What if Baker Mayfield entered the 2017 NFL Draft after a stellar second season with the Oklahoma Sooners? Remember, Mayfield led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff in 2015. So when Mayfield dominated the competition in 2016, there was a legitimate chance he would put his name into the NFL draft. Instead, Mayfield decided to stay for his final season of college eligibility, thus earning one final shot at the College Football Playoff. More importantly, his decision to play four years of college football could be the reason the Sooners get consecutive No. 1 picks in the NFL draft.
Even with all of Mayfield’s experience as a signal caller, he still didn’t earn the starting quarterback position on opening day. However, Mayfield’s prowess on the NFL gridiron is helping mold Kyler Murray into one of the most intriguing NFL draft picks ever. Mayfield started 13 games during his rookie season. He finished with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Despite a few too many costly turnovers, Mayfield established himself as an elite passer in the league.
Mayfield has the penchant for throwing the ball down the field. He is also excellent in the short to mid-range passing game. These are all qualities he cultivated during his one season at Texas Tech and three seasons with the Sooners. Still, things may have been quite different if Mayfield made different off the field decisions with his game.
Mayfield fought for his senior year of eligibility way before he was a household name outside of Sooner country. For example, Mayfield could have expedited the NFL process after a great sophomore season with the Sooners. Once the 2015 season was done, Mayfield could have entered his name into the NFL draft. Despite only playing 21 college football games at that point, Mayfield was three years removed from high school. He threw for 36 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, while completing 68 percent of his pass attempts. On the surface, that looks like an NFL-ready quarterback. Furthermore, Mayfield ran for another 405 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was hardly an elite running threat, but he can scoot just enough to keep the defense on their heels.
Yet, the allure of unfinished business was inescapable. The Sooners were on the verge of something great in 2016. However, two early season losses changed the outcome of the 2017 NFL draft. If the Sooners survived against the Houston Cougars in the season opener, or the Ohio State Buckeyes in Week 3, they probably would have been selected to play in the College Football Playoff. Instead, September was marred with two double digit losses. Mayfield finished with 40 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He even led the Sooners to a 35-19 win over the Auburn Tigers in the Sugar Bowl. Still, Mayfield felt like there was unfinished business in college football.
After three seasons, Mayfield accounted for 78 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions. He won 22 games over the last two seasons. More importantly, Mayfield had transformed into a bonafide NFL quarterback. Where he would have been drafted is anyone’s guess. Teams were still concerned about his size. However, Mayfield’s accuracy could not be questioned. He completed a career high 70.9 percent of his pass attempts in 2016. Whether Mayfield was a mid-round pick or a first-round pick, he would have performed well. However, the uncertainty of a draft status was enough to stick around the Sooners’ program for one more year. It resulted in a Heisman Trophy.
If Mayfield would have entered the 2017 NFL draft, Murray would have likely taken over the reigns as starting quarterback. Murray redshirted in 2016 and seemed poised to win the job if Mayfield bolted. In similar fashion to Mayfield, Murray had experience playing quarterback at another university. He displayed flashes of greatness with the Texas A&M Aggies. He probably assumed 2017 would be his first season to shine with the Sooners. Instead, Murray had to spend another year sitting on the bench as the backup quarterback.
At this moment, Mayfield’s decision to stay seems like it has helped Murray’s draft experience immensely. For example, if Mayfield left in 2017 and struggled to learn an NFL offense, plenty of coaching staffs would frown upon drafting a short quarterback from the same system. In fact, if Mayfield struggled this year, the same could be said. It wouldn’t have mattered what Murray did on the field for the Sooners.
Moreover, Murray has had far fewer reps as a starting quarterback. For example, Mayfield threw the ball 1,497 times during his college football career. Meanwhile, Murray has attempted 519 passes in college. To put it another way, Mayfield has more completions (1,026) than Murray has pass attempts. As a result, it should be noted that both quarterbacks have come into their respective drafts with different levels of experience.
Murray has played in 29 total games. That includes playing in seven games as Mayfield’s backup. He completed 18 of 21 passes for 3 touchdowns in 2016. By all accounts, Murray was just waiting to get on the field. Once he earned his spot, Murray exploded for 42 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions. Murray also ran for 1,001 rushing yards and 12 more scores.
Mayfield played in 48 games as a college quarterback. Now, it’s time to discover how much the experience is worth. DeShone Kizer left the Notre Dame Fighting Irish with two years of eligibility left. Although he was not as prolific as Mayfield in the passing game, plenty of scouts believed Kizer had the ability to become a franchise quarterback. He was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft by the Cleveland Browns. Kizer went (0-15) as a starter. A year later, he was gone and the Browns brought in Mayfield. Kizer may be thought of as a terribly unproven quarterback now, but when he was in college, he was a nice as anybody on the field.
Kizer only played in 25 college football games. He threw 695 times. Keep in mind, Kizer’s completion percentage dropped to 58.7 percent during his sophomore season. Therefore, every comparison isn’t equal, especially when Murray connected on 69 percent of his pass attempts in 2018. Murray also won the Heisman Trophy to give the Sooners back to back winners.
Now, only time will tell if the Sooners have consecutive No. 1 picks at the quarterback position. Can NFL teams afford to miss on the can’t-miss prospect? Is Murray really the guy to lead a franchise to the Super Bowl? These are questions every team must ask. If Mayfield’s rookie season is any indication, Murray is going to be just fine in any NFL city.