In today’s ever-evolving scouting process to find the next franchise signal caller, a trend has developed over the past decade-plus that has coincided with the mass craze over the spread passing game – smaller, athletic quarterbacks who can throw, run, lead, improvise, and win – in no specific order.
The most noteworthy among those would be the player who set the new standard – Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.
However, for every short quarterback that scouts have optimistically compared to Wilson, there is now always a pessimistic hesitation that said quarterback could turn out to be just like Johnny Manziel and flop out of the league like a fish out of water.
Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Baker Mayfield may become the ultimate test case for NFL general managers - he offers the leadership, confidence, and contagious personality that has made Russell Wilson into one of the premier QB's in the NFL - yet also has enough red flags in the "baggage" variety to remind them of Johnny Manziel. Scouts are far more confident in Mayfield as a controlled leader with occasional outbursts, rather than being simply so entitled that their decision making on and off the field is clouded, as happened with Manziel.
Mayfield, a rhythm passer who has blossomed thanks to his sharp, quick delivery and lightning-quick improvisational skills, has established himself as one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in recent college memory thanks to his complete package of “throw, run, lead, improvise, and win.”
A commanding floor general whose teammates feed off his energy, Mayfield has the arm to sling the ball effortlessly down the field with a tight spiral and good, but not great velocity.
However, as was shown in the Rose Bowl against Georgia last week, Mayfield’s timing and rhythm can be disrupted by a stingy pass rush, which is what powered the Bulldogs to victory in the second half. Under pressure, Baker’s sight lines diminish due to his lack of height and the ball sailed on him at times last week.
Heading into the Senior Bowl in two weeks, league scouts will want to see Baker Mayfield blend his unique skillset into a pro-style offense, most notably playing under center. After operating out of the spread passing game at Oklahoma, Mayfield will be labeled as a “shotgun player,” however it will be interesting to see his transition to more pro-style schemes and concepts.
Off-the-field, Mayfield reminds me more of the type of leader I described back in 2012 when Russell Wilson was the 75th pick in the 3rd round at 5'11, 215 lbs:
“Wilson is a player that I love as a prospect simply because of the intangibles that he brings to the table. He's one of the best leaders at the position that I've seen in the past few years and owns that never-say-die attitude that you simply don't want to bet against him. If he can land with a coaching staff that understands his strengths and weaknesses, and is willing to put in the time to help develop him despite his lack of height, then he has what it takes to develop into a starter in the league”
– From Shawn Zobel’s 2012 Draft Preview on Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson
The NFL has become more amenable to drafting and developing an offense around quarterbacks who barely reach 6-feet tall, thanks in large part to the success of Wilson. Yet, the collapse of Johnny Manziel serves as the giant warning sign for NFL GM's who envision Baker Mayfield starting at quarterback for their NFL team next season.
For Mayfield, the path to a potential Top 10 selection in the draft, the current expectation among those in the league, is a sharp workout and strong round of interviews at the Senior Bowl in two weeks before preparing for the gauntlet of being poked and prodded at the NFL Scouting Combine. Provided he can pass those two hurdles, Mayfield's confidence, likability, and moxie figure to win over scouts and coaches over the course of the process, much the same way it did with Wilson in 2012. Having learned from their mistake in passing on Wilson five years ago, don't expect teams to let Mayfield slip too far on draft day.