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Baker Mayfield Is Equal Parts Exciting and Efficient, and That’s Why He Won the Heisman

The former walk-on is walking out of college football with the sport’s highest honor

Heisman Trophy Presentation - Press Conference Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Baker Mayfield’s four-year ascension from walk-on true freshman to the best quarterback in the nation is complete after being named the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner on Saturday night.

Saturday’s ceremony saw Mayfield beat finalists Bryce Love and Lamar Jackson, who finished second and third, respectively. Mayfield now has the ultimate validation of not just being the best player of this college football season— and the most efficient quarterback ever— but also that of a perfect ending to his wild college football journey.

Mayfield beat Love by more than 1,000 total points. The Oklahoma quarterback gathered 86 percent of the total possible points (732), which is the third-highest mark in Heisman history.

“Wow. This is unbelievable for me,” Mayfield said on the podium. “It’s been a tough journey, I walked on twice, and it’s been a long journey.”

In 2013, when Texas Tech’s projected starting quarterback, Michael Brewer, went out with a back injury before the start of the season, Mayfield, a true-freshman walk-on, stepped in and balled out. He threw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns in his first start against SMU. He transferred to Oklahoma after the season, and after sitting out a year, Mayfield beat Trevor Knight for the Sooners’ starting job and never looked back.

Watching Mayfield this season has been like watching an electric current, both on and off the field. He’s thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns, gaudy numbers made even more impressive by the fact that he averaged 11.8 yards per throw (an FBS record) and tossed just five picks on 369 attempts. There’s near-flawless efficiency, and then there’s Mayfield. In his senior season against a schedule that included Ohio State, Oklahoma State (against whom he threw for a career-high 598 yards), and TCU twice, Mayfield broke his own all-time FBS record for QBR and set a new career mark in passer rating. Every season since he first stepped on the field in 2013 he has improved, and the Big 12 has been the perfect environment for him to flourish.

What’s most impressive about Mayfield, though, is that he’s as exciting as he is efficient. He treats the pocket more like a playground than a safety bubble, which has allowed him to make eye-opening plays like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

Mayfield has also been an exuberant figure. As my colleague Rodger Sherman wrote, Mayfield’s vengeful revisiting of previous beefs and slights has been delightful. The extracurriculars are part of Mayfield’s package, but his play on the field was enough to make even the notoriously tight-laced Heisman voters look his way and leave the other finalists well behind him.

For Love, that means more of the same Stanford tradition, as the last two Heisman contenders who came out of the Cardinal backfield also finished second in New York. In 2009, it was Toby Gerhart finishing behind Alabama’s Mark Ingram. In, 2015, it was Christian McCaffrey getting beat by another Alabama back, Derrick Henry. But Love was arguably a better rusher than both. His trademark explosiveness — which made chunk plays his calling card (he had 28 runs of 20 yards or more) — put him on the map, even thought the Pac-12 schedule meant he was often on TV late at night.

Meanwhile, Louisville’s Jackson spent the season chasing something else — not Mayfield, or Love, or Saquon Barkley, who, after being the early-season Heisman favorite finished fourth and was not invited to New York. Jackson was chasing himself. After winning the Heisman last season following a 5,114 total-yard campaign, Jackson had to up the ante in 2017 and hope his team would fare better, record-wise. He still passed for 4,932 yards, but given Mayfield’s dominance and Louisville’s shortcomings, it wasn’t enough.

This season, Mayfield played like every snap could become his Heisman moment. And in the end, the totality of them all proved that the walk-on who stumbled into the starting job is now college football’s best player.