Baker Mayfield, out of the University of Oklahoma, is the most controversial quarterback in this year’s rookie class. The first overall draft pick, 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, and newest member of the Cleveland Browns, is the subject of many skeptical views. It is true that Mayfield showed signs of inappropriate behavior, such as suggesting inappropriate actions towards the opposing team, the Kansas Jayhawks, and then proceeding to grad the area in question. He served a one-game suspension for these actions on the sideline.
While his ambition is no doubt an issue, his talent is by no means tarnished by this. He lead the entirety of the FBS in completion percentage (70.5), total quarterback rating (92.3), and he ranked second in passing yards (4,627) and passing touchdowns (43) in his 14 games last season. Statistically, he was by far the best and most efficient quarterback in college football, yet people doubted his ability going into the draft, mainly because they thought his character would overshadow his play-making ability.
I have established the physical capabilities and statistics, but it is Mayfield’s mental state of mind that worries people. To understand the motivation and moxie of Baker Mayfield, one must first understand the road he took to get where he stands today. People often fail to take into account the drive and motivation of the player they analyze. It is very rare that analysts and football persona dive into the background of the players to justify behavior and even more rare to have it justify statistics.
Mayfield was rated a three star recruit by 247Sports out of highschool, and did not get any big-name scholarship offers, with his only offers being from Rice, Florida Atlantic, and New Mexico, Mayfield decided to look elsewhere. He enrolled and walked on at Texas Tech, earning a spot on their roster. He started and won 5 games until he was injured and then benched, after which he transferred, enrolling in Oklahoma, and again, having to walk-on and prove his ability that nobody seemed to want to see. He dominated college football in those two years starting for the Sooners, and became the number one overall pick in the draft.
The story, while entertaining, is more than just an underdog narrative. The message being that Mayfield’s heart and hard work make him different from the rest of the rookie class. Unlike many division one starting quarterbacks, he worked to get every opportunity he has ever had, and has never failed to prove himself. Mayfield worked to get two roster spots, and then to get two starting roles, and then to get the Heisman Trophy. He is the first player to begin his career as a walk-on, and win the Heisman Trophy, a testament to how unique his work ethic is.
Before saying that a player’s mindset doesn’t determine his play, ask yourself this: What is going to change when it comes to the NFL? Just like in college, many doubt his abilities, and he has even been compared to Johnny Manziel, a most horrendous comparison. However, he wants to prove that he can play NFL football, and he is going to do it right now. He has made it very clear to those that will listen, that he is not interested in losing football games, and he is not interested in sitting on the bench. Mayfield has never failed to showcase his abilities despite those who doubt him, so he will not fail now.
Many question his ability to act mature or professional at the NFL level. Considering his background once again, Mayfield is bound to get full of himself at times, and make foolish mistakes such as the incident against Kansas. Admittedly, this is an issue for any team, but I believe that there is a way around it. Mayfield’s ego is large because of his ambition and success in proving his legitimacy. However, egos can be ‘bruised’ as the expression goes, and while many look at this in a negative connotation, in the case of Baker Mayfield, I believe it is necessary. The Browns have a star in their midst, however, they are not yet good enough to make the playoffs and they have depth at the quarterback position with Tyrod Taylor. So, let Baker sit on the bench, and bruise his ego a bit just to make him mentally NFL ready. There is no doubt in my mind that Baker Mayfield can start in the NFL Week One, however, if the Browns do not wish to encounter turmoil with his behavior down the road, they should make it clear to him that he is not going to dictate their team until he is ready and his flamboyant charm is tamed. This is one thing the Browns did not make clear to Johnny Manziel.
Comparisons of Mayfield and Manziel have been prevalent in the sports world, however, it is my belief that these comparisons are not justified. Manziel did not show much evidence in his college career that he could play in an NFL system effectively. He would scramble in and out of the pocket, somehow eluding defenders and completing unbelievable passes that left viewers speechless. However, it is much more difficult to play this way in the NFL. Defenders are bigger, stronger, and harder to elude, and heaving passes down the field does not work in the quarterback’s favor. He had subpar arm strength and decent accuracy, but nothing to suggest he could succeed in the NFL other than his natural athletic ability. As he soon found out, that was not enough. Mayfield though, as I have mentioned, has unbelievable accuracy shown by his completion percentage, he has good arm strength, and he played in a system at Oklahoma that highlighted his ability to be a pocket passer, while also being able to maneuver out of the pocket if necessary.
Manziel behaved in the way that he did in college because he thought himself superior to everyone else, and did so in the NFL because he could not handle all of the critics and pressure put upon him when he failed, illustrated when he flipped off the Washington Redskins’ sideline during a preseason game. He also never worked hard for any role he got, as he was handed scholarships because of his natural athletic ability. This made him a lazy and unmotivated person, traits that killed his NFL career after his natural ability was not sufficient. Mayfield though, has worked for every opportunity and gained his talent through grit and training. He acted the way he did in college to spite all of those who doubted him, and wanted so badly to prove his success. However, Mayfield has learned from his mistakes; he missed a crucial game last season and was devastated by his suspensions. Although there are still those that doubt his ability to play NFL football, Mayfield is determined to show his talent one last time, which is why the Browns would do well to enforce a strict consequence for his actions with the goal of taming his ego.
The comparison to Manziel has been thoroughly debunked, and more accurate comparison in my opinion, is quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. Brees is one of the greatest and most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history. He has led the league in completion percentage 4 times, and in passing yards 7 times in his 17-year career. These are the same categories in which Mayfield ranked second in the entire FBS, in 2017. Brees is insanely accurate with his passes, illustrated by his career completion percentage of 66.9%, which incidentally is first in NFL history for a career. Also, his team leans on this ability year after year, just as the Soonsers did in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. I believe Mayfield has the potential to have the same talent and ability to lead that Brees has, he just needs to bury his ego and let his play dictate his words.