I’ll do my best to sum up Baker Mayfield’s 2015 season with a few choice words: surprising, amazing, erratic, explosive, successful, loud, crazy, chaotic. That should give just about anyone a good idea of how Mayfield’s 2015 campaign went down. However, for the most part, those words don’t describe Mayfield’s 2016 season particularly well. He’s still the same player, as evidenced by his sick dance moves, over-the-top celebrations, and aggressive style of play, but he’s having a very different season than last.
In 2015, Mayfield was effectively unpredictable. In 2016, he’s been unpredictably effective. Mayfield has perfectly honed his talents, transforming into a lethally efficient gunslinger. He’s trimmed the fat by minimizing mistakes like interceptions and fumbles and improving his running ability. He’s mastered his internal clock. He rarely flees the pocket early, but he’s never afraid to scramble if necessary. His running has gotten smoother, his passes stronger.
Mayfield has uniquely sharpened each aspect of his play. He is, without question, better than he was a season ago. If the season ended today, Mayfield would record the most efficient season of all time. Yes, that tops some all-time seasons such as Cam Newton in 2010, Jameis Winston in 2013, and Robert Griffin III in 2011. In fact, it wouldn’t be very close. According to Sports Reference, Mayfield currently leads the previous leader in Passer Efficiency Rating (PER), Russel; Wilson, by 2.92 points. That’s about equal to the gap between Wilson and 5th all-time, Ryan Dinwiddie (3.6 points). Of course, Mayfield still has two (and potentially three) games left to increase that gap or lose the record altogether.
Nonetheless, if I told you that a player was having the most efficient season for a QB of all time, you would expect him to be garnering literal boatloads of national attention, right? Not exactly. ESPN tabs Mayfield as 4th in the Heisman race, equal to his 4th-place finish last season. That puts him behind Deshaun Watson, who is having an impressive season, but whose numbers pale in comparison to Mayfield’s. Even the great Lamar Jackson has posted a measly 152.8 PER, which is significantly below Mayfield’s mark. PER shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all though, so let’s try ESPN’s Quarterback Rating (QBR). As it turns out, Mayfield tops both Jackson and Watson in that one as well.
The point is this: Mayfield is putting on a show, he’s having the most efficient season of all time, and he’s doing it quietly. I know, it seems almost paradoxical to put Mayfield and quietly in the same sentence. But the point remains. Mayfield’s numbers are the CFB equivalent to Steph Curry last season, but he is getting almost no Heisman talk. Why is that exactly? Let me introduce you to reasons 1 and 2, better known as Lamar Jackson and Dede Westbrook.
The Louisville Lightning Bolt
ICYMI, Jackson has taken the CFB world by storm over the past few months. You could pretty much sum up the most important CFB storylines this season with six words: Alabama, Baylor, Tom Herman, Lamar Jackson. Yes, he’s become that famous, and rightfully so. Jackson has blown his opponents away like a cardinal tornado. He hasn’t been incredibly efficient, which his numbers reflect, but it hasn’t mattered. Jackson has been putting up big numbers, making flashy plays, and winning games, and that’s what really matters.
If the Heisman went to the actual best player each season, it would be a very different award. Shock factor and flashiness play a big role in this award, and Jackson has both. He went from no-name to America’s sweetheart in about three weeks. His running style is equally fluid and explosive, a rare balance to strike. Most importantly, he’s fun to watch. These things don’t make him the best player in America, but they’ve all but locked up the Heisman for him.
Mayfield, who was slow out of the gate, never had a chance to compete with Jackson. When a vacuum like Jackson is sucking up all that attention, it can be tough for an underdog like Mayfield to break out. But, Jackson isn’t the only thing holding him back.
Speedy TD Dede Westbrook
Mayfield’s biggest competitor might just be his number-one target. Westbrook’s epic hot streak has soaked up plenty of national attention. Westbrook has been amazing, but probably not better than his own teammate. After all, where would Westbrook be without Mayfield’s inexplicably precise deep balls? It’s not rare for teammates to unintentionally steal each other’s spotlights, but this is an exceptional case. Not even Oklahoma can decide which candidate is most worthy.
The sports world has seen this story before, and we likely know how it ends. Both candidates steal votes from each other, preventing either from truly separating themselves from the field. Even though both candidates are undoubtedly Heisman-worthy, neither will win take the cake, a true tragedy.
In 2015, Mayfield’s breakout was pleasantly unexpected. He’s been better in 2016, but he’s been unexpectedly quiet, but that’s okay. After all, when it comes down to guys like Jackson, Westbrook, and Mayfield, there isn’t much of a wrong choice.