Published On: Fri, May 4th, 2018

Will Baker Mayfield change the way NFL scouts evaluate quarterbacks?

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The football-weary eyes of Cleveland will once again zero in on the Browns’ most recent No. 1 overall pick quarterback, the next savior for a franchise hoping to land one every other year.

But joining the quarterback-starved fans of Northeast Ohio in paying close attention to Baker Mayfield’s career path are an army of NFL executives, scouts and owners, all of them waiting to see the influence Mayfield’s career can potentially have on some decades-old mores of personnel evaluation.

Mayfield – the cocky swashbuckler who went from Oklahoma walk-on to headline-making Heisman winner – will determine whether the door stays open for future anti-measurable, nonconformist QBs who have long felt the cold shoulder of the NFL’s strict adherence to prototype size, arm strength, and personality in evaluating the sport’s most important position.

Mayfield measured at 6-foot-1 in February, and many scouts agree that his short frame, barely-above-average arm, and appetite for the dramatic made him one of the riskiest No. 1 overall picks in draft history despite an esteemed college resume of 12,292 passing yards, 119 touchdowns passes, and a 70 percent completion clip in three seasons.

“I was a little surprised,” said one NFC personnel man whose team didn’t select a quarterback in this year’s draft. “I love the player, love how competitive he is. He’s very passionate.”

But …

“But he’s very brash and we’ve seen some of the things that can rub people the wrong way.”

And …

“He’s not going to be able to see (the field) over anybody,” the personnel man continued. “He thrived in offense at Oklahoma where they moved him a lot. Is it a little bit of red flag not having ideal measureables? Yeah.”

Even with the NFL’s rapid trend toward mirroring the college game, Mayfield’s selection at No. 1 overall is a watershed moment, especially in a year in which four other quarterbacks were selected in the first 32 picks.

None of the other four QBs taken in the first round came with unblemished scouting reports, but Browns general manager John Dorsey’s decision to gamble on Mayfield provokes the question about whether the league is about to embark on another major scouting paradigm shift or if the Browns were just … well … Brown-ing.

“That’s a great question,” said another NFC scout whose team didn’t draft a QB. “A lot of guys I talked to about him saw him more as a mid-to-late first-round quarterback, even second-round quarterback, frankly. I think it’s a function of the college game is giving you what it’s giving you. You just don’t have many prototypical drop-back quarterbacks who have pro-style experience who are 6-foot-3-plus, who have above-average arm strength, etcetera, etcetera. Just not many of that.

“He’s just a function of what the college game is turning out, all shapes and sizes, guys who play more hybrid, spread offenses with much simpler concepts. I think what trumped it for him is his instincts and accuracy are very good. You’re betting on that over-riding some of his measureables being deficient.”

Success wouldn’t make Mayfield the first anti-measureable to debunk conventional wisdom that franchise QBs must be built like an Adonis and carry themselves with the stoicism of an FBI agent.

Super Bowl champion and someday Hall of Famer Drew Brees is barely 6 feet and Russell Wilson, another Super Bowl champion and multi-Pro Bowler, is lucky to measure at 5-foot-11.

But the stigma of the small quarterback was revealed through their draft classes. In 2001, one of the weakest quarterback classes of the past 20 years, Brees still couldn’t crack the first round, even after Mike Vick went No. 1 overall to the Falcons.

In a league that’s always prioritized the quarterback, every team that followed the Falcons in the first round took positions other than quarterback. The Chargers finally nabbed Brees with the first pick of the second round.

In 2012, Wilson watched the Browns take 6-foot-4, 230-pound Brandon Weeden, who was already 29, with the 22nd overall pick. Weeden was the fourth quarterback taken that night, joining Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Ryan Tannehill. Another towering, big-armed quarterback, Brock Osweiler, went before Wilson was picked 75th overall by the Seahawks.

A third NFC talent evaluator suggested that Wilson’s and Brees’ success cleared the way for Dorsey’s decision to go all-in on Mayfield despite the play-caller’s physical limitations.

Ironically, if Mayfield were to succeed – a relative term for the Browns and their quarterbacks – the rest of the league almost surely would rethink its traditional scouting standards for the next wave of anti-measureables.

“I remember Russell, he was one of the best interviews I’ve ever been around,” the third scout said. “Why he lasted that long (in the draft) is beyond me. More teams are taking to the fact that it’s possible and those guys are winners, so why not?

“I’m sure it’s opened discussions to, ‘These guys have done it, why can’t Baker do it?'”

Geoff Mosher is an award-winning sports reporter, radio host, and TV personality with more than 20 years of experience covering all major sports and leagues. He also hosts regularly on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia and is co-host of “The Sports Shop” on Facebook.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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