Last 2 Heisman winners face scrutiny over NFL futures
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson braced themselves for a long-anticipated flurry of questions at the NFL’s annual scouting combine.
Even practice might not have prepared them for Friday.
The two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks found themselves repeatedly talking about their biggest perceived weaknesses — Mayfield’s size and brash personality and Jackson’s future at quarterback. All they need to do now is convince pro scouts they’re worthy of being first-round draft picks in April.
“I’m the most accurate quarterback in this draft for sure,” said Mayfield, last year’s runaway Heisman winner. “I’m ready to be a franchise guy.”
Perhaps he will be the guy who turns around a struggling franchise, regardless of venue.
After all, Mayfield does possess the gaudy numbers, a multitude of honors and the winning resume pro teams covet in a starting quarterback. Mayfield went 33-6 as Oklahoma’s starter.
What he lacks in size, standing a smidge over 6 feet, Mayfield makes up with a bold confidence and brash personality that ranks second to none.
The combination has occasionally led the blurring of lines between excitable celebration and unsportsmanlike conduct.
Those antics — the planting of the flag at Ohio State, the crotch-grabbing gesture at Kansas and the image of him running onto the field against Texas Tech, his former school, with a T-shirt reading “traitor” — have some NFL executives wondering how it would resonate in a locker room full of grown men.
Mayfield insists, though, he can change his actions.
“I’m up front and honest, brutally honest,” he said. “Some people don’t like that because it’s rare these days.”
But it’s not just the on-the-field incidents that worry some.
Mayfield also was involved an embarrassing run-in with law enforcement officers in Arkansas last offseason and endured the humiliation of being stripped of his captain’s title before his last home game at Oklahoma.
Teammates, however, have never wavered in their support.
“It’s just really a perception,” left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “He’s not the guy you think he is. He’s a captain. He’s a leader. He’s very focused, and he’s going to bring everyone together.”
Jackson finds himself in a vastly different situation.
Despite having equally impressive stats, his own Heisman trophy and playing in an efficient spread offense, the questions about Jackson and former Ohio State star J.T. Barrett are all about fit.
Both were dangerous throwing and running in college, and history suggests the dual-threat quarterbacks either don’t stick around long or stay healthy. Robert Griffin III and Tim Tebow are recent examples, which might explain reports suggesting Jackson will also work out with the receivers on Saturday.
Jackson repeatedly denied it.
“I thought I did a good job at quarterback (at Louisville). I did,” he said. I’m here at the combine to show my ability. It (the talk) is just more motivation and I’m going to show them how good I am.”
While Jackson has the numbers to prove his value at quarterback, Barrett’s numbers suggest something else.
The only three-time captain in Ohio State history played on two Big Ten title teams, a national champion and was chosen the conference quarterback of the year three times. But his inconsistency frustrated fans and have scouts asking questions about his accuracy — and whether he’s capable of being an NFL quarterback.
“I’m here to show 32 teams why they should draft me, and I think I can do that,” Barrett said.
Mayfield has the most to gain or lose here.
If he can sell teams on his personality and that he can play more in the mold of other short quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, Mayfield’s stock could soar and might push him into the top five or 10. If not, Mayfield could have a longer wait on draft day.
But nobody here believes more strongly in Mayfield than the Oklahoma quarterback. All you have to do is ask.
“I think if anyone is going to turn that franchise around, it would be me,” Mayfield said when asked about going to the Cleveland Browns, who have No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks in April.
As for the height question, Mayfield cited some success stories before finishing: “If you want to see anything else, I’ve got three years of tape to prove it.”
Notes: More than a month after Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski committed suicide, the Cougars’ departing starter, Luke Falk, acknowledged he’s still shaken by the event. “It’s still just feels unreal. I know the guys up there are really doing a lot of team activities and trying to come together,” Falk said. “But I don’t think we’ll ever get over it. It’s always going to be with us. Tyler is always going to be with us. Hopefully a lot of good comes from it. Tyler will always be a part of us.”