In the days leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, *our editorial staff will profile some of the top prospects in the Class including quarterbacks Josh Allen (Wyoming), Sam Darnold (USC), Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Josh Rosen (UCLA). We will also take a look at Saquon Barkley (Penn State), Bradley Chubb (NC State) and Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame). *
Baker Mayfield may be better known for his appearances in the headlines, but the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner took an uphill battle before reaching the apex of college football.
A former walk-on at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma, Mayfield only fielded scholarship offers from Florida Atlantic and Washington State after starting two years for a prestigious Lake Travis HS program that became the first Texas school to win five straight state championships. When the time came to decide where he was going to play his college ball, Mayfield and his father were at a crossroads.
"He wanted to go to Florida Atlantic and he was sort of afraid to tell his dad because he wanted him to go bigger," said MMQB's Robert Klemko, who has written a multi-part series on Mayfield. "His dad said, 'You can do better than this. You've been able to prove people wrong your entire high school career. Why not walk-on somewhere you want to go?' They got into an enormous argument about it because Baker wanted to go somewhere he was wanted and at the end of it, Baker decided he was going to walk on at Texas Tech."
The 6'1", 215-pounder had his decision immediately validated as he was named starter. He went on to throw for 2,315 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the Red Raiders and earn Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors. In his first game as a collegian, Mayfield threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns against SMU. Davis Webb eventually relieved Mayfield due to injury and Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma following the 2013 season.
Due to Big 12 Conference transfer rules, Mayfield was not eligible to play in 2014, but walked on for the Sooners in 2015. He threw for 3,700 yards, 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 68.1% of his passes and won the first of his two Burlsworth Trophies, awarded to the nation's top player who began his career as a walk-on.
In three years as Oklahoma's quarterback, Mayfield put up videogame numbers as he completed 69.8% of his passes and threw for 12,292 yards, 119 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He finished his collegiate career as the second most efficient quarterback in FBS history (behind Sam Bradford), a two-time first-team All-American, AP Player of the Year (2017) and the Heisman Trophy winner.
"He was so smart in how he went about winning those two jobs," Klemko said. "We talked about the hard work and all of the preparation he had to go through, not knowing if he was going to get an opportunity. But he also talked about making sure you're asking the right questions, not just so you're getting necessary information but so that people know you're asking the right questions and having people notice it.
"I think he was really great at putting in the work but also being noticed and recognized for that work. People say he's not enough of a CEO or a politician to be an NFL quarterback. I think the opposite. I think this guy is crafty as hell."
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Questions surround Mayfield's off-field past as he was arrested in February 2017 on public intoxication and fleeing charges. The maturity concerns then bled onto the field. Last season, Mayfield planted the OU flag at midfield of Ohio Stadium after taking down the Buckeyes 31-16 and made an obscene gesture toward the Kansas sideline after a handful of Jayhawks players refused to shake his hand at the opening coin flip.
"I tell them the true story," he said at the Combine about how he addresses the incidents with NFL teams. "When I got tackled by the cops in Arkansas, I tell them the true story. When I talk about planting the flag against Ohio State, I talk about how it was an emotional win. That was one we worked over a year for after they embarrassed us in our home stadium. And then when I talk about the Kansas thing, it's about me drawing the line and being professional.
"If I want to be a franchise guy, there are certain things I can't do, but I'm still going to be competitive and passionate. That's what has gotten me to this point and I talk about it. And I'm upfront about it."
Coincidentally, Mayfield has leaned on former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington at different points throughout the draft process since the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. Klemko believes it was important for Mayfield to meet Pennington at an early point of the offseason.
"I think Baker has found, in him, an impartial ear and somebody he can bounce things off of and somebody he can get advice from," Klemko said. "And Baker knows he's not coming from a place of trying to benefit of off his success or piggyback off of his name. One of the things Chad has tried to do is curtail these instincts in Baker that lead people to think he's not the CEO type."
Aside from maturity, some pundits believe Mayfield's stature at 6'1" is a red flag. While he's drawn comparisons from Johnny Manziel to Drew Brees, perhaps the biggest concern among evaluators pertains to the quarterback-friendly offense he ran in college. Klemko believes it's a bit of a stereotype, specifically for signal callers with a lot of experience in a program with a particular coach in that offense, e.g. Mayfield and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, the No. 10 overall pick in 2017.
"Just from speaking with Baker, I know that he got a real sense from the Jets in their visit with them that it wasn't a boilerplate interview," Klemko said. "They already did some research and watched a lot of film of Oklahoma football and Jeremy Bates was already putting together some offensive concepts that would translate to the NFL from Oklahoma in the event that they did draft Baker. That interview really stood out to him because they were doing some of the same things that I was doing with [Sooners coach] Lincoln Reilly in trying to learn what Baker's responsibilities were and how quickly he could take on information at the next level."
In fact, Sirius XM NFL Radio's Jim Miller not only likes Mayfield's game but the idea of a potential marriage between the Heisman Trophy winner and the Jets.
"I think that's really the system in the NFL that's going to fit him the best," Miller told Eric Allen at the Annual League Meeting. "He has great feet and it's timing and rhythm in the throws. His accuracy allows a lot of run-after-the-catch potential because he's so accurate. Then of course, when plays break down, he has the natural instincts to really find a sweet spot in the pocket or extend the play with the ability of his legs to make moves on the run."
Although slighted for his stature, one thing Mayfield is not short on is confidence. After being labeled a system quarterback in high school and college, Mayfield's background as a two-time walk-on fuels his fire, but his success has proven he can bet on himself.
"I think it's become clear he's closer to being a top-five pick than a top-15 pick," Klemko said. "There are teams that probably would've taken a look at him but aren't willing to trade up into that spot. I would say that list is probably five teams at this point. I think you have to consider the Bills and Dolphins, but they would have to trade up early in the first round. I'd say the Jets, Broncos and Browns are probably your top three in terms of candidates for Baker."