Plenty of pre-NFL Draft Twitter made their claim that they knew everything about Cleveland Browns’ No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, but does everyone really know every single thing about him, whether on or off the field? Not many do, but I tried my best to dig in and help the Dawg Pound get to know a guy they hope can be their franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future. In order to do so, I interviewed Oklahoma Sooners reporter Brooke Pryor, who covered Mayfield when he was a Sooner.
Were Oklahoma people surprised Baker went No. 1 or was it expected because of how good of a quarterback he is?
I was a little surprised that he wound up going No. 1 only because he hadn’t been trending that way until the 48 hours before the draft. It seemed like his stock really rose in the day leading up to the draft. He is a really good quarterback, and I think he is talented enough to be taken with the top pick. It’s been written about exhaustively, but I thought the off-the-field stuff might keep him from being the top pick, especially with the failed Johnny Manziel experiment in Cleveland. That’s not to say that Manziel and Mayfield are the same person or have the same problems, because they don’t, but I thought the Browns might be wary of bringing Mayfield in with that narrative in the recent past.
Is he a leader, both on and off the field?
He’s definitely a leader. He’s always been someone that the team has rallied around, no matter the situation. They’ve celebrated his highs and lifted him up in his lows. None of this teammates have ever spoken negatively about him, and their affection for him feels really genuine. I think he was a positive influence for his teammates — always upbeat, encouraging, pushing his teammates to be better. His leadership is definitely one of his better qualities.
What were his relationships like with both his coaches and teammates while in Norman?
It’s no secret that he and Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley were really close, and that relationship really played into OU’s success in the last two years. Without Mayfield, Riley’s first year would’ve looked a lot different and without Riley, Mayfield’s college career would’ve looked a lot different too. His friendships with his teammates also seemed to be pretty close. He usually hung out with tight ends Grant Calcaterra, Mark Andrews and fullback Jaxon Uhles. Both Grant and Mark also came up to the 2017 Heisman ceremony.
What will Browns fans learn to love about their new quarterback?
I think they’ll appreciate his honesty. Like any rookie quarterback, he’ll mess up. But one quality that I’ve always appreciated about Mayfield is his ability to own his mistakes. Throughout his OU career he always apologized when he got into trouble. On the flip side, he was usually pretty emotional when he — and the team — succeeded. He’s got some Russell Westbrook in him in with a hyper-competitive streak that he wears openly (see: Pretenders sign, Walk On sweatshirt, Back-to-Back-to-Back Big 12 Champs undershirt). He’s not one to use a bunch of generic cliches. So buckle up for some entertaining interviews.
In high school, he didn’t receive any major offers from colleges. Then in college, he was a walk-on not once but twice during his college career. Mayfield has continued to beat the odds, becoming the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Will he be satisfied with that, or will he continue to be motivated, just like he was while trying to earn the starting job in college (and eventually doing so)?
The not-so-secret to Mayfield’s success is the way he motivates himself with the chip on his shoulder. That will be harder to do now that he’s in the pros as a Heisman winner and the No. 1 pick. There aren’t as many people doubting him as there were when he was walking on at Texas Tech and Oklahoma. But he’ll collect critiques against him and use the to fuel him during workouts and in games. Even with so many people celebrating his success, there are still people (anonymous general managers, reporters, random Twitter trolls, etc.) saying that he’ll be a bust. There’s no doubt that he’ll use that to motivate him throughout his career.
Does he have a good feel for the pocket? With that said, does he sometimes escape the pocket too early or not until he has to? Also, when he does escape the pocket, does he keep his eyes downfield and look for open receivers or just focus on running the ball?
That’s something that I felt he improved on this year, but he’ll need to work on it more. Through the earlier part of the season he didn’t run as much as he did the year before. It seemed like he trusted the pocket a little bit more, which is likely a by-product of OU’s really strong offensive line. He made much better choices this year, and I think when he did escape the pocket, he kept looking downfield for open receivers. I was just watching clips of the 2017 Oklahoma-Ohio State game this past week and watched his throw to Mykel Jones. He was on the run and hit Jones for a 42-yard gain with a throw off his back foot. And that’s just one of dozens of examples I could use from last year.
A big part of being a successful NFL quarterback is not only being accurate (which Baker is), but also being able to throw your receivers open as well. Does he do that well, or does he usually just throw it to a guy that’s already open?
He showed an ability to direct his receivers throughout his career at OU, motioning to guys downfield to get them open. I also think he showed an ability to lead them with his throws. That’s another area of his game that I think could use some development, especially as he gets used to working with new receivers.
Going through your reads is something a good quarterback must do in the NFL, rather than just keep your eyes on one wide out and/or one side of the field. Does Mayfield do that well or does he go through his reads too quickly and miss open receivers?
He didn’t miss receivers often, and I think he was patient with his reads. I can’t remember any egregious errors in that department.
NFL defenses will certainly throw a bunch of different looks at Mayfield. Is he good at reading defenses, especially prior to the snap? If so, is he smart enough to be a leader and help his linemen change their blocking schemes and receivers/running backs change their routes as well?
He showed an ability to read defenses and make adjustments this season. He had to adjust the Sooners’ offense multiple times to get blitzes picked up and get better protection. It’s not just his ability to pick up different defenses, it’s how quickly he can do it. In Oklahoma’s fast-paced system, he had to make those reads quickly, and that will help him in the next phase of his career big time.
If you could create a perfect offense for Mayfield, what would it consist of?
Riley’s offense was the perfect one for Mayfield. Gave him as much air raid as possible. He’s good at throwing the quick slants, but his deep ball accuracy was pretty incredible, too. I’m a sucker for the deep throws, so selfishly, I’d want to see more of those.
Mayfield isn’t Johnny Manziel, both on and off the field, yet people continue to compare the two and even go as far as nicknaming Baker as Johnny Manziel 2.0. What’s the easiest way we can put all of that to rest?
My personal favorite nickname that I’ve seen is Johnny Flag Football, so major props to whoever came up with that. And the biggest thing that Mayfield needs to focus on is football. Stay centered on practice and everything that comes with it and stay away from anything that could generate clicks for TMZ. He has a better drive than Manziel, and that will work in his favor. He’s said the right thing about the Manziel comparison, but now he’s got to let his actions speak for him.
That arrest video that shows Mayfield trying to run from the cops has made its rounds, especially prior to and during the draft. How has he learned from that situation?
If he didn’t know before that incident, the arrest certainly taught him that he’s being watched at all times. He’s not above the law and anything he does that’s even a little bit out of line will be scrutinized. In a lot of ways, it was a wake-up call that he needed. I don’t categorize the arrest in the same category as the flag planting and Kansas sideline display. Those things happen when his competitiveness gets out of control. The arrest happened because he made a very serious mistake and got out of control during a night out. Since then, there haven’t been any headlines or many rumors about his partying habits, and i think that’s a solid sign that he learned from that run-in with police.
What was the perception of his off-the-field antics, including that run in with the police? Was there any concern with his off-the-field demeanor after that?
It felt like there were two camps of people reacting to Mayfield’s off-the-field issues. Some treated it like a college kid doing college kid things, while others showed open distain for his actions and were vocal in their displeasure. But I think he handled the arrest the right way and mitigated a lot of the concerns afterward with his apology. It felt heartfelt and sincere and earned him major points with a lot of the fanbase.
He’s been saying all the right things so far, but do you truly think that Baker means everything he has said since becoming a Brown, including being alright with learning from the veteran quarterbacks on the roster and (most likely) sitting a year while Tyrod Taylor leads the offense?
I’m sure he privately hopes to be starting Day 1, but I also think he knows that setting the right tone is just as important as playing well as a rookie. He wouldn’t do himself any favors by starting out the press conferences saying that he was going to beat out Taylor and that he was NFL-ready right now. He’s playing things the right way — and the way that will set himself up for the most future success going forward.
In 2015, Baker’s mother, sister, and two of their friends were involved in a car accident, in which three people were killed, leaving only his mother and sister as the lone survivors in their group. It strengthened the relationship between he and his mom. Any idea why this wasn’t a major story, especially around the NFL Draft?
There’s so many things to write about Baker, and I think it wasn’t a big deal this time around because it was covered pretty extensively a couple years ago.
On a lighter note, is he a good dancer? Videos suggest that he is.
Absolutely. It’s a huge upset in my book that he didn’t get tapped for this athletes-only season of Dancing with the Stars. I’m sure he’ll wind up there sometime soon.