Baker Mayfield is an instinctual quarterback who thrives on extending plays, utilizing his legs to create time and space. His play evokes memories of talented mobile quarterbacks past, such as Johnny Manziel, forcing defenses to pick their poison. Mayfield is exciting to watch because he’s a predator. He has the guts to go for the big play and the swagger to match.Mayfield’s progression during the 2017 season will be interesting to watch. I see a quarterback that has limitations but also has an enviable upside.
He doesn’t possess the best arm or have the most consistent ball placement on his targets. The one skill he has in spades is the desire to hunt for a positive play.That skill is splashed over the numerous highlight reels you will see of Mayfield in the following months. In effect, Mayfield reacts to his surroundings. I
t reminds me of the nature clips of a lion chasing down a wildebeest in the Serengeti—the wildebeest know what’s coming, the lion know’s what on the menu and the viewer is mesmerized.Mayfield is going to hunt. Some guys just play a certain way because that’s the only way they know how to play. I can appreciate that. There’s a level of nuance and preparation that if he taps into more this upcoming season it would bode well for his transition to the pro game. It’s the difference between reacting or responding to what’s around you.
A quarterback’s footwork is a window into his ability at the position. Mayfield’s feet betray him in the clip above only in the sense that he didn’t trust what he saw pre-snap. What he saw pre-snap was a mismatch. A mismatch he could have fully exploited if his footwork was cleaner in this set. Mayfield has few peers when you need to create something out of nothing in an offense. You rarely see plays like the above, where he anticipates the coverage, identifies the mismatch and attacks pre-snap. Mayfield was prepared. He didn’t trust his eyes and his feet followed that doubt.
Mayfield’s style of play normally doesn’t project a ton of patience or progression of reads, unless it’s scripted like a run pass option. Mayfield has the ability to break down a defense pre-snap, it just isn’t asked of him regularly.
The confidence Mayfield has to finish his drop, scan the field and fire to his most open receiver was decided at the line of scrimmage. The fluidity in his drop screams premeditation—he knew he had a mismatch. It remains to be seen if he can regularly discern mismatches in this manner but he does have the mental framework to build on it.
Most predators in the wild last as long as they have the legs to run down a meal. At some point, the legs will fail, or at least not be as effective as they were at their peak. Yet where the legs fail, the eyes can prevail. The maturity to understand when and how to take your shots is fundamental to success as a quarterback.
Baker Mayfield is on the short list of quarterbacks to be heavily talked about through the season and the draft lead-up. His instincts afford him the ability to make special plays. It remains to be seen if he can add in more orchestration to his game. If he can respond more to what’s in front of him instead of merely reacting and relying on his instincts, watch out.
David Igono is a former defensive back who played at West Virginia University and a couple of seasons of arena football. A longtime draft anorak, he considers the 2014 RSP the inspiration for taking the process more intentionally. Follow him at @d1gono.