- As draft season ramps up (and Mayfield receives his first invite for a private meeting with a team), discussions with scouts and evaluators around the league reveal the potential landing spots for the reigning Heisman winner
Part 3 of our draft season series on Baker Mayfield, the 2018 draft’s most fascinating prospect on and off the field
In the quest to land a franchise quarterback, the Browns are doing their homework. Less than three days after the final whistle blew on a monstrously entertaining Super Bowl, the Browns requested a private visit with Baker Mayfield, his first such invite, two league sources tell The MMQB.
New general manager John Dorsey and head coach Hue Jackson are continuing the seemingly perennial search for the player who will lead the Browns out of a more-than-two-decade stretch without a playoff victory. Mayfield figures to be a topic of intense scrutiny for not only the Browns, but a handful of other teams working to evaluate one of the 2018 NFL draft's biggest wild cards.
Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner, will be the topic of a weekly series examining numerous aspects of his life and career, from his harried introduction to the NFL draft landscape two weeks ago at the Senior Bowl, to his development as a passer over three seasons at Oklahoma, to those Johnny Manziel comparisons which seem to follow him around lately. As I’ve conferenced with NFL evaluators over the past three weeks, three major questions emerged:
1. How well and how quickly can he learn an NFL offense after tremendous success in the Air Raid at Oklahoma?
2. Can he become one of the few successful 6-foot quarterbacks?
3. How will his mercurial personality manifest at the next level?
Our series will effort to answer those questions and more, with one important caveat—we won’t be sharing the opinions of anonymous scouts and evaluators. As far as teams go, the Browns will get the first crack at finding answers, on a date to be determined. In the meantime, Mayfield is working out in Southern California in advance of Oklahoma’s Pro Day (March 14) and the NFL Combine (Feb. 27-March 5).
What follows is my ranking of the 10 most-likely landing spots for Mayfield, after taking the temperature of numerous scouts, coaches and general managers across the league. This ranking is a marriage of that intel and my judgment of the best fits for Mayfield and a team’s ability to land the player based on draft position, draft capital and a regime’s tendency to deal draft picks. Each team’s evaluation of Mayfield will take shape over the course of the spring, and I have no doubt several of these teams will fall out of the running while others vault up the list.
1. Cleveland Browns
Where they pick in Round 1: Nos. 1 and 4
Key player: Hue Jackson, head coach
The Browns have the draft capital to make this happen on their terms, either by trading back deeper in the Top 10, or by pulling the trigger with one of their existing picks. When Hue Jackson has had success with young quarterbacks, they’ve been guys with tons of experience coming out of college and the advanced football aptitude that comes with that. Think Joe Flacco in Baltimore, Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron in Cincinnati; all three attempted more than 900 passes in college and the latter two were four-year starters. Jackson values scheme above all, and he believes his scheme can beat any defense in football with the right brain on the field. Mayfield might just be that brain. He played for three different head coaches over his college career yet improved his production year over year without fail. Jackson’s biggest criticism of former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer last season was a telling one; Jackson said it was fair to wonder if Kizer would “ever get it.” Likewise, Jackson’s new boss, John Dorsey, puts a high value on football IQ when drafting quarterbacks—he said one of the major factors in the decision to draft Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech was his ability to retain playbook information during a six-hour visit with the Chiefs staff. Former coaches say Mayfield has something like a photographic memory, and when he showed up at OU’s campus to battle with Trevor Knight for a starting job, players remarked after the first practices that Mayfield seemed to have a better grasp of the playbook than Knight, the incumbent starter. My only hesitation: Having known Jackson for five years and met Mayfield for about five minutes, this armchair psychiatrist wonders if the two big, brash personalities could coexist with all that brutal honesty flying back and forth. My hunch is they’d either love each other, or kill each other.
2. New York Jets
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 6
Key player: Mike Maccagnan, general manager
The biggest question Mike Maccagnan would have to answer in evaluating Mayfield would be whether he could thrive in a media environment like New York, given his short but distinguished record of impulsive behavior on and off the field. Players transitioning from the friendly media environments typical of college football usually experience some degree of culture shock in the two New York locker rooms. And putting aside the destination, the football side of things is something of a mystery. Jeremy Bates replaces John Morton as offensive coordinator after one year as quarterbacks coach. Prior to that he spent four years out of football (in 2014 he hiked the 2,900-mile Continental Divide Trail from Mexico to Canada). Bates figures to continue with Morton’s take on the west coast offense, which most NFL types agree is the best fit for Mayfield’s skill set. On the other hand, one could see the Jets making a big push for Kirk Cousins, given the franchise’s disastrous record in drafting quarterbacks and the $73 million in salary cap space burning a hole in their pockets. Plus, Bates spent his formative years as a coach under Mike Shanahan in Denver, who later drafted Cousins to Washington (if you can’t tell by now, this is where I think Cousins will land). As for Mayfield, I think his propensity to speak his mind will give head coach Todd Bowles some pause as he searches for a quarterback/CEO to lead a locker room that has struggled to insulate itself from the noise in years past.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 15
Key player: Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator
Is this the year general manager Steve Keim finally drafts a quarterback? In five seasons at the helm of the Cardinals, Keim has drafted one passer—Logan Thomas, fourth round in 2014—despite Carson Palmer turning 34 during Keim’s first season. This draft will be tenure-defining for Keim now that Palmer is retired. The Cardinals don’t exactly have the cap space to make a big splash for someone like Cousins (though that could change if Larry Fitzgerald calls it a career). Of all the offensive coordinators who will have a hand in the evaluation and drafting of quarterbacks in the first round, Mike McCoy figures to have the most sway, with Keim’s lack of experience drafting the position and new head coach Steve Wilks coming from a defensive background. McCoy’s best years came while working with Philip Rivers, a swaggering, boisterous gunslinger who loves talking trash. Remind you of anyone?
4. Miami Dolphins
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 11
Key player: Adam Gase, head coach
I’ve heard from two people close to Adam Gase who say he’s a Mayfield fan. He likes the attitude, and obviously, the results. That’s not to say the Dolphins are any more likely than any other team on this list to draft Mayfield; plenty of coaches pass on players who they judge have the right intangibles but don’t fit other requirements. But the Dolphins got in the running early with an extended meeting with Mayfield at the Senior Bowl (along with the Saints, Bills and Jets) and they’re in a precarious situation at quarterback. With Ryan Tannehill coming off a torn ACL, it’s entirely possible the team chooses to invest in the veteran’s health by selecting an offensive lineman. It’s also possible Gase lobbies general manager Chris Grier to give him an opportunity to develop a passer from scratch after inheriting Tannehill. I don’t think the Dolphins get aggressive about drafting a quarterback in terms of moving into the Top 10, but if Mayfield is sitting there at No. 11 and he passes all their pre-draft tests, I think they take a shot.
5. New Orleans Saints
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 27
Key player: Sean Payton, head coach
The Saints’ sudden evolution from a diverse, high-flying passing attack into a dynamic, power-running offense feels like preparation for life after Brees, the most prolific 6-foot QB to ever play the position. New Orleans would be higher on this list of likely destinations for Mayfield if they had a draft pick high enough to ensure the Heisman Trophy winner would be available. On the other hand, Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have never been shy about trading into the first round to get their guy, most recently dealing Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for the 32nd overall pick last spring (which they used on Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk). Cooks himself was brought to New Orleans via trade that sent the 27th and 91st overall choices to Arizona in exchange for the 20th pick in 2014. If—and this is a big if—Payton and Loomis fall in love with Mayfield, one could see them dealing for the Colts’ third overall choice, or the Bucs’ No. 7 pick for the right to draft him.
6. New York Giants
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 2
Key player: Pat Shurmur, head coach
If you’re Mayfield, or any other quarterback in this draft, you could do worse than playing for Pat Shurmur, the guy who turned Case Keenum into a legitimate NFL starter in Minnesota. Yet the same warnings about the media environment around the Jets applies to the Giants, with the caveat that any rookie quarterback would likely spend at least a full season on the bench watching Eli Manning. People who have played for and worked with Shurmur rank him among the calmest, most reserved coaches they’ve ever been around, with an emphasis on a level-headed response to stressful situations. How that coaching style would mesh with Mayfield’s personality is anybody’s guess.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 17
Key player: Tom Telesco, general manager
At 17, I believe the Chargers represent the floor for Mayfield; he’s not dropping past this pick. With Philip Rivers turning 37 next December, now is the time for the franchise to start looking ahead after passing on quarterbacks since 2013, when they chose Brad Sorensen in the seventh round. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt once built an offense to the skillset of Marcus Mariota, borrowing college spread concepts to suit his first-round draft pick as head coach of the Titans in 2015. Now he’s had two seasons to think about what went wrong and how to transition a rookie passer into the NFL. Along with Washington and New Orleans, the Chargers offer Mayfield the opportunity to sit and learn behind an experienced starter while he transitions to a pro-style offense. The Chargers also have an attendance problem, and while the fan excitement factor won’t be a concern of the football staff, the higher you go up the organizational ladder, the more important it gets.
8. Buffalo Bills
Where they pick in Round 1: Nos. 21 and 22
Key player: Brandon Beane, general manager
I could see head coach Sean McDermott falling in love with Mayfield’s origin story—the two-time walk-on who won the Heisman. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll oversaw a run-heavy offense as Alabama’s coordinator last year but has a great deal of familiarity with the offensive concepts employed at Oklahoma and across the college football landscape. In McDermott’s first year in Buffalo’s war room, they demonstrated a willingness to deal picks at any juncture, in any direction, moving back 17 picks in the first round, then moving up seven picks in the second round to draft wide receiver Zay Jones, and moving up 12 picks into the bottom of the second round to select offensive lineman Dion Dawkins. If they’re kicking themselves for not using last year’s 10th overall pick (traded to Kansas City) on Patrick Mahomes, they can use the capital acquired in that deal to trade up and draft another former Texas Tech quarterback in Mayfield. Tyrod Taylor said in January the team has yet to inform him of his status going into 2018, but it’s safe to assume they’re in the market for a replacement after benching him for Nathan Peterman at one point last season.
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 13
Key player: Dan Snyder, owner
Washington had ample opportunity to draft a quarterback while the relationship between Kirk Cousins and management deteriorated, and all they did was take Nate Sudfeld in the sixth round of the 2016 draft (he’s a backup in Philadelphia now). They just traded their best asset from that draft, cornerback Kendall Fuller, along with a third-round pick, for Alex Smith. A reported contract extension will likely make Smith, 34, their quarterback of the near future. But if Mayfield is the top player on their board when the 13th pick comes up, he’d be tough to pass on considering he fits nicely with the current offensive philosophy. Play-action was a staple of Jay Gruden’s gameplan with Cousins, and figures to remain so with Smith under center. Mayfield figures to be most effective in the NFL when the offense is committed to creating passing lanes with misdirection and moving pockets, a la Russell Wilson in Seattle. Historically, roster-building in Washington has been heavily influenced by the business side thanks to a team owner with an evident devotion to the whims of an on-again, off-again fanbase (Dan Snyder), and a lead executive with fantastic job security and marginal authority (Bruce Allen). Beyond potentially being the best player available when they pick, Mayfield would also move a ton of jerseys and tickets, reversing the bad will brought about by the Smith trade.
10. Denver Broncos
Where they pick in Round 1: No. 5
Key player: John Elway, general manager
Yes, the Broncos coaching staff got an up-close-and-personal look at Mayfield at the Senior Bowl and, from what I hear, liked what they saw, but I just don’t see Mayfield ultimately fitting with what John Elway values in a quarterback. We now have a long enough track record of Elway quarterback picks to search for a trend, and boy is it easy to find. Regardless of whether Elway drafts a QB in the first two rounds (Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler) or takes a flier on a passer in the seventh round (Chad Kelly, Trevor Siemian, Zac Dysert) every one of them has been at least 6' 2" (and sometimes 6' 7") with a quick release and cannon arm being their biggest assets. A sampling: “His shining asset is his arm strength; he can hit nearly any NFL-caliber throw at this point in his career.” (NFL.com on Brock Osweiler); “Made a few ‘wow’ throws at intermediate and deep levels with perfect accuracy.” (Pro Football Focus on Paxton Lynch); “His arm is strong enough to fling the ball 40 yards downfield on the run…” (NFL.com on Zac Dysert); “We saw the arm. There was no doubt about the arm. You knew that he had that ability. Now everything else, you’ve got to see.” (Gary Kubiak on Trevor Siemian); “Good arm talent. Will make ‘wow’ throws, especially early in games.” (NFL.com on Chad Kelly). Bill Musgrave, who is being retained as offensive coordinator with Kubiak (now a front-office exec) and Elway looking over his shoulder, had the most success of his career with an unpolished young quarterback who boasted a cannon arm: Derek Carr in Oakland. The point is: This is a building full of people who believe they can take raw arm talent and ideal size and build a quarterback. Barring a dramatic about-face from the top down, Mayfield isn’t for them.
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