Baker Mayfield is the toast of Cleveland now and maybe for the foreseeable future.
When he replaced a concussed Tyrod Taylor just before halftime against the Jets on Thursday, it’s not as if people didn’t expect anything. Mayfield is a No. 1 overall pick.
But Mayfield delivered more, and more quickly, than most people figured he would. He was 17-of-23 passing for 201 yards, and while he didn’t figure into any touchdowns, he led the Browns to points on four of six drives that didn’t end with a kneel down. He revived a bad team that was playing badly and gave an entire city free Bud Light.
Mayfield has a long history of being really impressive in debuts.
That sort of goes back to high school. Mayfield’s first start for Texas powerhouse Lake Travis High School in 2011 was in a win against a huge rival, Westlake. Mayfield had decent numbers in that game but really took off in the next two, when he threw 11 touchdowns.
Mayfield wasn’t a total unknown coming out of high school. He’d played for a state-championship program in a state teeming with recruiters. But he was short (listed at 6’2, which is wrong unless he shrunk by an inch by the time of his NFL Combine five years later), and he didn’t wind up with a scholarship.
He started his college career at Texas Tech, where, in 2013, he became the first true freshman walk-on to ever start at QB in Week 1 for an FBS team. Mayfield’s first game was against SMU in Dallas. He was 43-of-60 for 413 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions that day, and the Red Raiders beat the Mustangs 41-23.
“He’s not a real walk-on player,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said after that game . “He had some scholarship offers and for whatever reason at the end they filled up and he fell through the cracks. But 67 touchdowns in high school and eight interceptions and a state championship — he’s the real deal.”
For reasons the sides will never agree on, Mayfield’s relationship with Texas Tech broke down as the 2013 season wore along. So he transferred to Oklahoma.
Mayfield’s first game at OU was against Akron in Week 1 of 2015. He’d been required to sit out the 2014 season under NCAA transfer rules. Against the Zips, he was 23-of-33 for 388 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Dominant starts against SMU, Akron, and the Jets don’t prove Mayfield is good. But he’s always followed them up with good stuff.
After lighting up SMU to start 2013, Mayfield put together four more great games. At one point, he was 5-0 with about 1,500 yards and an efficiency rating near 150. Injuries and, in hindsight, some bad QB decision-making by Texas Tech led him to only play three more games for the school, but that was more a problem for TTU than it was for Mayfield.
After beating down Akron in his Sooners debut, Mayfield became the most efficient passer in college football history and a Heisman Trophy winner. He was good for the rest of 2015 and helped Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff. He set the single-season passer rating record in 2016 and then broke his own record in returning OU to the Playoff in 2017.
Not to imply a cause-and-effect relationship, but Mayfield’s splashy debuts are fitting for a guy who’s always publicly trying to prove something.
He wasn’t supposed to be anything at Texas Tech. He wasn’t supposed to be a Heisman winner at Oklahoma. And he was far from a consensus No. 1 overall pick.
Mayfield is exceptionally petty, and he loves coming from nowhere to prove people wrong. He’s not coming from nowhere anymore, but he’s kept that part of his persona.
You got it big fella! At least tag me in all your stuff.— Baker Mayfield (@bakermayfield) December 29, 2017
Baker Mayfield keeps a list of media members who have crossed a line. For motivation, he stores screenshots of offending tweets in his phone. Is that a healthy way for an NFL QB to live?https://t.co/B28jYqfdJB— The MMQB (@theMMQB) March 29, 2018
So it’s cool that when Mayfield breaks onto a new scene, he’s immediately good.
“It’s kind of how he’s wired,” former OU teammate Ty Darlington told USA Today in 2016. “Having a chip on his shoulder is a big part of who he is. At times he can go to great lengths to create a chip that really isn’t there. At some point, that’s the only problem with that strategy: what about when people stop hating or doubting you? What do you find to motivate you then?”
Mayfield has always been able to figure something out.