Part 8 of our draft season series on Baker Mayfield, the 2018 draft’s most fascinating prospect on and off the field
NORMAN, Okla. — The two most common words used to describe Baker Mayfield's pro day? Poorly timed. That’s not a critique of Mayfield; Oklahoma held their annual showcase of outgoing football talent on Wednesday, the day free agency officially began in the NFL, meaning most front offices and coaching staffs were hunkered in team facilities, hosting free agents or building out 2018 rosters over the phone.
But a handful of higher-ups representing teams in the running for Mayfield did make it to the indoor football facilities on the OU campus, including Broncos general manager John Elway, senior personnel advisor Gary Kubiak and head coach Vance Joseph. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan was in attendance, as well as Giants offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula and Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, both of whom met privately with Mayfield at some point during the week.
Yes, Mayfield threw the football (against air, without a defense), and we’ll get to that. But the biggest happenings were behind the scenes. Whisenhunt was part of a Chargers contingent that hosted Mayfield for lunch on Tuesday at the QB’s favorite local restaurant, Charleston’s, a cozy spot serving American fare about three-and-a-half miles west of campus. Mayfield had been provided a list of plays and concepts and was asked to go over the package with the Chargers staff, as well as explain elements of coach Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma offense.
The Browns, Saints and Jets are among the teams planning to hold private workouts for Mayfield in Norman over the next two weeks, and he has newly scheduled visits to Denver and Arizona.
Later on Tuesday, Mayfield received an alert from a trusted source that he had a tail in Norman. A private investigator, he was told, was tracking his movements on behalf of a team. The MMQB was unable to verify the identity of that team, but it should come as no surprise that any NFL franchise considering a (minimum) four-year commitment and tens of millions of dollars to a 22-year-old might like to know how he spends nights near his old stomping grounds.
If teams are sweating Mayfield's off-field reputation, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley isn’t aware. He was on hand to answer questions about his draft class, though he’d already spoken to numerous teams over the past year about Mayfield. “Ninety-five percent of the questions have been football-related with me, or about his personality,” Riley says. “Responsibilities at the line of scrimmage, protections, the stuff that's tough to pick up on film. Communication in the meeting room, installing new plays.
“I haven’t been asked a whole lot about the off-the-field stuff. They asked how he handled that stuff behind the scenes. I think they’re interested in the aftermath, when he did have a mistake, how did he handle it and how was it received by the team.”
Ask current and former teammates about Mayfield, and the answers are unanimously positive. Running back Samaje Perine, a former Sooner who just finished his rookie year with Washington, was on hand at the pro day and said he was quizzed by his team’s brass about Mayfield before they traded for Alex Smith. Former OU running back and current Cincinnati Bengal Joe Mixon said he was similarly approached by two different teams over the last year, seeking his take on Mayfield as a teammate (he couldn’t remember which teams). Both backs say they gave ringing endorsements.
Mike Shula, the Giants’ new offensive coordinator after seven seasons in Carolina working with Cam Newton, met privately with Mayfield right after the QB’s pro day performance, during which Mayfield threw about 50 passes scripted by his private coach, former Panthers, Ravens and Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Shula, who coached Clausen for three seasons with the Panthers, had already reached out to the retired quarterback for his impressions of Mayfield by the time the pro day came around. “He’s a great kid, and he works his ass off,” Clausen says. “That’s really what people have wanted to know.”
• THE BAKER MAYFIELD/RUSSELL WILSON COMPARISON: We watched Mayfield tape with Darrell Bevell, Wilson’s former offensive coordinator in Seattle, to learn how the undersized QBs stack up.
Mayfield went into the throwing sessions wanting to prove a handful of things: (1) That he could throw from under center after taking three- and five-step drops; (2) That he could throw deep balls and out-breaking routes more accurately than he did at the combine; and (3) That he could do it all while winded. So he took every snap from an under-center posture, threw a large share of deep passes and switched sides of the field with his receivers after each cycled through their routes, jogging each time. He missed on a handful of deep outs—in an interview with NFL Network's Mike Mayock, he chalked up the gaffes to missing quality time with his receivers since the season ended.
“He’s got a live arm, he’s extremely accurate on the run, he’s got touch," Mayock told The MMQB after the workout. “He missed a couple of throws on the sideline, but at the end of the day he’s very accurate and it seems like the thing he’s working on hardest is his footwork, which he needs.”
But the workout wouldn’t sway evaluators either way, Mayock says. The real work on Mayfield was being done in private meetings and in conversations with folks around the facility who interacted with him every day for four years. “I think people look at his attitude and say we can embrace that, and he can be the face of our franchise,” Mayock says. “Other teams say there’s some immaturity there. He’s a polarizing figure. You either really, really like him, or your really don’t.”
Mayfield said the best thing he heard during his pro day came in a private conversation with an evaluator he won’t name. “He told me to keep being myself,” Mayfield says. “All the other stuff, outside of football, they don’t question it as much as they did before. I think I’ve done a good job of showing people who I am. And that’s comforting to hear, to be able to put that all behind me and just go to work.”
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