- Also, what kind of reaction will Baker Mayfield's press conference elicit, and what happened to Oklahoma's Orlando Brown?
INDIANAPOLIS – With each year, the ceremonial display of top-tier quarterbacks at the combine becomes less about finding out who these prospects are as people and more about judging how well they were prepared for the moment by a small army of marketing professionals, agents, interview coaches, tutors and mechanical gurus.
Like a political stump speech, there are certain movements that become so familiar. Take Baker Mayfield on Friday, who said he wouldn’t accept being a backup on any team. That makes him fierce and competitive. Then there was Josh Rosen, who said if a coach wanted him to be the backup, he would find a way to be the best backup quarterback in the league. He’s a team-first guy who is coachable. It rarely feels real, and teams end up spending hundreds of man hours trying to sand off the polish just to get a look at the original colors.
Then, there was Lamar Jackson.
The Louisville quarterback is without an agent—he’s co-managed by himself and his mother, and he’ll have a lawyer look over any contract before he signs—and on Friday, there was no army of handlers fussing about like a group of pageant moms. He walked into a media session amid rumors that teams would want him to work out as a wide receiver—a ridiculous notion peddled by certain networks in order to gaslight what they know will be a debate that stretches far beyond sports—and he laughed.
Jackson has the kind of laugh that’s infectious. It rolls through the gut and slips out of your mouth before the joke even lands. He laughed that laugh when a reporter asked him about maybe playing in the Wildcat or a slash position. He laughed when he talked about his playing style.
“I can hit any target on the field, I play with passion, I can lead my team on the field, I feel like I’m the field general when I’m out there. I love to score. I love to put the ball in other receivers’ hands. I’m not a ball hog at all. It may look like it but I’m not.”
There will be a team this weekend—he’s already met with the Bills, Bears, Steelers, Giants and Dolphins—that falls in love with Jackson. They will resist the urge to turn Jackson’s performance Friday against him (my guess is that, as I type this, there is a bottom-of-the-barrel hot-take artist crafting a story about how Jackson’s affable demeanor shows that he doesn’t take the game seriously, accompanied by a quote from an anonymous and likely nonexistent scout). They will, for once, resist the urge to grab at the pre-packaged, pre-planned and calculated, and they could very well end up being rewarded.
Here’s what else we learned today….
1. We could be approaching the very real possibility that the Browns make Saquon Barkley the first running back drafted No. 1 overall since fellow Nittany Lion Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. Barkley’s numbers were stunning on Friday, including a 41-inch vertical jump, 29 reps on the bench press (tied for the lead alongside Georgia’s Nick Chubb) and a 4.4 40-yard dash, second only to Nyheim Hines (Barkley is about 35 pounds heavier than Hines). The rest of the week will only strengthen the hype, which has been rampant through the halls of the Indianapolis convention center.
2. It will be interesting to see the scattered reaction to Baker Mayfield’s combine press conference this week. On one hand, he is exactly the type of player some teams want: Brash, edgy and competitive. On the other, his style could certainly rub some scouts and coaches the wrong way. Mayfield’s strategy at the combine was to double down on what has made him a first-round prospect in the first place. Our advice? Ignore the noise and read Robert Klemko’s ongoing series about the enigmatic quarterback.
3. Two general managers spoke on Friday: John Schneider of the Seahawks and Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens, and both said that they had Jackson listed as a quarterback on their boards. Schneider, while cagey about revealing any team information on Jackson, seemed to add a bit of levity to the Lamar Jackson-as-receiver talk by admitting that Jackson’s athletic skills are off the charts in addition to his quarterbacking acumen, and that maybe there is pressure on a team to maximize his abilities. That being said, both were firm—especially Newsome.
4. Friday was not kind to Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown, who posted a 5.84 40-yard dash. While offensive linemen posting poor speed numbers isn’t breaking news, the fact that he only hit 14 reps on the bench press was notable, as was the report from a few people watching the drills that Brown was chided by NFL position coaches for not giving enough effort. Brown is a remarkable talent—the son of 12-year veteran Zeus Brown—and could have just been having a bad week. That being said, Baker Mayfield won’t be commanding all the attention at Oklahoma pro day.
5. Billy Price, the top-rated center from Ohio State, admitted that he suffered a partial pectoral tear during the bench press. A cool moment: Price told his agents “we aren’t running from this,” and insisted on doing a round of media availability before flying out. Price, believed by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein to be a second-round pick with early Pro Bowl potential, said he shouldn’t miss any time and is still awaiting a second medical opinion. Recovery from surgery would take about four months.