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It’s not uncommon for NFL prospects to use players drafted ahead of them as inspiration. Baker Mayfield’s chip may be the largest of any first-round prospect in the 2018 draft.
He was overlooked by numerous FBS programs despite a stellar high school career. He won the starting job at Texas Tech as a true freshman walk-on. After being denied a scholarship from Texas Tech, Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma, where he became a two-time Heisman finalist and the winner in 2017.
Mayfield has received mixed reviews during the prospect evaluation period. He has been a hit in workouts, but running a 4.88 at the NFL scouting combine raised concerns about how elusive he can be at the NFL level.
SI.com’s Robert Klemko followed Mayfield around prior to his appearance on Russell Wilson’s QB2QB show on ESPN and discovered that the source of his motivation stems from negative opinions by analysts and pundits.
Today, Mayfield is keeping a list of the media members who have crossed a line, he says, and he stores screenshots of offending tweets in his phone. All of it serves as motivation when he’s working out alone, he told Wilson.
“At the same time it really doesn’t bother me that much,” Mayfield said of the criticism, “because I know the people that say some of these things have never actually taken a snap behind center, never had a 300-pound lineman about to hit them while they have to read the defense downfield.
“If I was worried too much about it, I’d be worried about the wrong things. But I do use some of it as motivation. I can listen to all the people patting me on the back, or I can listen to the people saying I need to get better. I know I need to get better, or else there would be nobody saying that.”
Keeping a list of all the haters is one way to go about it. It also may not be a great trait. Mayfield’s former tight end Mark Andrews, who has no motive to malign Mayfield, perfectly encapsulated Mayfield’s mindset, for better or worse.
His former teammate and close friend Mark Andrews says Mayfield takes high-profile criticisms very seriously: “It could be the smallest thing in the world, but in his head it’s the world ending.”
That volatility doesn’t bode well for long-term, but mental tranquility is not quite Mayfield’s strong suit. That anger may have fueled him in a rout against Kansas, but there are no winless Big 12 programs in the NFL.
The reason Mayfield earns comparisons to Manziel instead of Wilson is because he burns red-hot. Mayfield’s motivational techniques also garnered negative reactions from players Klemko interviewed for the feature. Retired offensive tackle Joe Thomas expressed concern about the equanimity and composure of a quarterback who’s motivated by negativity.
“The thing that scares me about someone who is motivated by criticism,” Thomas says, “is that he could become overwhelmed with the amount of negative. You wonder with Baker, is there a critical mass where there’s so much criticism, and there are so many people saying he can’t do it, he just gives up? When your confidence has been shattered, you lose love for the game, because what people were saying about me was so important.
If criticism is what Mayfield seeks, there’s one franchise that is a magnet for it. Mayfield has been one of the few quarterback prospects to openly court the Cleveland Browns and even called them an “incredible situation.” If Mayfield is truly a solar panel transferring negativity into productivity, he’ll have plenty of that with the Browns, who have been the Kansas Jayhawks of the NFL for the better part of two decades.
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