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  • Arguably the most polarizing prospect in the 2018 NFL draft, the Heisman winner knows there are things he must prove to QB-needy teams. And he doesn’t have much patience for dealing with anything else
By Robert Klemko
January 26, 2018

MOBILE, Ala. — Baker Mayfield isn’t here for the games. So when a scout for the Chicago Bears approaches him once more in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, where players invited to the Senior Bowl lived and worked this week, the Heisman-trophy winning quarterback musters about 30 seconds worth of patience. Then the truth comes out.

“You know I’ve got to get you for 15 minutes, Baker,” the scout tells him.

“Yeah, we’ll see. I’ve got a bunch more meetings tonight,” Mayfield replies.

It goes on like that, with the scout pressing on and Mayfield apologetically leaning away, reluctant to commit to a 15-minute interview with a scout whose team drafted a quarterback second overall just nine months ago. Then something clicks in Mayfield’s brain, like the latch catching on a closing door.

“You guys just drafted Mitchell Trubisky,” Mayfield says, “so what do you want with me?”

Moments later, Mayfield meets some folks he can’t say no to, stopping for five minutes to sign autographs for a mom and her kids despite their Alabama jerseys. “You just made their year,” she says, hugging him. “Just don't show the old guys out in the parking lot,” he quips.

Baker Mayfield knows what he’s here for, and it’s not so scouts with teams who will never draft him can check off a box and report to their general managers they did the due diligence on arguably the most polarizing player in the draft. He’s not really here to throw either, though he did a tremendous job of it this week. His touch on intermediate passes and balls pinpointed in the corners of end zones set him apart from the competition, including Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, a potential first-round pick. Mayfield sprinting to and from every drill faster than anybody on the field was the cherry on top.

Still, that’s not the big reason he’s here. Mayfield is here to meet with teams that might actually draft him, and he’s had extensive meetings with four of them; the Saints, Bills, Jets and Dolphins. And they put him through the wringer, teaching him some of their offensive concepts and asking him to recall them an hour later.

“That’s the only upside for me [being here],” Mayfield says of the meetings with teams. “I’m confident I can show exactly what I’m about, how much I care about football and how I’d do anything to win. And not just that. Put me on a board and let me show you how much I know about the game. Let me show that I can pick information up, take it and run with it. Getting in front of these people was so important, even bigger than the three years of film I put together.”

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It’s rare to hear 22-year-olds who have poured their lives into college football at the highest level admit that a handful of hour-long meetings with would-be employers is more valuable than the 1,497 passing attempts, 14,607 yards and 131 touchdowns he had over four seasons of college football. But this is Baker Mayfield, the kid who cameras caught grabbing his crotch while taunting opponents ​(who had taunted him likewise) from the sideline during a win over Kansas. This is the guy who ran to the middle of Ohio State’s field after a 2017 win and symbolically planted an Oklahoma flag on the logo at midfield. He is, as always, a prisoner to the moment.

This week, he had to answer for that last one. On a charter bus ferrying the North team to and from practices at Ladd-Peebles stadium, two Ohio State players surrounded Mayfield in his seat, blocking him in. Defensive linemen Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis stared down Mayfield, and one of them broke the silence: “What’s wrong with you, bro?”

A pregnant moment passed, then the three burst out laughing. “That’s what you get for kicking my ass the year before!” Mayfield said, referring to the Sooners’ 45-24 loss to the Buckeyes in Norman back in September 2016. The Ohio State pair admitted they probably would have done the same thing had the tables been turned.

Players on both the North and South teams who’d played against Mayfield gushed about his accuracy and his slippery moves in the pocket. During Senior Bowl media day on Tuesday, Auburn safety Tray Matthews recalled a critical play in the 2017 Sugar Bowl when Mayfield got an audible from the sideline, returned to his shotgun posture, looked across at the defense and shouted “I’m bout to get this first down!”

“Then he got the first down,” Matthews says.

“I think it was actually fourth down,” Mayfield says with a laugh.

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Mayfield would have been there on Tuesday to answer myriad questions from members of the media, but he was a day late to the festivities. His mother, Gina Mayfield, experienced a heart episode and was taken to an Austin hospital for a battery of tests including an echocardiogram. Since arriving in Mobile Tuesday afternoon, Mayfield has been waiting for results expected to come Friday. He says things are looking good.

In the time he was absent, scouts, agents and reporters whispered about the “real” reasons Mayfield missed the first day. Was he afraid to weigh in and be measured for fear of how he’d stack up with the 6' 5" Allen? Hardly. Mayfield’s not worried about being considered short for a quarterback (6' 0 3/8", by the way)—he readily admits he's never been able to see over linemen. Instead he sees through them.

“I’ve never really been able to see over the guys,” Mayfield says. “I just trust where they’re at and what I see in the defense. Nobody sees over the 6' 8" left tackle. Even Josh Allen, [UCLA’s Josh] Rosen and [USC’s Sam] Darnold can’t see over that guy. You’re seeing concepts, and understanding timing. If you see the guy open, you’re late. You have to anticipate it.”

That’s what Mayfield will tell these teams over the next few months leading up to the draft. He’ll have to answer for that and more when the Broncos work him out individually, general manager John Elway says.

“I’ll ask him about the off-the-field stuff,” Elway says of his biggest question for Mayfield. “Why it needs to happen. I don’t know if there’s a good answer for that. It’s good to have that passion, though. Some guys are more inward, and some are more outward with it. But you’ve got to be cocky to play the position.”

Mayfield, the two-time walk-on who showed up at Oklahoma virtually unannounced and brought the school a Heisman, will handle the questions the only way he knows: with brutal honesty.

“I want to prove the type of person I am,” Mayfield says. “There’s a media portrayal of me and there are the people in the program who know who I am.

“I’m excited for the next few months. I’m gonna give my best because that’s going to put me in the best position moving forward. The stuff I don’t like about the process, I’ll deal with it. I can suck it up for two months. I’ve dealt with worse.”

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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