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Bowl Prospect Preview: Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, the First Overall Pick of the 2017 NFL Draft?

The Oklahoma Sooners will face the undefeated Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl on Thursday Dec. 31st to determine who gets to play in the National Championship. If there’s one player to watch in that matchup it’s Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

That’s despite the fact that Mayfield probably isn’t even declaring for the 2016 NFL Draft.1 So why should you even care about Mayfield? Because I think there’s a real chance he’ll be the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Backstory

Mayfield actually has a fairly interesting background, so here’s a brief synopsis:

  • Won one of the Texas state championships as a high school QB.
  • Started for Texas Tech as a walk-on freshman in 2013, believed to be the first walk-on true freshman QB to ever start a season for a BCS school.
  • Transferred to Oklahoma in 2014, had to sit the season out.
  • Started for Oklahoma in 2015, leading them to the playoffs and finishing fourth overall in the Heisman voting.
  • Won the 2015 Burlsworth Trophy, an award given to the best college player who started their career as a walk-on.

This all suggests Mayfield is a good QB. It’s a good story, but a story only goes so far. Let’s get to the numbers.

Passing Efficiency

First things first, Baker Mayfield is Pro Football Focus’s top rated QB for the 2015 season. That probably isn’t a bad thing for his NFL prospects, and if he fares well in their film-based grading I would think NFL scouts would like him as well.

Let’s move on to some more objective numbers. My preferred stat for evaluating QB prospects is adjusted yards per attempt. Ideally, a QB prospect will throw for at least 9.0 AY/A in his final collegiate season. This probably isn’t Mayfield’s final season, but it is his most recent- and he’s managed to throw for 10.9 AY/A, throwing 35 TDs to only five INTs. That’s the third highest AY/A of the season according to Sports Reference, and the two more efficient QBs both played in significantly fewer games than Mayfield.2 Mayfield hasn’t just been beating up on bad teams either. In his three match-ups so far against teams that finished the season in the AP’s top 25 – Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma State – Mayfield has passed for 8.5 AY/A while throwing seven TDs to just one interception.

Mayfield’s also been highly accurate, completing 68.6 percent of his passes this season and 66.4 percent of his passes in his college career.

Oh, and Mayfield doesn’t turn 21 until April, making all of this even more impressive. 

Rushing Efficiency

Rushing efficiency can be a predictive variable when evaluating QBs. So even if Mayfield isn’t a rushing QB in the vein of Marcus Mariota or Robert Griffin III, it’s worth looking at. And it actually looks good!

Mayfield has rushed for 420 yards on 131 attempts this season, a 3.2 yards per rushing attempt average. That sounds bad, but it’s important to keep in mind that college QB rushing numbers also include sacks. Football Study Hall’s Bill Connolly has taken the time to separate rushes and sacks for college QBs. In reality, Mayfield had 97 “true” rushes for 582 yards, a 6.0 Y/A average. Mayfield has also scored seven rushing TDs this season. I think it’s quite possible his NFL rushing production will be comparable to that of Andrew Luck- who incidentally had an identical 3.2 Y/A in his final collegiate season.

In Closing

A lot can change between now and the 2017 NFL Draft, and this is just a surface glance at Mayfield. But when I look at Mayfield it’s hard for me to see anything but a hyper-efficient college QB, who was also good in high school, is an efficient rusher, and is also fairly young. If Mayfield performs similarly next season, his likely final collegiate season, I would have to consider him an elite QB prospect. In fact, I would consider him an elite QB prospect right now- the only problem is he’s likely not declaring for the 2016 NFL Draft. But don’t be surprised if his is the first name called in 2017.

  1. Mayfield is currently fighting with the NCAA to get two more years of eligibility instead of one, which suggests he’s planning to play at least one more season at the college level.  (back)
  2. Seth Russell played in only seven games, Vernon Adams in nine.  (back)

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