There we sat in the coaches meeting room at Oklahoma, watching tape of Mayfield’s first season with the Sooners compared to his last. It was like night and day ... if night is Big 12 Player of the Year and day is the Heisman. The Sooners coach made his pitch for Baker Mayfield, the eventual surprise No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL draft.
“He wins the job as a walk on freshman at Texas Tech, he beats out a bunch of other good players [at Oklahoma] and wins the job despite having no experience in the offense here,” Riley said, weeks before the Browns selected Mayfield No. 1 overall. “He’s always been able to get into new situations and been able to win over teammates and master schematically what you want him to pretty quick. I don’t think there’s anything they’re gonna put in front of him that he can’t handle.”
You hear college coaches talk like this about their graduating players all the time. It’s good for the coach and the program when folks (especially recruits and their families) hear him pumping up the outgoing prospects. But this was different. This was Riley fighting back, answering the critics in the only way he knew how—with the film. It was evident, after watching the tape, that Mayfield had graduated from a quarterback whose success relied on his outstanding ability to one who became an extension of the coaching staff.
There was no amount of intricacy, Riley said, that Mayfield couldn’t master in a short amount of time. It sounded like the kind of testimony you might hear from a teacher smitten with his finest pupil. I had my own doubts about Mayfield and how his college experience in Riley’s offense would translate; Air Raid QBs, historically, have done little in the NFL. Worry not, Riley said. Baker will be ready.
Was he ever.
His grasp of the playbook on Thursday night, in relief of the injured Tyrod Taylor, was nothing short of baffling. Accuracy? Pinpoint. Arm strength? Ask the sure-handed Jarvis Landry how many times he’s had fastballs bounce off his palms.
• BAKER MAYFIELD—THE SCOUTING REPORT: Revisit Robert Klemko’s 14-part series on how Baker Mayfield prepared for the 2018 draft
It’s a tiny sample size, this Mayfield performance, but don’t tell that to the city of Cleveland. In a 21-17 win that snapped a streak of 635 days without a victory, Mayfield was 17 of 23 for 201 yards. If coach Hue Jackson doesn’t name him the starter for next weekend against the Raiders he’ll be laughed out of his daily press conference.
This is Mayfield’s team now, as it was for a short time at Texas Tech, then for three seasons at Oklahoma. As for all that draft talk about height and off-field concerns and planting a flag on some field in Ohio? That’s all ancient history now. The Browns won, and they did it with a real, live quarterback running the show—the kind Lincoln Riley described to anyone willing to listen.
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