Baker Mayfield shows reason for optimism in NFL debut

Game Film, NFL, NFL Preseason

Mansur Shaheen

The Cleveland Browns selection of quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft surprised some. The 2017 Heisman winner measures just over 6 feet tall and doesn’t have the stature of fellow rookie quarterbacks Sam Darnold or Josh Allen. He doesn’t have the athleticism of Lamar Jackson or the highly touted football IQ of Josh Rosen either. The one thing that the rookie does have that many believed separated him from the pack was his perceived “x-factor.” The Oklahoma product was the most creative and hard to defend player in college football last season.

It did not take long for Mayfield to bring that creativity to the NFL level. The quarterback completed 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns and overall played a very clean game with little mistakes. 

Cleveland handed the starting quarterback role to veteran Tyrod Taylor in their preseason opener against the New York Giants last week, and Mayfield played with the teams second offensive unit. This meant he was playing with a group of backup offensive linemen who were greatly outmatched by their competition.

Poor offensive line play led to him being under pressure on almost every drop back but the rookie was able to expertly navigate the pocket and effortlessly make plays.

Mayfield showed great pocket awareness and did a great job avoiding pressure while also keeping his eyes downfield. He avoided taking sacks but also wasn’t too overly eager to bail out of the pocket and run when he still had a chance to find an open receiver. His football instincts are off the charts and he very quickly got a feel for the NFL game.

While Mayfield was good at throwing out of a shifting pocket he also did a great job knowing when he had to tuck the ball and run it himself.

On both of those plays, Mayfield knew exactly how many yards he needed to convert the first down. He was put under pressure and kept his eyes downfield when he needed to. When he spotted an opportunity to take off and run he did so, getting just enough for the first down and safely getting out of bounds. His field awareness is amazing and it’s rare that a rookie looks this comfortable in his first game.


Baker Mayfield’s pre-draft scouting report


Mayfield made impressive plays from a clean pocket as well. His ball placement when throwing downfield was great. He knew when to throw back shoulder and he knew when to throw a pass that his receiver had a chance to high point. The Giants backup secondary had a pretty good day in coverage, but Mayfield was still able to pick them apart.

The quarterback wasn’t perfect but he was one of the most impressive rookies of the opening week of NFL preseason. Browns fans will know not to get ahead of themselves, though, as 2017 second round selection DeShone Kizer impressed in his preseason debut last season as well. For now, there is good reason to be excited for Mayfield and he looks as if he has a chance to finally end Cleveland’s desperate search for talent at the sports most valuable position. 

 

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Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NCAA Football, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

From walk-on at Texas Tech to Heisman winner and potential top 5 draft pick at Oklahoma, the Baker Mayfield story may be one of the best from the 2018 draft. The protagonist of the story also happens to be an incredible football player. The fiery quarterback terrorized the Big 12 last season as he lead his team to a conference title and an appearance in the college football playoff. He threw for over 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns in his senior year, both career highs, and was only picked off six times, a career low. He was one of the most efficient quarterbacks ever in college football and his huge numbers weren’t just a product of beating up on bad teams either.

Mayfield was just as efficient against some of the best teams in the country as he was against the bottom feeders. He rose up to every challenge in front of him and could be depended on to make huge plays in huge games.

Some of his huge numbers can be attributed to the offense he played in, though. The Sooners deployed a spread offense focused around the incredible athletes they had populating every skill position on the roster. They forced defenses to devote resources towards the outside by running a variety of deep passing concepts and screen passes, then took advantage of the soft spots they left in the middle.

One play Oklahoma loved to run that took advantage of this was a quick toss over the middle off of an RPO.

These holes open for the Sooners offense because of how overwhelming they can be. Opposing defenses are willing to give up an easy first down over the middle if it means they won’t get torched for 60 yards and a touchdown instead.  Mayfield plays “toss and catch” football really well and was comfortable making a quick read and taking the easy pass underneath. Oklahoma forced teams to play bend, don’t break, defense all year and it created an offensive goliath.

This will not be the case for Mayfield at the NFL level, though. NFL corners are just as good as NFL receivers, and middle linebackers aren’t just going to leave gaping holes in the middle of the field on a regular basis.

While these plays inflated his stats a bit, he was still an incredible passer throwing downfield. He can put virtually every pass on a rope, and his quick release combined with the velocity of his passes made them extremely hard to defend.

While Mayfield is not the biggest quarterback, measuring in at 6’1, his ability to get the ball away to quickly and with such speed quells some of the concerns around balls being batted down at the line. Getting the ball over the first level was never an issue for him as a Sooner, and despite his size, he rarely had to sail passes just to get them over people.

When forced out of the pocket, whether it was due to pressure or designed rollouts, Mayfield still managed to deliver great balls. He doesn’t lose much accuracy or power when his feet aren’t set, and still manages to spot open men downfield and make plays.

Mayfield has a Russel Wilson-esque ability to improvise and make plays on the run. He’s slippery in the pocket and always has an escape plan once things start to get dangerous for him. His abilities do come with their faults, though. The quarterback seems over-eager to try to make a play at times and will hold the ball too long. When he was pressured he would usually abandon his progressions and bolt. This would often work out, as his receivers were good enough to usually get open for him to find downfield even when out of the pocket. Needless extension of plays can lead to your team surrendering big gains, though, as receivers are forced to come back towards the ball to get open. Mayfield also hated to throw the ball away and seemed much more willing to take a sack rather than just take the easy way out.

One knock on Mayfield is his willingness to throw off of his back foot. When your base isn’t fully set it is very easy to have passes sail on you, and they can become easy interceptions for a free safety playing center field. An NFL coach will probably work with him to reduce the amount of times he only throws off his back foot, but in his defense, he did throw off of his back foot extremely well in college.

Mayfield is a great passer, but his ability as a runner can truly unlock defenses. As mentioned earlier the Sooners run a lot of RPO plays and the quarterback was not afraid to keep the ball and make plays with his feet. While he is not as fast or athletic as a player like Lamar Jackson he has enough burst to find the edge and take off downfield. He never runs scared but also manages to protect his body and get out of bounds.

He is a smart runner and can beat teams whether the run is designed or not. When looking downfield to pass if he notices there is no spy on the defense he can force them to pay by quickly bolting on his feet. He near perfectly fits the mold of a modern dual-threat quarterback.

While the Sooner is a great runner and an even better passer there are still many questions surrounding him entering the draft. The biggest has to be whether or not he can function in a pro-style offense. Much of Mayfield’s job at Oklahoma was to quickly scan the defense, find which one of his receivers were wide open by nearly ten yards and just get him the ball. He did not have to worry much about hitting his receivers in their hands, leading them or placing the pass in an area where they could avoid danger. He would still have to deliver a pass on target, which he regularly did, but was not the best at hitting them in stride. Completing 71% of your passes in your senior season is incredible, but he was not challenged as much as many of the other quarterbacks in the draft.

Mayfield rarely had to throw into tight windows, and when he did it rarely ended well.

Throws like those are ones he will have to make on a regular basis at the next level and he still hasn’t shown he can make them. While there is no reason to believe that he will not be able to quickly learn a new offense, make reads against a pro defense and complete tight window throws, we have no proof that he can yet and he is less experienced at doing so than the likes of Josh Rosen or Jackson.


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Whichever team drafts Mayfield will be getting a great player with a lot of talent. They will also have to find a way to refine his game without hurting his creativity. Teach him how to play like a disciplined NFL quarterback, while also not extinguishing the fire within him that makes him such a great player. Mayfield’s ceiling may not be as high as Rosen, Josh Allen or Sam Darnold, but he has the tools necessary to be a great NFL quarterback today.

He is definitely going to be selected within the top 20, and he will most likely end up in New York playing for either the Jets or Giants. My favorite landing spot for him is a little later in the draft, going to the Arizona Cardinals at pick 15, where he can spend the early parts of the season sitting behind Sam Bradford before fully taking over the offense later in the year.

 

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