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Baker Mayfield: Two inches enough to ignore everything else?

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Baker Mayfield is coming off one of the best seasons in college football history, but there are still questions

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants find themselves with an off-season full of decisions that could shape and define their franchise for years to come.

The Giants have to reconcile themselves with the reality that even if Eli Manning has a bounce-back season and plays under Pat Shurmur at the level everyone thought he would after the 2015 season under Ben McAdoo, he is still 37 years old. And while New York doesn’t tolerate “rebuilding,” the Giants do need to set a plan in motion for the future of the quarterback position — and with it the franchise.

With the second overall pick in this year’s draft, and an exciting class of young quarterbacks, as well as 2017 third round pick Davis Webb.

With that in mind, we have been paying particularly close attention to the Giants’ options at quarterback heading in to the 2018 season. In previous weeks we have looked at Davis Webb [Deep Dive], Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State, [Deep Dive], Josh Allen of Wyoming, [Deep Dive], and Lamar Jackson of Louisville [Deep Dive].

This week we turn the microscope to Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.

Measurables

The first thing pretty much everyone notices about Mayfield is his stature. He has had to overcome objections about his size — height in particular -- at every stop along his football career. His height is something that, by necessity, he has learned to work with as a quarterback.

“I’ve never really been able to see over the guys,” Mayfield told Sports Illustrated. “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.”

Beyond a certain point, a player’s physical dimensions are only a problem if they are a problem, and Mayfield’s height simply has not been a problem for him. Despite being just half an inch over 6-feet tall and easily the shortest of the top quarterback prospects, Mayfield has only had five batted passes in the entirety of his college career.

Interestingly, while it is fair to label Mayfield as “short,” he is not “undersized.” Weighing in at the combine at 216 pounds, he is only four pounds lighter than Eli Manning, despite being 4½ inches shorter, and 12 pounds heavier than Russell Wilson was when he entered the league.

It is, perhaps, more accurate to label Mayfield as “stocky,” and that overlooked muscle mass does come in to play in his throwing ability.

Athleticism

One might expect that as a spread system quarterback known for making plays outside the pocket that Mayfield would be an exceptional athlete.

If so, his testing numbers would certainly disappoint. He is often compared to Wilson, but while he is more stout than the Seattle Seahawks QB, he just isn’t the same kind of athlete.

So while Mayfield may never scare defenses in the same way that Lamar Jackson, or even Wilson, does, he is adept at using his athleticism to facilitate his ability as a passer.

Here, for instance, Mayfield is able to evade quick pressure off the edge, step up into the pocket, find a throwing lane, and create time for his tight end to work his way open.

Mayfield might not scare defenses with his speed, but he is a willing runner. He has used his legs to create on the occasional designed run, but more often when defenses turn their backs on him.

TCU plays a man coverage scheme here, and the defense does its job well. The receivers are smothered and Mayfield has nowhere to go with the ball. However, with the defense in a tight man coverage, nobody has their eyes in the backfield. So when a void opens up Mayfield doesn’t hesitate to take advantage.

Arm Talent

Arm Strength

One of the first, and biggest, assumptions made about Mayfield is that as an “undersized” (short) quarterback, he is lacking in arm strength. But watching the tape, Mayfield has the arm strength to reach all levels of the field, even when throwing off-base.

While scrambling to avoid a ferocious OSU pass rush, Mayfield is able to see that his receiver has room to get open and make the big play to score the first points of the game.

He is unable to get to the back of the end zone to make the catch as the defender was flagged for pass interference. The point, however, is that Mayfield was able to deliver an accurate ball that traveled at approximately 55 yards in the air while on the run and with just one foot on the ground.

Mayfield is also capable of throwing with touch and accuracy from the pocket.

This pass doesn’t travel as far, but we see Mayfield making a throw from the pocket to his tight end in the middle of the field. This is a tight window throw with the tight end bracketed by the back of the end zone over the top, a linebacker underneath, and a safety closing from the side. Mayfield, however, is able to deliver the ball where only his receiver can get it, dropping it over the linebacker but still getting there in time so the tight end can get a foot down before going out of bounds.

When he was able to set his feet and drive the ball at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, his ball velocity was measured at 60 miles per hour, just two miles per hour behind Josh Allen.

In addition to arm strength, Mayfield also has a flexible arm, able to deliver passes from a variety of arm slots and angles to throw around defenders.

Mechanics

Mayfield’s mechanics are consistently solid. One of the benefits of being shorter is that his movements are naturally more compact, and therefore repeatable, than his taller peers. Likewise, he has a lower center of gravity than a player a half-foot taller, which makes it easier to maintain his balance.

Mayfield also has very quick feet, which allow him to be remarkably committed to manipulating defenses.

Here we see Oklahoma against Georgia in the 2018 Rose Bowl. This is a first and 10 play, with Oklahoma leading Georgia early in the second quarter. Oklahoma has two receivers to the left, with the tight end attached and a single receiver on the right.

They run a smash concept to the right, with the X receiver running a hitch while the slot receiver runs a corner route. Mayfield initially looks to that side, going so far as to position his feet and hips as though he is reading that side of the defense. But at the same time, the tight end runs a post route using a “dino” stem (bending the top of his stem as though he is running a corner route before breaking back to the inside) to gain separation from the defender covering him.

Mayfield’s move to (apparently) target the right side of the field pulls the middle linebacker to that side. In the blink of an eye he is able to flip his feet and hips, getting back to the right, so he is able to deliver an accurate pass to his tight end, leading him to the open field for yards after the catch.

While many smart quarterbacks make a commitment to doing their part to help their receivers find open space, Mayfield’s feet allow him to be that much more convincing.

They also allow him to take his mechanics with him when he runs. When quarterbacks make plays outside of the pocket, their mechanics often suffer and they can be inaccurate. As we’ve seen above, Mayfield is able to quickly reset his feet while throwing on the run, and it contributes to his impressive completion percentage.

Intangibles

Mental Processing

As evidenced by his 70.7 completion percentage and nearly 6-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio over the last two seasons, Mayfield processes information well, quickly making accurate reads. Not only is he accurate with the football, but precise as well. Pro Football Focus has been refining its “accuracy” metrics to include ball location, and not simply completion percentage.

PFF applied its new metric to last year’s quarterback draft class and this year’s top six—Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Mason Rudolph. They used four major categories to chart the specific point on the receiver’s body where the ball was placed—Accurate (perfect), Frame (on-target, step below perfect), Catchable Inaccurate (catchable, but less than ideal ball location), Inaccurate (uncatchable). “We’re trying to be very specific,” says PFF senior analyst Steve Palazzolo. “Did you put it on his front number in stride? Did you hit him on his frame? We give the QB the benefit of the doubt if it’s a little bit inaccurate but thrown away from the defender.”

They also tracked the yards after the catch gained by the receiver on each type of throw in order to demonstrate the value of the accuracy grade. An accurate (perfect) pass, for instance, carries an expected 2.8 yards after the catch (this is an average across all types of routes). A catchable inaccurate pass averages 1.0 YAC. The results:

Mayfield: 64.9%

Darnold: 62.1%

Rosen: 54.1%

Allen: 51.0%

Rudolph: 50.6%

Jackson: 49.0%

“We found there’s a pretty big difference between Mayfield, Darnold and the rest,” Palazzolo says.

Mayfield is known for his aggressiveness, but he is also rarely reckless with the football. He only threw five interceptions in his senior year, and two of them had to be forced by great plays from the defense.

The harder part of evaluating Mayfield from a mental standpoint is separating the “NFL” concepts and throws from Oklahoma’s spread offense.

As a part of an in-depth, multi-part series on Mayfield Sports Illustrated broke the quarterback down from an analytics perspective to try and get a handle on Mayfield’s performance on “NFL” throws.

Sports Info Solutions, which supplies college football data to ESPN and works with several NFL teams, found that while Mayfield’s Oklahoma offense isn’t heavy on NFL throws, Mayfield is among the best in college football when called upon to make them. Filtering for all passes in 2016 and ’17, thrown from the pocket, 15 or more yards downfield (Dig, Corner, Post, Seam, Go, Sluggo, Hitch & Go, Post Corner, Corner Post, Out & Up), the data shows that Mayfield is 31st in FBS over the last two season on these types of attempts, but 10th in completions and yards, with 22 touchdowns and four interceptions.

“Interestingly, the so-called big-armed top 3 are all below Mayfield on the list,” says Matt Manocherian, director of football development at Sports Info Solutions and a former scout with the Saints and Browns. “Darnold is just two behind Mayfield in completions but he lags in yardage and touchdowns despite more attempts, and his rate stats are downright ugly. Rosen’s rate stats are average, with the exception being that he has 11 touchdowns to zero interceptions on these throws. Finally, Josh Allen ties for 25th in completions, but like Darnold, his rate stats are troubling.”

Mayfield also remains cool under pressure, and according to Sports Info Systems, had the highest quarterback rating of the 2018 prospects when under pressure.

Sports Info Solutions is in agreement with PFF on Mayfield’s abilities under pressure. Their proprietary quarterback metric, IQR (Independent Quarterback Rating) accounts for events out of the passer’s control, including dropped passes and dropped interceptions. In 2017, Mayfield earned the highest IQR on 91 attempts under pressure by a mile—his 119.2 rating was better than Mason Rudolph by 12 points, and blew away Rosen (91.2), Darnold (79.8) and Allen (62.7). Solak at NDT Scouting logged just 79 throws under pressure last season for Mayfield, compared to Sports Info Solutions’ 91, but found, similarly, that Mayfield’s accuracy on those throws suffered only a “minimal to average drop-off” from .948 to .911.

It has to be noted that Mayfield does have a tendency to make things harder on himself than they necessarily need to be. He has improved his efficiency as a passer and worked hard to improve his comfort as a pocket passer, but Mayfield does have a tendency to invite chaos.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield led FBS quarterbacks with 11 sacks that were a result of his own actions and not the offensive line.

Here, for instance, Mayfield has both his H-back and a receiver open, but instead opts to hold on to the ball and try to buy time for something to open up further down field. Ultimately, he is unable to escape the pressure and the offense goes backwards instead of forward.

Character

Mayfield does have a few character concerns which he will need to address with the NFL.

First and foremost among these is an incident which happened in the 2017 offseason in Arkansas. The incident, which involved a drunken Mayfield apparently trying to break up a fight and resulted in him being charged with public drunkenness, resisting arrest, and fleeing officers.

He accepted a plea deal on the charges, paying fines, restitutions, and court costs, but avoiding jail time. He also quietly accepted 35 hours of community service and alcohol education classes as punishment from the University of Oklahoma.

The arrest happened on the 25th of February, and on the 28th he wrote this apology.

After dealing with that incident, teams need to come to grips with Mayfield’s personality itself.

Mayfield has an undeniably big personality. His teammates seem to love him, but the various front offices will need to decide if they want him as the face of their franchise. Mayfield’s competitiveness and passion for the game are obvious.

Mayfield plays with a chip on his shoulder — or perhaps a pair of them, one for each of the universities he had to walk on to. And while that does fuel his play, he can also take things too far. The most obvious example being when Kansas players refused to shake his hand at the coin flip ceremony, and he was eventually caught on camera grabbing his crotch at them.

Ask the expert

Because of the importance of Giants’ decision regarding the second overall pick and the future of their quarterback position, I wanted a second opinion on these players.

I reached out to Mark Schofield of Inside The Pylon. Schofield is a former quarterback for Wesleyan University and provides expert, and excellent, film breakdowns for ITP. He was kind enough to consent to contributing his expert opinion to this series.

Here are his thoughts on Mayfield:

Competitive toughness.

Call it the “it factor.” Describe it as “intangibles,” but however you term it, Baker Mayfield has it in buckets. Sure, there are traits of his that are impressive, which we will get to, but his competitive toughness, his will to win, is what has driven him to a Heisman Trophy, multiple playoff berths and a potential top-five selection in the NFL Draft.

Sometimes the great ones have a bit of an insanity streak. Look at Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech. Look how Tom Brady always considers himself pick 199. It is the same with Mayfield. He will always be a double walk-on. He will find the slightest slight and use it as motivation. There’s even a chance this article ends up screenshotted and saved to his phone, for motivation as he works out.

But that matters for a quarterback. Competitive toughness matters on 3rd and 7 against the blitz, on Monday night when you’re studying film into the wee hours, in a national championship game when you put your body on the line, and when you step into the huddle and need to see all 10 sets of eyes looking back at you.

And believing in you.

Mayfield is also a very quick processor of information. In the Oklahoma offense he was constantly asked to make quick reads off of defenders and make quick decisions with the ball. He is very adept at manipulating defenders with his eyes, something that shows up not just on tape, but also down in Mobile during Senior Bowl practices, when he’s looking off imaginary safeties when throwing routes against air.

Josh Allen might get credit for having the best arm in this class, but Mayfield is no slouch in this area either. He is great at using his upper body and left shoulder to generate torque, which turns into velocity. Mayfield is also a very accurate passer, and even when facing tighter windows he was able to deliver.

There are times he might bail from pockets. Sometimes it seems like Mayfield seeks out chaos in the pocket and looks to create off structure. He will face questions about his height, his offense in college, his maturity level and even some off-the-field issues. But here’s the thing. Would you bet against him?

Summary

Mayfield is one of the most experienced, productive, and efficient quarterbacks available to the Giants this off-season, but he isn’t for everybody.

Scouts and teams that are slavishly devoted to measurable thresholds will likely have him down their boards or off them completely based solely on his height. Likewise, teams that are particularly conservative might shy away from Mayfield’s personality.

It is striking, however, to hear some comparisons being made for Mayfield.

Scot McCloughan, currently a draft consultant for the Cleveland Browns, said back in October:

“He reminds me of a shorter version of Brett Favre,” McCloughan said then. “Tough guy. He can throw it. And he’s very confident, and he’s not afraid whatsoever, whatsoever. He’s a battler. I know saying Brett Favre’s a big name, and I was around him for a while, but this guy has talent.”

And in February he backed the statement up, adding:

“I was lucky enough to have been around Favre, and I’ve gotten to know Baker pretty well just by watching him,” McCloughan said, via The Washington Post. ”There’s some off-field stuff, but nothing too hairy. College kids are college kids. It’s not like he’s doing anything really bad. But he is a competitive guy. He wears it on his sleeve from the standpoint of emotions. He plays with strength throughout his body, and the fact that he’s just a football player -- it’s impressive. It’s a really good class this year coming out in the draft for quarterbacks. But I know this, if I was going to play one game tomorrow, he’d be my guy -- hands down.”

Mayfield is a young man who was never meant to succeed in football, let alone be in consideration at the top of the NFL draft. As an eighth grader he measured all of 5-feet-2, but that didn’t stop him from (eventually) becoming the starting quarterback for Lake Travis high school, a Texas football powerhouse. He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, walking on to Texas Tech, and then again to Oklahoma after losing his job to Davis Webb.

The New York Giants would certainly like to be able to transition from Manning to a player of Favre’s caliber (or Wilson, Brees, or Brady, as players to whom elements of Mayfield’s game has drawn comparisons).

However, the question remains about his personality.

Mayfield has a chip on his shoulder because that is all he has known -- to prove doubters wrong. But the passion that drives him can make him volatile, as with Kansas. But that passion also makes him beloved in the locker room.

But what the Giants need to decide is whether Mayfield will be able to adapt to the pressure cooker and fish bowl that is New York. He can use criticism to drive him, but is there some critical mass which he wouldn’t be able to handle? After the legendarily even-keeled Manning, could Mayfield in the same locker room as Odell Beckham Jr. simply be too much for them?

Could the Giants deal with a quarterback who runs 60 yards to go celebrate with his receivers in the end zone, or might be prone to joining (or starting) dance parties as the face of their franchise?

These are questions that only the Giants can answer for themselves.