drunken video from Fayetteville and that ill-advised display of sportsmanship against the football wasteland that is Kansas, but he isn’t the trainwreck that’s turned out to be Johnny Manziel. He interviewed well at the NFL scouting combine and unlike USC’s Sam Darnold, who made a bad decision to not throw for the scouts and coaches, Mayfield showed up in Indianapolis ready to compete.
Can Mayfield be a leader of men in the manner in which Brees turned the Saints into a Super Bowl champion? Sure, if he matures. Playing ability isn’t a question here. He can ball. Leadership will determine how well he does on this level.
“Winning … that’s the most important (thing),” Mayfield said at the combine. “The way I’ve been able to get my guys around me to play, not just the offensive players around me but defensive guys, special teams. The energy I bring, the passion I bring … it’s infectious.”
If you’re saying it’s a huge risk to take Mayfield early because of off-the-field issues — the Browns said they’re considering taking him No. 1 overall (which means they won’t pick him) there are agents in the FBI who aren’t as thorough as NFL teams when it comes to character evaluation. A Sports Illustrated article reported an unnamed NFL team hired a private investigator to tail Mayfield in Norman during the week of his pro timing day.
I’m guessing that team with the PI wasn’t the Browns.
Speaking of Cleveland, Manziel was box office-good in college but couldn’t handle the spotlight away from the field and wasted two years of his NFL prime. Now he’s trying to convince a team, any team, that he has changed. Mayfield has a little bit of bad boy in him, but unlike Johnny, he loves playing the game much more than the Hollywood lifestyle it provides.
“I think he embraces the limelight,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “Some guys kind of get worried about it. I think he comes out there and says, ‘Thirty-two teams are out here, man. Let’s rip it. Let’s have some fun.’”
About that arm. You rarely saw Mayfield miss a throw at Oklahoma. After he left Texas Tech, he completed nearly 70 percent of passes with the Sooners with 119 touchdowns against only 21 interceptions. Plus he improved his passer rating in each of his four seasons. He has enough zip on the ball to mix it up with the big boys and accuracy is no problem. Just as important is his ability to get out of trouble with his legs.
Above all else, he competes on every play.
“He’s great in the meeting room and great at processing information, and he’s not a rep guy,” said Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley in a statement posted on the school’s web site. “You can put in a new concept and with a couple days of practice he’s ready to go. And probably his best trait is his mentality; the competitiveness, the toughness. He’s one of those guys that when it’s all on the line and you’re in a big-time game and atmosphere, you want him on your sideline. No question about it.”
How about Mayfield to the New York Jets with the third pick? The greatest quarterback in franchise history would be all for it. Joe Namath can identify with Mayfield since he was pro football’s resident bad boy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The women loved him and the men wanted to be him. Broadway Joe would sit on the sidelines during games in his sunglasses, and when he wasn’t playing he’d sometimes sport a fur coat.
Namath gave the old American Football League credibility when he guaranteed his Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. The Jets won, the AFL merged with the NFL and pro football was forever changed.
Mayfield is no guarantee, but Namath thinks he could be a game changer at the pro level. According to an ESPN.com story, he was more than impressed with Mayfield’s 287-yard, two-touchdown performance in that wild 54-48 double-overtime loss to Georgia in the CFP semifinals.
By the time the Jets pick, either Mayfield, Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen or UCLA’s Josh Rosen will be on the board. Ownership has made no secret of its desire to draft a quarterback.
“I haven’t met the (four quarterbacks), but I’ve watched them and the most outrageous, so to speak, that I’ve seen has been Mayfield,” Namath told ESPN, marveling that Mayfield’s solid footwork was especially noticeable.
That’s “outrageous” in a good way, FYI.
Mayfield has turned down an invitation to attend Thursday’s first around at Jerry World, choosing instead to watch from home. During a celebration of his high school career at the Hill Country Galleria over the weekend, Mayfield told the American-Statesman that he hopes he’s drafted in the top five.
“If you don’t have a goal you are working for, then what are you doing?,” he asked. “But whatever happens, happens, and it’s what you make out of it.”
Mayfield will make it. He has the desire, the drive and, most important, the talent necessary to have a long career.
Tune in early Thursday. His name won’t be on the board for long.