With the NFL draft a week away, we have either come upon the worst-kept secret in this year’s selection process, or the best smokescreen/agent propaganda we’ve seen in a while.
Baker Mayfield to the New York Jets isn’t just a media thing anymore. That draft marriage has started to leak into the thought process of other NFL teams’ front offices. To that point, Yahoo Sports asked four high-ranking personnel men to spitball the top five picks in the draft, either based on their knowledge of this year’s process or their knowledge of the front offices holding the picks. The four agreed on only one player/team combination in the top five: Mayfield and the Jets.
Given that it’s a full week before the draft and that the Jets are sitting at No. 3 – which is arguably far less obvious than a team sitting at No. 1 – the strong belief suggests one of three things is happening:
The Jets have an affinity for Mayfield and it has become a terribly kept secret.
The Jets favor only a pair of quarterbacks and are wary of the Cleveland Browns taking one of them first overall, then having another team (like, say, the Buffalo Bills) trading up to the New York Giants’ slot at No. 2 overall and taking the other.
Someone in Mayfield’s camp is pushing the Jets/Mayfield marriage in hopes of amplifying his market inside the top three picks.
Given what typically goes on in the final days before an NFL draft, it could be any one of those scenarios. Here is the rationale for each of the three schools of thought …
1. The Jets are locked on Mayfield and it has leaked
Beyond the obvious need, there are two factors that brought the four personnel men to the same Mayfield conclusion with the Jets. And they both dealt with system and personality.
First, Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates runs a West Coast system that has no more perfect fit than Mayfield in this draft. Not only is it predicated on timing, accuracy and quick decisions – which are Mayfield’s most refined skills – but the Oklahoma quarterback has more than enough arm strength and mobility to fit the scheme.
Second, the Jets will need a quarterback who can suit Bates’ personality. Two of the four personnel men had some level of familiarity with Bates and said Mayfield has a similar brand of intensity and drive. Both said chemistry with his offensive coordinator will be vital for Mayfield, and each believes Bates can push and challenge Mayfield while still earning his respect. That will be extremely important on a Jets team that should still have some offensive growing pains ahead.
2. The Jets are putting out a smokescreen to protect their actual target
Misinformation is a part of the draft process. Rarely, if ever, does a team so obviously communicate in some form who it has become infatuated with, particularly when that player is a quarterback – and most especially when that quarterback could be taken ahead of its pick.
Typically, if you hear any player aside from the No. 1 overall pick is locked into a franchise, something is afoot – especially when that player is several slots down in a draft process that is often wildly unpredictable. More often than not, being certain a team covets a particular player or quarterback a full week before the draft begins is some form of misinformation.
Why would the Jets be putting out misinformation now? Start with the fact that New York traded up for the No. 3 pick far in advance of the draft – nearly six full weeks before the evaluation process had concluded. At the time, the speculated rationale was that the Jets must value at least three of the available quarterbacks, since they could potentially come off the board 1-2-3 and the team surely wouldn’t have traded to the third spot if it coveted only two quarterbacks.
But given that a month has passed since acquiring the No. 3 pick, it’s possible the Jets have figured out they value two of the available quarterbacks most. In turn, Mayfield may not be one of them, leaving a vulnerability that the Giants could trade out of the No. 2 spot and the top two quarterbacks on the Jets’ board could be selected ahead of them. Some more fuel to that potential trade-up scenario? Giants general manager Dave Gettleman worked with Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane and Bills head coach Sean McDermott when all three men were with the Carolina Panthers. There is strong belief in the personnel community that Beane and McDermott have been given a directive that they must land the Bills’ next quarterback. If Buffalo has to move up to secure that franchise player, Gettleman holds a pick that would guarantee the Bills landed that QB. And nothing facilitates a draft trade more quickly than longtime familiarity or a previous working relationship.
Which delivers the finer point of the smokescreen: If the Jets have two quarterback targets and one of them isn’t Mayfield, the smartest move (aside to trading to the No. 2 spot) is to put out the message that Mayfield is their guy at No. 3. It could induce the Giants, who presumably aren’t taking a quarterback, to stand pat. Or if someone else (including the Bills) covets Mayfield, that team could trade to No. 2 and push down a player the Jets want.
3. Mayfield’s camp is floating the Jets connection
The most direct conduit to draft buzz surrounding a player is the information spread by agents. More so than even media members, agents are constantly talking to front offices and coaching staffs to get an accurate read on players in the draft. Often, the conversations between agents and teams can become a two-way street in which each side is trying to pry loose some valuable intelligence.
It’s possible Mayfield’s camp has floated the Jets’ interest to other NFL personnel. It’s also extremely possible Mayfield’s camp – which could include Oklahoma staffers, family, agents, business associates, a quarterback coach, or even Mayfield himself – has provided information to suggest the Jets are dialed in at No. 3. Part of the sales pitch involving any quarterback is creating the presumption of a strong market. In a draft like this, where the order of quarterback selection still seems fluid, the creation of a market or interest at the highest picks is more important than ever.
One group in which Mayfield has not been underrepresented? The media. He’s been the subject of a Sports Illustrated series and a nonstop staple of draft stories and mock draft speculation. There are few covering the NFL who haven’t had at least one Baker Mayfield conversation with any number of sources. Some of those conversations get written; respected draft analysts begin to slot players and trade information; and when the sifting ends up in print, the connection between Mayfield and the Jets begins to feed itself in a cyclical process.
When the draft kicks off next week, the curtain will ultimately be pulled back and Mayfield’s landing spot will become a matter of record. Instantly, rumors and speculation and informed analysis by personnel evaluators will be laid bare. It’s only then that we’ll know if the connection between Baker Mayfield and the Jets was real, imagined or one more engineered play in a never-ending game of draft poker.
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