While most of the furor in this year’s draft class focuses on the underclassmen, Baker Mayfield is the top senior prospect available. What skills can he bring to an NFL offense? Let’s dive into the tape and find out.
Mayfield is not a rare specimen, but his raw tools are enough to work in the NFL. He stands a hair over six feet tall, weighing 215 pounds. While he had a reputation for scrambling and making plays on the move, Mayfield is a typical athlete for a quarterback. His arm strength is good, but not great.
Mayfield’s game is more casual and spread-style than Josh Rosen, but mechanically he isn’t all over the map like Sam Darnold or Josh Allen can be. Mayfield generally throws from a high three-quarters arm slot, but he can vary the throwing angle depending on the situation. He stands and throws with very wide-set legs under his throwing platform in the pocket, which works great when his initial target is open, but he can improve the way he resets his feet as he steps through his progressions.
Mayfield is comfortable standing in the pocket and using his feet to step around pressure. He’s also able to deliver throws without his feet set, using his waist and shoulders to generate force. Mayfield understands how to throw with touch and take some heat off the ball in the right moments. He also features an array of shoulder fakes and pump fakes in his game.
I want to make the distinction between accuracy and precision when talking about Mayfield. In terms of his ability to place the ball where his receiver would have a chance to attempt a catch (accuracy), Mayfield is the best in this class, and the stats will bear that out. His completion percentage, yards per attempt, and advanced metrics all indicate that Mayfield did an outstanding job of spotting the ball to a catchable place.
Mayfield has a great understanding of how to throw a trajectory over or around a defender, and he’s deadly in the red zone when the field compresses.
(Also - you have to love the absolute glee the guy experiences when his teammate scores a touchdown.)
However, Mayfield’s ability to precisely place the ball into an ideal place - where his receiver doesn’t need to adjust to the throw, and where a defender can’t reach it - that ability isn’t as strong as Rosen or Darnold.
When Mayfield is on the run, his precision is much tighter, but there are plays scattered throughout the tape where his teammates are reaching, leaping, or turning in order to catch passes from him. And this is nitpicking, a bit, because his window accuracy is so good to begin with.
Processing speed and decision-making
Mayfield is one of the better field-readers in this draft. He can identify favorable pre-snap coverage to throw against, he’s excellent at seeing blitzes and throwing into their vacated space, and he even anticipates the occasional throw coming open. It helped that Mayfield played in an extremely well-crafted offense by Lincoln Riley, but the 23-year-old took care of business under center.
In terms of pocket presence, Mayfield fits into a similar bucket as Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor - as shorter quarterbacks, they sometimes have trouble seeing around the bodies on the field, and do best when they can step to a place that gives them clear sightlines. This quality forces Mayfield to make adjustments when the pocket isn’t ideal for him. It also gives him a tendency to escape the pocket when he feels it compress.
If Mayfield can mature in the pocket, he has the foundation in his vision to develop into a Drew Brees-style passer. Before he can get there, he needs to fix up his lower body mechanics, and learn to stand in more consistently when his first few options aren’t available.
In looking back at the rest of this report, I think it sounds like I’m downplaying Mayfield. I hope that isn’t the case. Mayfield’s playmaking ability, throwing accuracy, and decision-making with his passes are all plus attributes that deserve to get him drafted early in the first round this year. He has a few flaws to his game, but if they’re effectively schemed around, I think you have a player who is tremendously dangerous when running play action and working from a mobile pocket.
Furthermore, the factor of Mayfield’s hypercompetitive attitude, the way he plays every down at 110 percent, is a mentality I like to see on a football team. He’d instantly become a fan favorite the first time he threw a block to spring LeSean McCoy on a run. If you can deal with his tendency to drift into pressure in the pocket, you’ll enjoy watching Mayfield play on Sundays.
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