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Baker Mayfield Should Be the Top Pick in the 2018 Draft

A college football fan offers his thoughts on Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and the rest of the NFL’s incoming quarterback class

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I don’t understand how the NFL draft works. I am but a simple-minded college football fan, a harebrained fool who wastes my life watching an inferior sports product. Because my mind cannot comprehend the complexity of the National Football League, I spend draft season conjuring stupid thoughts like “Hey, why do NFL people think Mitch Trubisky is better than Deshaun Watson?”; “Hey, why don’t NFL people have faith in Russell Wilson?”; “Hey, why do NFL people believe Blake Bortles is good?”; and “Hey, why are NFL people so enamored of Christian Hackenberg?

Obviously, these are the thoughts of an unsophisticated mind, too fickle to understand that the surest way to be good at football is to make The Most 6-Foot-5 White Guy Imaginable an NFL team’s starting quarterback. Because my draft predictions are so hilariously misguided, The Ringer’s editors have asked me to publish them so I can be roundly mocked by the public. Here are the NFL draft takes of a person who idiotically watches the sport that potentially draftable players play, rather than showing up at the combine to write about which players have questionable attitudes.

Baker Mayfield Is My Obvious QB1

Mayfield is a college football legend. He had the most efficient season in college football history as a junior; he then broke his own record by having the most efficient season in college football history as a senior. He is offense incarnate, a fury perpetually flinging the ball to hit receivers in open space.

And the only thing more fun than Mayfield’s actual play in college was his perpetual belief that others constantly doubted him. He literally made lists of all the people he felt had wronged him, like a slightly taller Taylor Swift. (Apparently, he still makes those lists.) He played with so many chips on his shoulder that it’s a miracle he was even capable of throwing a football.

He began his college career upset about his lack of scholarship offers, then emerged as a standout at Texas Tech, becoming the first walk-on to start a power conference team’s season opener as a true freshman. A few months later, he got mad about how he was treated in Lubbock and built a new narrative around how nobody thought he could cut it at Oklahoma. Once again, he walked onto the program; once again, he displaced the established starter (Trevor Knight) on his way to becoming a star.

By the end of Mayfield’s Sooners career, he was the undisputed best player in the country, and no one could doubt him anymore. He needed to create spur-of-the-moment beefs with random schools like Kansas to work himself into fits of dick-grabbing rage. (And who can forget his flag plant at Ohio State, an over-the-top celebration meant as revenge on a significantly less egregious celebration the year before?) He won last year’s Heisman Trophy, and I think he would have won the national title, too, if Oklahoma’s defense had been competent enough to avoid giving up 54 points in the Rose Bowl.

There are several scouting knocks against Mayfield. He’s shorter than most NFL QBs; he’s brash, and some wonder whether he’ll get along with coaches and teammates. The knock that holds the most water from an NFL perspective is that he’s a “system” quarterback, since he played in an Air Raid offense, which inflates passing numbers and only asks quarterbacks to throw to wide-open receivers. (IMO, more teams should run offenses in which the receivers get so open that you can’t even tell whether the QB is good.)

But as a college fan, I’d like to counter with two points. First, Jared Goff, Case Keenum, and Patrick Mahomes II—all Air Raid guys—looked good in the NFL this season. (Mahomes just briefly, but there’s a reason the Chiefs traded Alex Smith to Washington.) There have been prominent misses, like Brandon Weeden and Tim Couch, but an offensive system doesn’t preclude a quarterback from being immensely talented.

Secondly, many college teams have run the Air Raid throughout history, and nobody has ever raided the air quite like Mayfield. The failures of others shouldn’t cast a shadow on a player who was simply better than anyone who came before him.

Mayfield’s stats are absurd. He had the best passer rating on throws from a clean pocket and the best passer rating on throws under pressure; the best passer rating on quick throws and the best rating on throws after holding onto the ball; the best passer rating on play-action throws and—huge red flag coming—the second-best rating on non-play-action attempts.

I think Mayfield should be the first quarterback drafted on Thursday night, but his stock presents a Catch-22: If he goes no. 1 overall, what will he have to be mad about? The key to unlocking his full potential is to have him go no. 2 or later, being passed over in favor of other, taller QBs.

Lamar Jackson Isn’t Far Behind Mayfield

I keep seeing Jackson listed as the fifth-best quarterback in this draft class, after (in some order) Mayfield, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, and Josh Rosen. I can’t imagine watching college football over the past few years and coming away thinking that Jackson is the fifth best of those players at anything.

If Mayfield is the QB who was best at distributing the ball to his teammates, Jackson was the best at scoring his damn self. Lacking a strong supporting cast, he became a one-man show for Louisville, tallying 51 total touchdowns en route to a runaway Heisman Trophy victory as a sophomore and adding a piddly 45 touchdowns as a junior. One of my favorite games from the past few seasons was Clemson’s 42-36 win over Louisville in 2016, a high-flying duel between Jackson and Deshaun Watson. They combined for 854 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns.

For some reason, NFL scouts seem to believe that a quarterback’s ability to run the football effectively amounts to evidence that said QB is not good at passing. Watson’s success as a rookie was a rebuke of that. And yet here we are: Jackson is a gifted passer, and a former NFL general manager went on TV to say that he should play receiver because he also happens to be fast.

Personally, I think it’s a bonus that Jackson can not only throw a football well—something few humans on the planet are capable of!—but also can hurdle people, dodge sprinting defenders with ease, and outrun anybody pesky enough to try to pressure him. Sometimes quarterbacks have to do those things—in fact, it can be a very useful part of modern NFL strategy!

I Have No Idea What the Josh Allen Hype Is About

I keep waiting for the joke to end—for NFL draft analysts to collectively say “Gotcha!” and for all of us to laugh about the time they really convinced everyone that Wyoming’s Josh Allen could be the no. 1 overall pick. But now we’re a day out from the draft, and a player who was not on any list of the top quarterbacks in college football is still considered by some to be the most sought-after prospect in the sport.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against players from small schools. Quite the opposite, in fact: I love when amazing players lift up programs that are typically out of the spotlight. You think college fans like watching Alabama win every year? Hell no, man. What makes the sport great is its endless variety—130 FBS teams doing ridiculous things to succeed.

My issue with Allen isn’t that he hails from a Mountain West school; it’s that nothing about his college career ever hinted at his being spectacular. Look at the history of great quarterbacks from small schools and it’s clear that most were consistently brilliant on campus. Carson Wentz was an FCS god at North Dakota State; Ben Roethlisberger all but invented #MACtion at Miami (Ohio); Derek Carr exploded scoreboards at Fresno State; Jimmy Garoppolo and Joe Flacco were FCS stars. Meanwhile, Allen arguably held Wyoming back: Although the Cowboys defense was exceptional, leading the nation in turnovers and finishing ninth in points allowed, the team finished 126th in total offense and 97th in yards per passing attempt.

It is impossible to find a stat that makes Allen look good. SB Nation’s Jason Kirk wrote a full rundown recently, and the results are brutal. Allen’s 2017 completion percentage was 56.3; as Football Outsiders notes, the most successful quarterback since 2005 who was taken within a draft’s first 100 picks and posted a final-year college completion percentage below 58 is Jake Locker. In QBASE, an advanced stat, Allen scored below zero, giving him a ceiling of “Josh McCown or Brian Griese.” Bill Connelly’s success rate stat gives Allen a ceiling of Ryan Mallett. Wyoming’s passing S&P+ during Allen’s senior year was 119th of 130 FBS teams; that would be the lowest of any player ever drafted in the top 100 picks.

Allen throws passes off target more than any recent top QB prospect, with DeShone Kizer and Christian Hackenberg not far behind. The other top 2018 quarterback prospects all have passer ratings under pressure well above the FBS average; Allen’s is well below that mark. He is the worst quarterback in the draft on short throws, medium throws, and long throws. He throws more interceptable passes than any other prospect in this class. And it isn’t his receivers’ fault, either—they dropped fewer passes than the receivers of any other heralded 2018 draft QB.

After watching the tape, I don’t get it. Allen misses so many easy throws! He throws it to places where there are no targets whatsoever! The only player I’ve seen miss throws like this is Hackenberg—whose ugly college stats were also blamed on poor teammates—and well, I have plenty of receipts on that.

I don’t get it. I don’t get it! I understand that Allen is tall and strong. But why is being strong more valuable for a quarterback than being able to throw a football to a teammate? Are we really supposed to believe that being bad at throwing is fixable, but other quarterbacks’ arm strengths are locked firmly into place? I don’t get why teams are considering Allen as a Day 2 pick, let alone a first-round pick, let alone the first quarterback taken, let alone the first overall player on the board. Isn’t that a huge, ridiculous risk, especially when there are more proven options available?

Every year, I watch NFL draft folks ignore productive college players and hype prospects I never would have thought of as having pro potential. And most of the time, when I think everything through, I can see where they’re coming from. My favorite players are flawed; scouts can notice weaknesses that I’ve long overlooked. And as much as I want to sound like I’m above it all, NFL people are often right, and I’m often wrong. (I was huge into Johnny Manziel and [speaks in a small voice so people can’t hear] Geno Smith.)

But I’ll never understand NFL people less than when they talk about Josh Allen. I don’t even know where the idea of him going no. 1 came from, let alone why so people are choosing to vehemently stick with it.