In the midst of another all-too-common losing season, many Browns fans are turning their focus to the 2018 NFL draft. Here at WFNY, we have already done much of the same. This year’s draft is especially paramount for the Browns organization. It is their year to take advantage of the Harvard Brain Trust’s (HBT) plan to acquire draft capital and put it to use once the foundation was laid. For that exact reason, so many Browns fans are shifting their focus to the top of the draft – specifically how the Browns will solve their quarterback problems after trading away the right to draft both Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson.
So here we are, trying to pin down the best available quarterback when the Browns clearly need one most. The early favorites–Josh Rosen and Same Darnold–haven’t performed at the desired level. As their performances slipped each week, the door was open early for someone to take control of QB1 status and in stepped Oklahoma Senior Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has been electric this year, perpetuating his elite performances from the previous two seasons. Mayfield has continued his upward trend in his senior season, taking a strong hold as the top quarterback in this draft amongst many scouting circles.
Everyone has an opinion on Mayfield, much like they did about another cocky, short quarterback: Johnny Manziel. The simplistic parallels between Maziel and Mayfield are obvious, and I don’t blame people for making them. If you don’t pay attention to the actual game tape, only occasionally watching the highlight reels, the mistake is easily made. I will make this disclaimer though before we dive in: if Johnny Manziel didn’t have the off-field issues (drug and alcohol related) he had a chance to be a really viable NFL quarterback. If Manziel had come along even a few years later, when the NFL is becoming more and more creative schematically (RPO anyone?) he could have been even better. Manziel stopped Manziel, but that isn’t the point of this piece. The point is to show you the difference between Mayfield and Manziel, and just how much better Mayfield is as a natural quarterback. Comparing Manziel to Mayfield simply doesn’t fit, and if you’re using it to predict Mayfield’s destiny, you’re wrong.
Manziel displayed a really solid arm during his time in College Station. Especially on vertical routes down the sideline – his best and most common throw. He had a knack for hitting Mike Evans and company in stride, but we never saw Manziel show “special arm talent” like we have seen from Baker Mayfield. Take into account these two clips. The first we see Mayfield drop a 60 yard bomb into his receivers arms nearly off his back foot. Watch as he gathers zero momentum and trusts his arm alone to get the ball there.
The second clip here is going to show what he can do when he gathers some momentum:
That ball travels nearly 70 yards in the arm on just a single crow hop of momentum from Mayfield. Sure, he over throws his wide receiver, but this kid has special arm strength and needs very little body momentum to display it. That is something Manziel never showed. Also, don’t worry, Mayfield can also put the ball from the far hash to the sideline on a rope as well.
This is another area where Mayfield flat out shines. As good as Johnny Football was at A&M with his career with his 68.9 percent completion rate, Mayfield is even better at 71 percent over the past few season. The biggest difference between the two is the degree of difficulty that Mayfield’s throws require against that of Manziel. Have a look at this chart from Mayfield (courtesy of CFB Film Room).
Mayfield is driving the ball to every single level of the field, and doing it with extreme accuracy and sound decision making. He is completing over 60 percent of his balls downfield 20+ yards and is even more deadly when under pressure, completing at an even higher mark at 61.2 percent. The areas that require even more consideration is that 10 to 20 yard intermediate depth that talent evaluators covet so much in the NFL game. Through ten games, Mayfield is 50 of 72, completing 69 percent for 849 yards and seven touchdowns. The kid is killing all levels of the field, and making it look easy when it really is not.
The ball placement is top notch as well…
Now take into account Johnny Manziel’s body of work (thanks to Stats XInfo). Pay particular attention to his negligence of the middle of the field. He used the sidelines successfully more than anywhere else on the field, and his opportunities in the middle, both left and right middle, make you wonder how much he considered it.
Manziel was electric down the sideline and to his outside parts of the field, but when Manziel was asked to sit in the pocket and throw down the middle of the field, he really struggled. Manziel could drop it in on the sideline with the best of them.
But when he had to sit in and make those throws down the middle of the field, things typically got dicey.
The biggest difference is not only the accuracy down the middle of the field, but the use of itself in general. Manziel preferred to avoid it if he could, while Mayfield uses it, and uses it as one of his best tools. Defenses have to cover him sideline to sideline at all times.
Another big difference was the ability to feel the rush or a free defender and make the play within the pocket. When Manziel felt pressure he often looked to run instantly, and his eyes dropped quickly. Manziel didn’t understand replacing the pressure concepts quarterbacks need to feel. He would drop his eyes and panic to an extent.
This doesn’t work in the NFL…
Mayfield on the other hand does a fantastic job of feeling the pressure and anticipating where the route is coming in to help him. He never seems to be panicked.
Now the place where most people feel the need to draw comparison between these two. Both have a magical gift for scrambling and making plays when defenders are able to get their hands on them. This is a gift for both, but I have grown to trust Baker more in these situations than Manziel. Manziel made these plays seem more dicey than they needed to be.
Mayfield can do the same, but it always has a way of feeling more natural and more controlled – less risky. The plays he is able to make against immense pressure with his eyes downfield are what NFL scouts should love.
Another common area of success for both quarterbacks. Manziel thrived on the running game. He ran for 1,421 yards and 21 touchdowns in his Heisman campaign as a redshirt freshman and another 759 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore. Part of what made Johnny Football was his ability to get in the open field and use his elusiveness. He was really gifted in that department, with a shiftiness and top end speed that burnt college defenses.
The difference here is that Baker runs with more power than elusiveness. He uses his feet only to take advantage of situations, rarely relying on them for his success like Manziel did. He is deadly in the read option, and when a defender misses him in the pocket.
Mayfield might not blow away the 40 yard dash at the combine, but he has a sneaky top gear that defenses often fail to recognize when taking angles. He is also deadly in the open field breaking tackles as Kansas Head Coach David Beaty recently said that Mayfield runs like an All-Big XII running back. Mayfield has only run for 408 yards the past two years combined but has used his legs to his advantage to pick up key first downs and red zone opportunities, as he has rushed for 11 total touchdowns the last two years.
The Biggest Difference
When Johnny Manziel was shredding the SEC with his legs and arm, the league was so concerned with his legs that we didn’t see Manziel work through multiple progression – reading a defense from left to right. Often he was working to one man, and A&M’s schemes allowed him to keep it simple and trust his athleticism.
Oklahoma doesn’t do that for Baker Mayfield. They ask him to dissect the defense and work through his reads to pinpoint his best option based on the coverage. That skill is what NFL executives will be really impressed with come the 2018 draft. He plays the quarterback position to throw at all costs, and uses his running talents only when he needs them. Here are a few examples of Mayfield working through coverage to identify his best option. Throwing with anticipation and accuracy.
I don’t expect everyone to trust Baker Mayfield. I understand why Browns fans have a hesitancy. They have seen this play. But, I urge you to deep dive some Baker Mayfield film and take note of the obvious differences. Mayfield is built much different, bigger through the chest and thighs, than Manziel was. He is as durable as they come. The more film you watch, the more you will see a young quarterback who shows the same traits and skill sets as Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. Don’t let 6’1 fool you. Don’t be a victim of profiling this kid as some failure who burnt your Browns fan heart back when he couldn’t stay on the right path. Baker Mayfield is elite, and if the Browns were to be able to take him number one overall, the franchise would be better for it.