Why NFL executives believe Baker Mayfield would be the first QB chosen in this year’s NFL Draft, the prospects rising fastest, plus a best guess of the NFL’s Week 1 prime time games, and more
As the NFL Draft nears, the only certainty is complete uncertainty over how the top of the board will play out next Thursday night.
Uncertainty reigns supreme because this is the first draft in recent memory where it is entirely possible that no quarterbacks are chosen in the top-five picks. And it seems unlikely that more than one of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis, Ole Miss’ Matt Corrall, or Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder come off the board in the top-10.
There is though, one veteran quarterback very much available who could shape how quarterback-desperate franchisees build their boards.
“Baker [Mayfield] would be the first quarterback taken if he were in this year’s draft class,” an NFC personnel executive tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team.
Mayfield has something Willis, Pickett, nor Matt Corral nor Sam Howell, or high-rising Desmond Ridder have; at least a modicum of proven NFL success.
“Just go back and look at his 2019 season; he already has a playoff win on the road in the divisional round and almost took down the eventual conference champion Chiefs on the road.”
Some sources inside the league believe the Seahawks could be working to bring Mayfield to Seattle, dropping him into an offense that features receivers D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and tight end Noah Fant in an NFC West that is consistently among the more competitive divisions in football.
Even Mayfield has suggested Seattle is his most likely destination.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers have been linked to Mayfield in various reports, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the New Orleans Saints or Atlanta Falcons check in on Mayfield, either.
Whether it’s the Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, or Carolina Panthers who decide to take their chances in the draft to find their next quarterback rather than trading for Mayfield, there are some inherent risks and benefits that need to be debated inside war rooms across the league before coming to any decision.
Drafting Willis, Pickett, Corrall, Howell, or Ridder comes with the advantage both of having a quarterback on a team-friendly rookie contract, and control for upwards of six-plus seasons; a four-year rookie contract, possible fifth-year option, and franchise tag, that would make rolling the dice on one of the incoming quarterbacks possibly a better financial move. Though, it’s also one that comes with many risks.
“The biggest thing holding this class back is just the basic boxes of measurables,” former NFL Executive Of The Year Randy Mueller, who now runs MuellerFootball.com, tells FanSided. “Six-foot tall quarterbacks are still challenged with vision from the pocket. Just because Drew Brees and Russell Wilson have made it work, they are — by far — the exceptions. And their height was the reason they weren’t first-round picks.”
Among this year’s top quarterbacks, only Pickett and Ridder are taller than 6-foot-3, which almost by default has pushed this year’s passers down most boards.
“You have to be willing to take a big leap of faith for anyone in this group other than Pickett and Ridder,” Mueller explains. “It’s just a fact. The pocket isn’t for everyone.”
The executive isn’t alone in his belief that Mayfield stands out and above this year’s quarterback class.
“If all things are equal,” an AFC college scouting director tells FanSided. “The number of years on rookie-deal, etc. Baker would be the first quarterback chosen in this class.”
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about much in this NFL Draft, beyond the fact that none of the top passers are viewed as potential franchise quarterbacks, and certainly not worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick. That uncertainty about this year’s quarterbacks is what has led to much uncertainty about how the top of the board shakes out.
As for Mayfield, while he has the experience, he’s anything but a sure-bet, himself.
“He needs personnel around him to have team success,” the scouting director says. “He also doesn’t need the constant changing of coaches. If you look at the top quarterback selected in the draft each year, the ones that struggle are the ones who never have coaching stability.”
Could Pete Carroll and the Seahawks or Matt Rhule and the Panthers offer Mayfield that stability? Do they even view the former No. 1 overall pick more favorably than this year’s quarterbacks?
We’re about to find out.
NFL Draft’s highest risers
If it seems like it’s more difficult this year to get a feel for how the NFL Draft is going to shake out, you’re not alone.
Even those inside war rooms, and among scouts who have traversed the country for months during the college football season before going on the pro-day circuit seem to have less ironclad knowledge of who will land where and how this draft will shake out.
There are certainly some consensuses that have become truths about this class; it is historically deep at EDGE, there are immediate impact wide receivers to be had throughout this draft, and teams searching for tight ends may even find starting-caliber players as late as Saturday afternoon.
But, who are this year’s sleepers?
Who has the chance to get chosen way earlier than fans and those in the media expect?
“If Travon Walker goes No. 1 overall, he may be the biggest riser in a generation,” an AFC personnel executive tells FanSided. “[We had] a second-round grade on him during the season.”
To find out who those inside the league believe will be chosen way earlier than many predict, FanSided surveyed multiple NFL scouts, coaches, and executives.
Here are their answers:
NFC Executive: Lewis Cine, Safety, Georgia
“I’m not sure there is a high-riser this year, but I’d keep an eye on Lewis Cine. He has all the speed and instincts you want at that position.”
AFC Personnel director: Trey McBride TE, Colorado State
“When I watch Trey McBride, he’s the type of kid I could see having an All-Madden-like career.”
NFL Scout: Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota
“Mafe’s probably the biggest sleeper to watch right now. He’s just so explosive and violent at the point of attack.”
NFC Personnel Executive: Travis Jones, DT, UCONN
“Jones could come off the board early because he’s a really good one-tech, and there aren’t many of them in this year’s class.”
AFC Scout: Zion Johnson, OT, Boston College
“I think Johnson could come off the board a little earlier than the public seems to think.”
NFC Personnel Executive: Deangelo Malone, OLB, Western Kentucky
“I have no idea where he’ll get drafted, but I like him a lot. He’s undersized right now, but has the length and speed to grow into a starting linebacker. Plus, he plays hard, that’s the most important thing.”
AFC Player Personnel Executive: Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota
“Mafe’s rise has been something to see. He could easily go Round 1, most of us had him as a third or even fourth-round pick coming out of last fall.”
"“I know I have to find my way back in. So, yeah, if I have to come in as a backup, that fine. But that’s not where I’m staying. And when I prove that I’m a starter, I want to be able to step on the field as such. I just need that opportunity to walk through the door.”"
It’s time for one team, one of the NFL’s smart teams, to finally give Colin Kaepernick a second chance.
Clearly, Kaepernick believes that he is capable of a return to the National Football League, after being out of football since 2016. And it is wholly obvious that Kaepernick is prepared to earn whatever opportunity comes his way.
Look, at this stage it might be a fair assumption that Kaepernick is no longer one of the 32 best quarterbacks currently walking the planet. But, to suggest he isn’t one of the top 64 capable passers alive serves to only strengthen the argument — and his argument, that the NFL has colluded against him.
Cooper Rush, Tom Kennedy, Mike Glennon, Jake Fromm, and even someone named Tim Boyle threw a pass in the NFL last season.
Kaepernick came three points shy of winning a Super Bowl a decade ago.
That Kaepernick went so far as to say that he’s willing to sign as a backup only underscores just how motivated he is to get back into the league, back onto the field.
If Kaepernick arrives in a minicamp somewhere across the country this spring, there would undoubtedly be a swarm of national media covering his first practice, his first throws, and certainly his first press availability. But, we also live in a far different media and cultural climate than we inhabited when Kaepernick first took a knee protesting social injustice during the national anthem before ultimately opting out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017.
Kaepernick returning to the NFL would be a one-day story in the year 2022.
And, a strong locker room isn’t going to be distracted by Kaepernick’s political beliefs, especially if his teammates believe he gives the team the best chance to win.
Hell, we have seen in recent years that players accused of battering women or who get busted with drugs or face gun charges largely still have a place in the NFL. But, use the attention paid to the national anthem to protest social injustice seems in the eyes of NFL owners and general managers to be a worse transgression.
It’s time that changes.
Earlier this spring, Kaepernick threw at Michigan’s spring game in front of scouts from across the NFL, and by all accounts had a strong showing.
There is only upside for a team signing Kaepernick this spring, especially if they find themselves in need of a starting-caliber quarterback.
If Kaepernick impresses during minicamps, and ultimately training camp and the preseason, the floor is a team has just signed a veteran backup quarterback who has played in a Super Bowl.
In a worst-case scenario, it becomes obvious very quickly that being out of the NFL for five seasons has eroded Kaepernick’s skills to the point where he’s unable to play at the highest level. At which point, he’d be released, and everyone simply moves on with their lives.
So, what’s stopping a smart team from letting Kaepernick try?
The NFL Draft is rightfully in the spotlight, at center stage of the NFL Calendar, but late-April is or early May is traditionally when the schedule-makers reveal the product of their months of labor.
As the much anticipated schedule release nears, this feels like the ideal time to offer some predictions for the prime time matchups for Week 1 of the upcoming season.
Without further adieu …
Thursday Night Football: Los Angeles Rams vs. Buffalo Bills
This is the Super Bowl matchup some expected when the NFL Playoffs began last January.
Not only do the Rams get the traditional banner-raising treatment in their home stadium, the site of their Super Bowl victory, but this matchup would pit two of the most prolific quarterbacks in the league; Matthew Stafford and Josh Allen against one another.
But, there’s more.
After a frenetic offseason in Buffalo, the Bills are once again among the favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVII, and one of their marquee additions is, of course, Von Miller, who was pivotal to Los Angeles’ run to Super Sunday and victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last February.
Sunday Night Football: Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers
The Cowboys remain among the biggest ratings draws in the league, and the intrigue surrounding Aaron Rodgers’ Packers remains high, especially after the departure of Davante Adams via a trade to the Las Vegas Raiders, and the likely arrival of at least one rookie wide receiver into Rodgers’ arsenal.
Something about two of the NFL’s heritage franchises, boasting two of the largest and most passionate fanbases, inside one of the most legendary venues in sports, kicking off the Sunday Night package this season.
Monday Night Football Doubleheader Game 1: Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is presumably the debut broadcast of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman’s heralded arrival to ESPN, and the NFL is going to want to give the Walt Disney Company a star-studded matchup to break in its new Monday Night Football booth.
Presuming the NFL is holding the Kansas City Chiefs’ prime time debut for Amazon’s maiden Thursday Night broadcast in Week 2, there doesn’t get much more star power than Tom Brady and the boundless storylines of Tampa Bay’s wild offseason and Joe Burrow kicking off the Cincinnati Bengals’ quest to return to the Super Bowl.
Monday Night Football Doubleheader Game 2: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Few teams have undergone more significant transformations this offseason than the Chargers and Raiders.
Not only did Vegas extend quarterback Derek Carr after trading for Adams, but fortified its defense by dropping Chandler Jones opposite Maxx Crosby and adding Rock Ya Sin to the secondary, as part of the prolific arms race in the AFC West. Likewise, the Chargers acquired Khalil Mack and top cornerback J.C. Jackson in hopes of building a defense worthy of complementing an offense led by Justin Herbert, who may be on the cusp of becoming the premier quarterback in the NFL.
Whatever the opening weekend slate winds up being from Thursday night all the way through Monday, the excitement for the NFL’s return is palpable. And the season will be here before you know it.