The NFL playoffs are still underway, but the 2018 draft is already taking center stage, as Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Baker Mayfield is set for what he calls his first “job interview” at the Reese’s Senior Bowl January 27 — with Denver Broncos Head Coach Vance Joseph serving as his coach for the game.
In fact, the Broncos — whose coaching staff will lead the “North” team in the annual college all-star game — reportedly requested that Mayfield be placed on the North roster, giving their coaches and staff the opportunity for a close look at the controversial and outspoken 22-year-old.
Houston Texans Coach Bill O’Brien and his staff will coach the “South” team in the Senior Bowl. The coaching staffs will get a close-up view of all of the draft prospects playing in the game at practices set to take place January 23 through January 25. Fans will also get a look at their favorite draft prospects, with the practice sessions scheduled to be televised by the NFL Network, as well as by the ESPNU college sports cable network.
The Broncos are apparently scouting Mayfield closely, with the team in desperate need of a quarterback who can restore the franchise, which won Super Bowl 50 just two years ago behind now-retired future Hall of Fame signal caller Peyton Manning, to the level of success Denver maintained through much of the team’s history.
Since their first postseason appearance in 1977 — which ended in a losing Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys — the Broncos have made the playoffs 22 times, including eight trips to the Super Bowl and three Super Bowl victories.
But the Broncos won only five games in the 2017 season — only the second time since 1990 that they won five games or fewer — as they rotated the quarterback role among 2015 seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian, veteran backup Brock Osweiler and 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch.
But teams have raised questions about Mayfield, not only due to his size — at six-feet-one-inch he is considered undersized for an NFL quarterback — but because of his behavior. In addition to an alcohol-related arrest in February of 2017, he made a habit of taunting opposing players, and putting on perhaps overly exuberant on-field celebrations. Mayfield’s acting-out led Oklahoma Sooners Coach Lincoln Riley to take away the quarterback’s team captain badge.
“There are a lot of skeptical people out there who think I have character issues,” Mayfield said in a radio interview last week. “That’s why I’m doing [the Senior Bowl] – to sit down and have a conversation with people. Let them know I love the game of football and I’ll do anything to win. Quite frankly, I think that matters a lot more than anything else.”
In both his junior and senior years at Oklahoma, Mayfield posted eye-popping numbers, completing more than 70 percent of his passes for averages topping 11 yards per attempt. On his way, as a senior, to leading the Sooners into the College Football Playoffs and the Rose Bowl — where Oklahoma lost an overtime heartbreaker to Georgia — Mayfield threw 43 touchdown passes against just six interceptions in his 14 games.
The Broncos hold the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, which opens on April 26. Two west coast quarterbacks, Josh Rosen of UCLA and Sam Darnold of USC, are widely expected to be the top two quarterbacks in the draft, likely taken in the top two slots.
But another quarterback-starved team, the New York Jets, have also been rumored to have an eye on Mayfield. The Jets select with the sixth pick, and could attempt to trade up to get an edge on Denver in the draft order, allowing them to give Mayfield a shot at guiding the struggling AFC East team.
The Reese’s Senior Bowl will be played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, at 1:30 p.m. Central Time, 2:30 p.m. Eastern and 11:30 a.m. Pacific on January 27, and will be broadcast live by the NFL Network.