The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.
For more on all the other passers in the class, see our 2018 NFL draft quarterback rankings.
Updated as of Mar. 5.
Redshirt Senior | 6’1″ and 215 Pounds | Born April 14, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Round 1
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.84 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: 7.0 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.28 sec | vertical: 29 in | broad: 111 in
If all that mattered in prospect evaluation were college production, the 2017 Heisman winner would easily be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. OU’s passing attack in 2017 ranked first in both Passing S&P+ and success rate (Football Study Hall). Mayfield is the only player in the 14-year history of ESPN’s Total QBR metric with two seasons above 90.0. A four-year starter, Mayfield in his three final seasons had an absurdly elite mark of 11.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) — and he improved each season, posting a 6.3 AY/A as a freshman, 10.4 as a sophomore, and 12.3 and 12.9 as a junior and senior. With a 96.2 overall grade, Mayfield was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 offensive college football player in 2017, ranking first with an 82.6 percent adjusted completion rate, 134.8 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards, and 105.3 passer rating under pressure.
Production, though, is not all that matters, and a number of draftniks dislike Mayfield for a variety of legitimate reasons.
- Small size: He’s shorter than most starting NFL quarterbacks.
- Offensive system: He played in a spread offense, so he perhaps has inflated stats and is less ready for the NFL than he would be if he had been in a ‘pro-style’ system.
- Bad attitude: He was suspended (for two plays . . .) and stripped of his captaincy late in 2017 because of his Kansas-directed profanity-fueled crotch-driven sideline tirade.
- High-maintenance personality: He caused intraconference drama by disparaging the Texas Tech coaching staff after he transferred to OU (without even telling then-head coach Bob Stoops that he was coming). He had to sit out the 2014 season (per NCAA rules) and he lost a year of eligibility (per Big 12 rules), which he got back only after OU went to the mattresses for him and got the Big 12 to adopt the “Baker Mayfield Rule,” which allows walk-ons without a written scholarship offer to transfer within the conference without losing a year of eligibility. That the guy has a rule unofficially named after him suggests how high maintenance he is.
- Potential immaturity: In February 2017, Mayfield was arrested in Arkansas and charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and fleeing and resisting arrest. OU ordered Mayfield to do 35 hours of community service and to complete an alcohol education program.
It’s not unreasonable for evaluators to look at Mayfield, see an undersized spread-system high-maintenance Heisman-winning passer with a potential alcohol problem, and think, “Why would anyone spend a first-round pick on the next Johnny Manziel?” (And, remember, the Browns have the No. 1 pick, and there are rumors that some in their organization are high on Mayfield.)
The Manziel comparison, though, is unfair. Manziel was significantly smaller (6’0″ and 207 pounds) and more of a run-happy quarterback (2,169 yards in two seasons vs. 1,083 in four for Mayfield). Mayfield is mobile enough to navigate the pocket and scramble when needed (2.7 yards per carry, including sacks), but he’s above all a passer. Whereas Manziel was reckless (22 interceptions in two years), Mayfield protected the ball (only 21 picks in three seasons at OU). Although he’s similar to Manziel in some ways, as a prospect Mayfield is much more similar to Russell Wilson on the basis of his size, passing production, mobility, and even his transfer from one school to another.
After his strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl and then his combine performance — he did well in the passing drills and reportedly aced his team interviews — it seems likely that a team will select Mayfield with a first-rounder: Some NFL decision makers might even like that Mayfield is a little rough around the edges. He has grit. Even though he was just a three-star recruit, at Tech he became the first true freshman walk-on quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision history to start a season-opener, and then at OU he had to walk on again and win the starting job. Everything he’s gotten, he’s earned. Most top-tier quarterbacks don’t go to the Senior Bowl: There’s nothing for them to gain in attending the event, but Mayfield was there because “he’s a competitor” (so the narrative goes).
It’s hard to evaluate the quarterback position: The sample of subjects is small, the data set is limited, and the representativeness and predictiveness of many metrics is unknown. Based on his numbers and the degree to which he is comparable to previous prospects who have had NFL success, Mayfield is one of the top quarterbacks in the 2018 draft — I think he’ll provide the most bang for buck spent on him — but I could easily be wrong. I expect him to be drafted with a top-20 (maybe top-10) pick, and if he’s paired with an offensive coordinator or play caller who isn’t awful I expect him to be a viable (if not desirable) fantasy quarterback no later than his second season starting. There are some football people who dislike Mayfield because of his average arm strength, happy feet, and reported inability to read a defense. I’m not ignoring these evaluations: I’m just not sure they’re accurate, and I’m not sure how much those potential deficiencies matter.
In a special edition of the Daily Fantasy Flex, Kevin Cole made the case for Mayfield at No. 1 overall.
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports