Baker Mayfield had been to this New York City ceremony before. This time, he left with a statue.
There was little suspense Saturday night with the announcement that the Oklahoma quarterback is the 2017 Heisman Award recipient. Mayfield, the fifth man to finish in the top four of the Heisman race three times, is the sixth Sooner so honored overall and the third OU signal caller since 2003 to claim the trophy.
Mayfield directed the nation’s most productive offense, averaging 583.3 yards a game, while leading the Sooners to another Big 12 title and a Rose Bowl date with Georgia in the College Football Playoff. His passing numbers were impressive enough — 4,340 yards with 41 touchdowns to just five interceptions and a 71% completion rate. But the fiery competitor did some of his best work in the biggest games, like his 386-yard, three-TD performance at Ohio State and his 598-yard day in a 62-52 shootout win against Oklahoma State. He capped the regular season with four scoring tosses in the Big 12 final against TCU.
"Wow. This is unbelievable for me," Mayfield said. "Being up her among these greats is something words can't describe. ... It's such an honor."
Mayfield is in many ways the perfect college football player: Good enough to play at an elite level, but because he is not an ideal NFL prospect, he stuck around long enough to lead Oklahoma to three Big 12 championships and two Playoff appearances.
He also is among the most polarizing college football players of recent vintage.
Mayfield was arrested in February and pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors, including public intoxication. He was also punished by Sooners coach Lincoln Riley after making an obscene gesture toward Kansas players during a game in November.
And, in Week 2, he showed his exuberance with an act that brought his first apology of the season.
After the Sooners' 31-16 win at Ohio State, Mayfield ran around the field at Ohio Stadium with a crimson OU flag, then took it to the “O” at midfield and tried to stick it in the ground as his teammates celebrated around him.
On the following Monday, Mayfield that he didn’t mean any disrespect. He said he should have saved his celebration for the locker room, adding that he would be upset if someone did that on Oklahoma’s home field.
The next step for for the former walk-on: To once again prove some folks wrong. Listed at 6-1, 220 pounds — and that might be a stretch — Mayfield is not the prototype NFL quarterback prospect, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most prolific passers in college football history.
“I’m going to have the same work ethic and mentality,” Mayfield said Friday. “I think I’ve proven that size doesn’t matter. Even if you had a 6-5 quarterback, you’re not going to see over my left tackle. He’s 6-8. I’m just excited to be able to play the game of football. Winning is fun, and something that I work hard to do. That should be accounted for more than any size, any measurement.”
Mayfield is likely to be a much-debated prospect in the months leading up to the NFL draft in late April. Same goes for his fellow Heisman finalist, and last year’s Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
Mayfield will likely be compared to other undersized quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and maybe Johnny Manziel. His mobility and ability to improvise makes those Wilson-Manziel comparisons seem more apt.
“Being compared to those guys is an honor,” Mayfield said.
The Manziel comparison is not necessarily positive. Manziel was a college superstar and Heisman winner who played a highly improvisational game. He was a much better and more frequent runner in college than Mayfield. Mayfield is a more refined passer. Manziel’s biggest issues, though, were not physical skills and talent. He came into the NFL with baggage when he was a first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2014. After two years in the league, he was released, with some questioning his commitment to football. Manziel has had run-ins with the law in college and after.
“We’re going to hear plenty of Johnny Manziel comparisons because they’re convenient. And I think a big reason is many overlooked Manziel’s issues and got burned, so they’ll overcompensate with Mayfield even though his red flags aren’t at a Manziel level,” said draft analyst Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout.com. “I’m not saying there aren’t concerns — there are. Mayfield needs to mature. But Manziel felt entitled, Mayfield feels motivated, which is a key difference when assessing each’s character.”
Trent Dilfer, the former NFL quarterback who trains personal quarterback coaches and works with the Elite 11 camp for top high school prospects, said he doesn’t necessarily like the Wilson comparisons for Mayfield.
“Baker is a fantastic quarterback. I have nothing bad to say about Baker except that he doesn’t have a lot of power,” Dilfer said.
The quarterbacks that most get talked about as possible first-rounders this year are UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold — two third-year players who could leave college early. Wyoming’s Josh Allen, another junior, has the size (6-5, 240 pounds) and physical tools that NFL teams love but is raw.
“These guys are big, thick-jointed, powerful guys,” Dilfer said. “They have NFL bodies.”
Mayfield doesn’t have that, but he has completed more than 70 percent of his passes the last two seasons and accuracy is maybe the most important trait for a quarterback transitioning from college to the NFL.
Brugler said Mayfield generates a wide range of evaluations among NFL scouts.
“You can count on one hand the number of NFL starters his size, and his brash personality won’t be for everyone, so his skill set requires a GM willing to think outside the box. But he routinely backed it up on the field at Oklahoma,” Brugler said. “All of these prospects have flaws, so Mayfield is right in the mix to be a first-round pick.”