Baker Mayfield ranks as one of the most confusing yet polarizing prospects in recent memory. Some see him worth a top three pick while others believe he’s a trap waiting to spring and that Mason Rudolph (yes, that Mason Rudolph) would be a better and safer selection. Scouts generally don’t bat an eye at the annual Heisman winners and Mayfield is no different.
Now all the wariness stems from his relatively weaker arm and short stature among other tiny footwork details but obviously, the biggest red flag scouts point to is his on-field antics that bring up perceived character issues. Scouts may constitute his incredible competitiveness as a distraction and could see it indicative of poor leadership skills, a trait in a quarterback that will steer teams off quicker than finding a fly in their soup. A distracting six-foot quarterback without much of a rushing ability scares teams more than his gunslinging ability and winning mentality entices.
Despite Mayfield’s impressive college showing, teams continue to disparage his value and opt for potentially stabler options like Josh Allen or Sam Darnold.
As critical as talent, coaching and strong quarterback play are to the success of a franchise, identity pulls everything together and can make up for plenty of shortcomings on a roster. Great teams have an identity. The Patriots are famed for the no-nonsense, cold sober Evil Empire, Steelers for their overpowering offense and punishing the defense, the Bears (historically) for a soul-crushing defense and hard-nosed run game. Great teams stand for something and most of the time, teams with high picks generally don’t stand for all that much.
The Browns live off memes as an act of revenue nowadays and the now unemployed Ben McAdoo has more of a national following than the Giants. While the Giants have a semblance of a quarterback for the meantime and the Browns landing a solid bridge guy in Tyrod Taylor, they have no guarantee of sustained passing success in the coming years. And with four or five quarterbacks in this draft who, with some time, that can develop into starting caliber, Mayfield has that “it” factor that other signal callers just don’t have and puts his value above almost every other quarterback.
Mayfield brings little somethin’ somethin’ to teams. His unmatched swagger and competitiveness have been well-documented over his college career and it oftentimes borders on petty and arrogant. This incredible degree of passion injects so much excitement into an arena and his fellow peers as well. When teams have a player who will elevate his play in big games and rub it in the opponent’s faces, other players buy into that. Mayfield has a fantastic ability to turn a good play into unstoppable amounts of momentum and once he gets the ball rolling with everybody joining in, good things happen.
A team consisting of bumbling youngsters (*cough* Browns *cough*) lacks direction and Mayfield has all the war cries and trash talk to lead. Hype is infectious and sometimes all the leadership teams need. When teams get excited together, they play together. As long as his teammates and coaches get behind him and trust in him, his cutthroat nature will be an asset, not a handicap.
Quarterbacks have always been held to another standard in terms of personality and image. Teams and fans seem to automatically expect collected professionalism out of their starting quarterback, a kindly blue-collar family man with a heartwarming smile and an undying charm to represent the team. We want to see as little noise out of a quarterback as possible, simply throw the football, call plays, and keep everybody else in line while carrying a squeaky clean record. The trash talk and hype generally gets left to the defensive studs who can back it up or the already perceived grouchy offensive lineman with big voices, but never the benevolent quarterback.
So when someone like Baker Mayfield starts to climb to the top of scouting reports and teams don’t see a professional, lovable dad type character, they get scared off by what he could say or do in their uniforms. Teams see killer instincts as a bad look and owners pour a lot into keeping well-behaved players as the face of the team. And with the quarterback at the helm, rowdy hooligans like Mayfield paint the opposite picture of what teams want to look like.
Heck, already established quarterbacks also suffer from this as well even with higher prestige or zero troubles with the law. Every time Aaron Rodgers flashes a championship belt or Cam Newton dances for a tad too long, both fans and coaches immediately slap a target of hate and discontent on the quarterback, no matter how successful he has been.
Does anybody remember Jim McMahon? The kinda sorta maybe legendary Bears punk disguised a Pro Bowl quarterback? Believe it or not, but Baker Mayfield is the second coming of McMahon. Let me explain.
Both quarterbacks showed brilliance in college. Mayfield boasts a well-deserved Heisman award and McMahon broke 34 different records in a single season during his time at BYU. Both quarterbacks fell into hot water while in college. Mayfield, after some unsportsmanlike conduct, found himself stripped of captain duties and suspended on Senior Day, albeit for two plays. McMahon, despite being Catholic, legendarily was the problem child at a hardcore Mormon college in BYU, never fully buying into their values and characteristically bent the rules often.
But most importantly, both quarterbacks have an incredibly petty spunk to them that separated them from their less competitive counterparts. McMahon set the tone for a 1985 Bears team built on punkiness and swagger. Now we are talking punkiness levels of getting fined by commissioner Pete Rozelle for wearing a headband donning a logo not affiliated with the league and the very next week, wearing a headband with the word “ROZELLE” plastered on it. Obviously, he retired a Chicago treasure. That season, this moxie drove a 15-1 regular season, steamrolling the playoffs en route to a blowout of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The memorableness of this team lied in their trademark attitude, spearheaded by the quarterback himself.
The effect Mayfield will have equals the effect McMahon had. Mayfield shares the exact same trait with nearly as impressive of a college career but as teams expect a more gentlemanly approach out of their quarterback and not a single coach quite like Mike Ditka, he falls nowhere near a top-five pick. In today’s league, teams are much more leery of pulling the trigger on such pluck. However, with the right coach and letting him be what he is, he brings a valuable identity. Such doggedness is rare and players of his personality don’t come very often.
Mayfield may not have the talent but he has the mindset. On a team without orientation, without character, he could flourish. He is no franchise savior but he is a franchise ignitor. He will need to put in a position with little pressure to make plays to make up for his size and inexperience in a pro-style but with his punkiness and attitude, Mayfield may very well flourish in this league.