Part 7 of our draft season series on Baker Mayfield, the 2018 draft’s most fascinating prospect on and off the field
INDIANAPOLIS — The interview schedule includes a room number—not a team name—but prospects at the scouting combine are given a map of which team would be in which room for the 15-minute sessions. So by the time Baker Mayfield arrived for his interview with the Browns, he was prepared to meet head coach Hue Jackson and GM John Dorsey. He just wasn’t anticipating what happened next.
Right off the bat, before the handshakes and intros, and before the Heisman trophy winner sat down, Dorsey in his booming Southern Maryland drawl fired one across the bow.
“So you like food trucks?”
Early last year, Mayfield was arrested after fleeing while being questioned by the police over a fight that occurred amidst a cluster of food trucks in Fayetteville, Ark. With Dorsey’s jab, everyone had a nice laugh at Mayfield’s expense, Mayfield included. Then they got down to business. He met with 11 teams in total: The Dolphins and Jaguars on the first night, and the Bills, Broncos, Browns, Jets, Giants, Saints, Chargers, Cardinals and Washington on the second night. He faced question after question about that arrest and a handful of other off-field incidents. And then there were the head-scratchers—one team asked Mayfield what sort of beer he drank (his answer: Michelob Ultra or Dos Equis).
But there were two major questions about Mayfield coming into the combine: Can he make the throws required of a franchise quarterback? And does he have the temperament of a franchise quarterback? The former was broadcast for all to see, and early reports indicate Mayfield did impress in the throwing portion of the combine, though teams will want to put him through a more extensive battery of throws at his pro day.
Mayfield arrived Wednesday and left Saturday afternoon. In between, he woke up at 3:30 a.m. to take a drug test (yes, the NFL asks prospects to rise this early to submit urine), met with both Nike and Adidas as the two companies bid for his services, and collected so much free gear he had to check it all in two bags on his way back to Los Angeles, where he’s training with Jimmy Clausen. Before the Oklahoma quarterback checked his bags, he shared his takeaways from the combine with The MMQB in the back of an Uber SUV.
Going into the combine, Mayfield earned mixed reviews for his attitude at the Senior Bowl. Executives with some teams expressed concern over a blunt “I am what I am” attitude, encapsulated in the opening salvo of The MMQB’s weekly series on Mayfield. You’ll recall, Mayfield told a Bears scout who was insistent that he sit down for a short interview: “You guys just drafted Mitchell Trubisky. So what do you want with me?”
In the weeks since the Senior Bowl, Mayfield has leaned on former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington as a mentor after the two met in Mobile. Pennington was on hand to mentor the quarterbacks, and served in the same capacity as part of the NFL Legends program in Indianapolis. Pennington said he talked to all of his prospects about treating every team as though they might one day employ you: “There’s only 32, and they all matter.”
“I think you watched him on the field and felt really good how he performed from a football standpoint,” Pennington says, “so we started talking about being a professional, and how he presents himself in the best light and making sure these organizations truly understand who he is and not forgetting that.
“He’s secure with who he is. So as an evaluator, I think you have to be careful about judging that as not being perceptive enough or being too loose.”
Mayfield regretted that some of his actions last year forced his interviews down a character assessment path as opposed to a football track. “You only have 15 minutes and certain teams want to talk about the off-field stuff for eight minutes, and frankly that stuff can be addressed pretty quickly,” Mayfield says. “You sit down eye to eye, man to man, it’s pretty easy to see that I’m not Johnny [Manziel], I’m not gonna lose my head, and that I love the game of football.”
Mayfield says he clicked really well with Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, and with the Broncos staff as well. Miami, Denver and New Orleans were among a handful of teams that structured the meeting as follows. First, a coach diagrams a play on a white board. He runs down the protection, the routes, the progressions, how to attack a defense in Cover 2, Cover 3 and Man. Then he erases the play and the questions begin. Who’s one teammate you’d like to take to the NFL with you? Tell us about this play in the Oklahoma offense? What’s your drink of choice? What do you plan on running in the 40? At the end of the 15 minutes, Mayfield is handed a marker. Teach us the play.
Mayfield believes he aced those tests, and even recalled a handful of those plays a day later. “Miami’s was a gun, Richmond protection, with an out route and backside go,” he says. “Denver was Dice right, 72, seam on the backside and a dig.”
To Mayfield’s surprise, a handful of teams seemed interested in the Oklahoma offense beyond just a simple evaluation of his ability to explain football concepts. They actually wanted to learn it. “Some teams are just analyzing our offense,” Mayfield says. “You look at Philadelphia running RPOs, and what McVay is doing with the Rams. Some of what we did is the next step for the NFL. They have to adapt to the players and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not old-school football anymore. You’ve got to play to your players’ talents.”
As for the off-field questions, Mayfield says he hasn’t changed anything about his attitude, and felt like it would be a disservice to the team that drafts him if he represents himself as a different person. “There are a lot of things I would take back, off the field, to be a franchise guy,” he says. “Not get arrested, not grab my crotch on live television, all that stuff. But the teams that want me to not be who I am? Somebody who’s going to change me mentally and take away my competitive edge? I don’t want to play for you.
“If I was gonna act like anything else, then that wouldn’t be who they’re drafting. So I want to go somewhere where they know exactly who they’re getting, because one of the 32 teams is going to fall in love with it. There’s a fine line between being an arrogant a------ and being a confident kid who believes in his own ability. Some teams, it comes off one way, some teams it comes off another. But I’m glad I had to earn it. Because you’ve got to have an edge.”
Several teams used the combine as an opportunity to ask Mayfield’s OU teammates about the QB. One team asked fullback Dimitri Flowers if Mayfield’s personality fit the media portrayal. “I say Baker’s a great person,” Flowers says. “I think the media tries to make something more than it is. He’s a fiery competitor and he lets his emotions show. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And the bad is what people dwell on.”
Some Oklahoma prospects were on the receiving end of a favorite question asked by most NFL teams when quizzing a prospect about his college teammates: If you could take one teammate with you to your future NFL team, who would it be? Here’s the thinking: If one player is far and away the most talented prospect from a school, but no one says they’d take him along to the next level, there’s a problem. Some players refuse to name just one. On his shortlist, Flowers listed Mayfield first. Tight end Mark Andrews was asked: If you could take four teammates with you to a golf tournament, who would they be? (Mayfield made that cut too).
“Sometimes you know there’s one guy on the team who’s the best player, and you ask everybody that question,” says 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. “And if no one says that No. 1 guy, that means the guy is not liked. Then you consider what position he is, and you have to decide if you can live with that. We’ve definitely been turned off from a guy if a number of his teammates don’t like him.”
Teams are getting to know Mayfield, and that will continue over the next few weeks. He has private visits confirmed with the Giants, Jets and Browns, and the Browns, Jets, Dolphins and Saints plan to work him out in Norman at some point after his pro day on Wednesday. So far, evaluators have learned this about the QB: Very few people will say a bad word about him, from the teammates he’s spent the last four years with to the people he meets on planes.
On a Southwest flight from L.A. to Indianapolis for the combine, Rams coach Sean McVay took his seat then looked up to see Mayfield standing there smiling, motioning towards the middle seat. They spent the next couple of hours talking ball.
“I don’t know how much I can say here without getting in trouble,” McVay says. “But he’s got a presence and a swag I respect, in terms of being a competitor. You talk about bringing guys with you and raising the level of play, he does that. Didn’t seem like any moment was too big for him. You can see he’s a likable guy, I bet his teammates love him, comfortable swag where it’s not a cockiness. It’s a confidence.”
After the first hour, there was a lull in the conversation. Then McVay turned to Mayfield: “So tell me about this Oklahoma offense.”
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