Browns

To evaluate Baker Mayfield try to forget Johnny Football

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.

Arm Strength

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.

Accuracy

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.

Pocket Feel

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.

Scrambling Ability

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.

Running Ability

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.

  • Garry_Owen

    You had me at “Manziel.”

  • RGB
  • tsm

    Never at #1 overall, but with the next 1st round pick perhaps. i want the BPA at #1. We must get more studs on this team.

  • KFunk

    There doesn’t seem to be a slam dunk no-brainer QB to take #1 overall. Why not support Kizer with as much talent as humanly possible, using all five 1st & 2nd round picks on a WR, RB, OT, CB & FS, in order of BPA?

    Now that you’ve done some scouting, do you think there is a QB prospect who:
    *is bigger/tougher
    *has a stronger arm
    *is smarter
    *will outwork him
    *can come in and adapt more quickly to the speed of the game than Kizer will in his 2nd year?

    If the answer isn’t yes to all these Qs, then why pick a QB #1 overall and pass up a stud? One of the QBs would sit on the bench, or worse, they’d take reps from each other and we’d have a yo-yo season @ QB.

    I don’t understand what more people expected from Kizer, considering his cast, and the fact he should be a Sr @ ND right now. I think he’s learning as thoroughly as we could hope, and has all the physical (and mental) tools to be great. Just because the team sucks doesn’t mean he’s not a good QB prospect. He’s been plagued by drops, and the team has lost three games by 3 or less. I’d invest in this kid and keep it moving

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post.

  • tsm

    Good thoughts. I would just substitute ILB ahead of RB or OT. We need a Khalil Mack type behind our young DL.

  • KFunk

    Hopefully some of those positions can be accounted for with a smart FA acquisition or two. ILB, S or RB seem like good positions to find FAs (as opposed to the pricier positions like OT or WR).

  • mddawg

    Great rational post, I hope Kizer continues his upward trajectory so we can draft another difference maker rather than creating a Drew Brees-Phillip Rivers situation. 15 yrs later Brees has a SB (and could possibly go to another one) while Rivers is on a downward trajectory.

  • mddawg

    Unless that FA has a personal relationship with someone here ( eg Mccourty and Gregg Williams), it’s highly doubtful we’d acquire quality FAs to sign with the Browns.

  • KFunk

    Well, if they can have a better 2nd half than 1st half, you never know. They did get a couple OL FAs this past offseason. Even solid losses would be better than what we saw most of the first 8 games.

  • BenRM

    is smarter…probably
    will outwork him…probably
    can come in and adapt more quickly to the speed of the game than Kizer will in his 2nd year…probably

  • paulbip

    You sold me. The browns will get great trade down value for him, probably a swap of #1’s and next years #1, plus a #2 for 2019 and 2020, plus a swap of #4’s with #6 for the next 3 years.

  • Chris
  • Jake Burns

    Take out the “bigger” part and that person is Mayfield. To every category.

    *is bigger/tougher
    *has a stronger arm
    *is smarter
    *will outwork him
    *can come in and adapt more quickly to the speed of the game than Kizer will in his 2nd year?

  • KFunk

    As I watch college FB this season, I have a hard time believing a rookie will come in and be better, I really do. It feels like next year would be “he’s a rookie, he needs time” and it will be more of the same “WFNY” (no pun intended). And meanwhile stunt the growth of Kizer by splitting reps instead of just supporting the good prospect they already have.

    Do you really think, in fairness, that Kizer would be a 2nd round pick in 2018 if he had stayed, or would he be in the discussion as one of the top QB prospects coming out?

    The whole “smarter & will outwork him” is totally subjective. Kizer is a professional FB player already, and every rookie will have a steep learning curve, regardless. And the idea that *any* rookie will be better prepared with the playbook, speed of the game, practice process, media, etc than a 2nd yr player who has been working his ass off is just a ridiculous thing to say.

  • KFunk

    All due respect Jake, since you’ve scouted Mayfield way more than I have, but the idea that *any* rookie will be better prepared with the playbook, speed of the game, practice schedule/process, media responsibilities, nutrition, etc than a 2nd yr player who has already gone through it and has been working his ass off is just a pretty ridiculous notion, and hard for me to believe.

    Isn’t Mayfield in a spread offense?

  • mgbode

    Savage was in the NFL for many years, but Watson (coming from a spread) seemed to adapt quickly

    It all depends on the individual QB, the plays being called for them, and the talent to overcome any obstacles that pop up.

    Jake is a big believer in Baker, so it goes with it.

  • mgbode

    Aha, but he said “Not Manziel”

  • KFunk

    I hear you. I believe Kizer should be given every chance, which he hasn’t been so far (i.e. WRs & running game). Just not sure how that would go down to bring in another rookie if what Kizer really needs is more reps / room to grow.

    Regardless, we should have a much better idea after the last 7 games. I hope Kizer can put the QB talk to bed. I’m sure we all do.

  • Jake Burns

    I personally think that just because Kizer has now 8 games as a starting NFL QB it doesn’t make him better than guys who are not that far away. I believe Rosen & Lamar Jackson can and will be better than him long term. Baker was better in school (where Kizer was just 11 months ago) so to think he could translate to the NFL in a more successful capacity isn’t crazy.

    I get your train of thought, I really do, but evaluate them from what their skill set it, not always their exposure. That is what I was trying to do in that post. I am all about keeping Kizer and trying to allow him to grow, but it doesn’t hurt to try to find your franchise guy with this pick either. RGIII and Cousins taken in the same draft. Brees was in SD and they still took Rivers. You pick one until you have one.

  • KFunk

    I hear you. I just really hope they don’t need to pick one #1 overall. Wishful thinking at this point, but we’ll know more after 7 more games. It would feel like a set-up for either a QB controversy or a wasted #1 overall pick. If the best case scenario happens and they have two good QBs, I find it hard to believe they could get #1 overall value for either of them in the future.

    If Kizer performs well the rest of the season, I could see this FO trading down (if they’re here).

    I have been waiting for almost two decades for the Browns to draft someone with the combination of size/toughness, strong arm, good head on his shoulders, and willing to work hard. Everyone else has been too small, had a weak arm, been kinda dumb, a complete knucklehead, or some combination of those things.

    They finally drafted a guy with the right skills/traits, and I want to see it play out with adequate support.

  • Garry_Owen

    No, he said “better than Manziel!”

  • Know what I’m not going to forget? The laundry list of truly terrible quarterbacks to emerge from the Big 12 since seemingly always.

    https://media.giphy.com/media/l3vR7Q7mTctHU46vC/giphy.gif

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  • Skulb

    Like Haden?

  • Sam Gold

    FORGET JOHNNY FOOTBALL?!?!?!?!?!?!?

    https://i.imgur.com/R8mplVt.gif

  • tsm

    If you are referring to Haden when he was drafted out of Florida, then yes. Not the old guy we let go.

  • Keep in mind that Mayfield was a walk-on that outworked QB’s at TTU, then transferred to OU where he outworked and outplayed some very highly recruited QB’s to earn his spot AND a scholarship. This is a guy whose best offer was from Rice and he wanted to prove himself. Now he’s probably going to win the Heisman by the biggest landslide in history of the trophy.

    He’s also played and learned via 3 different OC’s and 3 different QB coaches in college.

  • Hunter Frantz

    Exactly. People get caught up with the need for a passer. You would think that the Brown’s front office would realize that QB is not the problem when they never pan out for you. Maybe it’s the talent surrounding your failed QBs?

  • KFunk

    I understand why folks want to add a QB #1. They probably should, considering Kizer’s performances. I just hope there is a clear-cut #1 option once the draft evaluation process is all said & done. Of course, this is probably going to come at a time when a new “football guy” is taking over. Hopefully he and his new team have a strong POV