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2018 QB Spotlight: Baker Mayfield’s flaws are overblown

Reese's Senior Bowl Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New York Giants have the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. More likely than not, that pick will be used on a quarterback to find the eventual successor to Eli Manning. There’s a solid group of quarterbacks in this draft class, but no obvious top prospect. Because of that, we’ll take a look into a few aspects of the quarterbacks and how they might fit with the Giants.

We’ll start first with the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, Baker Mayfield.

There hasn’t been a prospect who did more for his draft stock during the 2017 college football season than Baker Mayfield. Mayfield entered the season as a talented, but flawed prospect who was projected to go in the middle rounds. He’s still a talented, but flawed prospect but it’s been revealed he’s a super talent and slightly flawed prospect. The levels on each side of tipped easily in favor of the talent. He’s now in the conversation to be the first quarterback selected. There’s good reason.

Statistically, it’s difficult to make the case against Mayfield as the top quarterback in this class. He led FBS in yards per attempt (11.5), adjusted yards per attempt (12.9), completion percentage (70.5 percent), and touchdown rate (10.64 percent). Raw stats aren’t always going to tell the full story, especially for college prospects — this coming from someone who takes statistics quite seriously — and there’s still knocks on Mayfield as a top prospect, so let’s dig into a few of them.

Scheme and competition

Some of Mayfield’s completion percentage can be written off by Oklahoma’s wide open spread system, but a lot of that was also on the quarterback.

There were a lot of screens in the Sooners offense to pad Mayfield’s completion percentage — 23.5 percent of his completions were behind the line of scrimmage — but this was not a scheme that relied on dinks and dunks. Mayfield’s average pass traveled 11.4 yards past the line of scrimmage. That would have been tops in the NFL during the 2017 season, edging out Deshaun Watson at 11.3, per Next Gen Stats. It’s unlikely Mayfield would continue to throw that deep that consistently at the pro level, but he has an ability to throw the ball down the field that is going to translate.

Mayfield can sling it with the best of them, too. He’s not billed with one of the strongest arms in the class, but Mayfield has the ability to get the ball accurately down the field for big plays.

His impressive statistics can also be pinned to playing in the Big 12, where on most occasions defense is optional. But no other quarterback came close to putting up Mayfield’s numbers in that conference this season. Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph was second in yards per attempt, but even he was a yard and a half below Mayfield, even as he was a full yard ahead of third place WIll Grier of West Virginia.

Not all of Mayfield’s games were against poor defenses. The first four games of Mayfield I watched were against Ohio State, Texas, TCU, and Georgia from the 2017 season. Those teams ranked 12th, 16th, 15th, and 13th against the pass by S&P+, respectively. In those four games, Mayfield still completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 10.6 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Size and structure

Another knock on Mayfield is his size. At the Senior Bowl, Mayfield measured at 6-feet, 3/8 after being listed at 6’1” during his college career. Of course, those around the NFL would like their quarterbacks to be taller in order to see over the offensive line and have clear passing lanes. When talking to The MMQB at the Senior Bowl, Mayfield had a reasoned take on what his size means and why it can be an overrated aspect of quarterback play:

“I’ve never really been able to see over the guys,” Mayfield says. “I just trust where they’re at and what I see in the defense. Nobody sees over the 6’ 8” left tackle. Even Josh Allen, [UCLA’s Josh] Rosen and [USC’s Sam] Darnold can’t see over that guy. You’re seeing concepts, and understanding timing. If you see the guy open, you’re late. You have to anticipate it.”

The reality is, his size hasn’t really been an issue. He’s been able to make throws from inside the pocket over the line and it hasn’t taken away from the plays he can make. His ball placement can be great regardless of what’s in front of him.

Between Mayfield’s size and mobility, he tends to be on the move often. That’s given him a reputation of being a quarterback who relies on plays outside of structure, but that’s not really the case, either. Benjamin Solak of NDT Scouting charted that more than 80 percent of Mayfield’s passing came from inside the pocket.

Mayfield can occasionally run himself into trouble and if there is one weakness, that’s one that can be concerning. When he’s trying to make plays, he can try a little too hard, leave a clean pocket and bring pressure upon himself. This was a recurring part of the playoff game against Georgia.

But the positives of his ability to move and make plays outweighs the negatives. Mayfield can use his movement and size to create some passing lanes that wouldn’t be there naturally. Watch his movement for this touchdown pass against Ohio State. The scramble creates the lane between the cornerback and the safety that wasn’t open from the pocket.

How he’d fit with the Giants

New head coach Pat Shurmur has a healthy amount of spread concepts in his offense taken from various coaches he’s worked under, especially Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, mixed in his pro scheme. Last season the Minnesota Vikings spent most of their time in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers) and 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers), but ran the eighth-most plays in the league with four or more wide receivers on the field. The spread concepts — along with heavy play-action use — would allow Mayfield to ease into the pro game.

Including the playoffs, 75 percent of Case Keenum’s pass attempts came from shotgun, so it’s not as if the Giants would present some drastic shift for Mayfield, who operated exclusively out of shotgun at Oklahoma.

Mayfield would also be reunited with Sterling Shepard. Mayfield played 13 games at quarterback for the Sooners in 2015, Shepard’s senior year — though he didn’t turn into this version of Baker Mayfield until after Shepard left for the NFL.