News & Analysis

NFL Week 7 Mailbag: Answering questions on Baker Mayfield, Tua Tagovailoa and the return of the Big Ten

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) warms up on the sidelines at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, October 18, 2020. (ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST)

We finally got a taste of Big Ten football last night, and today we get a three-course meal of it. The Big Ten has more top-100 prospects on PFF's 2021 NFL Draft board than any other conference (22), so to say I’m excited about today would be an understatement. Let’s get to those questions, shall we?

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I touched on this last week, but I believe the answer is yes. The Raiders' offensive splits with and without Henry Ruggs are insane. They’ve gone from 1.86 points per drive in 2019 to 3.04 this year with little in the way of personnel changes. The Broncos are still TBD after injuries to Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton but don’t be surprised to see them start rolling here soon. Again, deep threats are necessary in today’s NFL.

You have to at least give him this season for two reasons:

  1. You know what kind of backup Case Keenum is, and it’s not a Super Bowl-caliber backup.
  2. You know what this defense is, and it’s not a Super Bowl-caliber defense (without an elite offense).

The problem is that they look like they’re going to be good enough to play their way out of any viable franchise quarterback option in the draft. I still believe Baker Mayfield has franchise-quarterback talent, but something is drastically off. If this is the same guy we see the rest of the year, I would advocate for the Browns aggressively pursuing a quarterback in a ridiculously deep quarterback draft class.

First off, Dwayne Haskins is the only quarterback I could see factoring into a draft opinion on Fields. Troy Smith not hacking it in the league doesn’t mean anything for Fields. Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller were never really considered serious prospects as passers and didn’t come close to the success Fields or Haskins did in that regard.

It’s a problem that I, PFF and pretty much every evaluator in any capacity struggles with, however. How does one account for supporting cast and scheme when evaluating the quarterback position? Josh Allen had no help at Wyoming and has turned a lot of things around in the NFL this year. Daniel Jones had no help at Duke and hasn’t improved all that much since entering the league. Deshaun Watson had a loaded Clemson roster and was damn-near elite from Day 1. Dwayne Haskins had an elite Ohio State roster and hasn’t even put up one good game yet.

That said, we are trying as much as we can to quantify a quarterback’s contributions to the success or failure of a given play, as well as what kind of opportunities the quarterback had for success or failure. In the Ohio State scenario, the numbers are very clear that Fields did far more of the heavy lifting to put up his gaudy stats than Haskins ever did. I think that’s why we feel so comfortable about him as QB2.

I’m glad you asked, as I just wrote about how I’d go about fixing the Jets! The Seahawks pick is likely to be late in the first round. While the receiver and corner classes are shaping up to be very deep, I’d advocate looking at the edge with that pick for a few reasons:

  1. It’s an obvious need.
  2. There’s a ton of raw athletes in this edge class.
  3. Edge talent is easy to identify and doesn’t last long.

That last point is something I’ll likely do an article on this spring, but if you look through the top of PFF’s edge rusher grades, only five of the current top 20 were drafted outside the first round. While we don’t know what type of scheme the Jets will be running defensively in 2020, the edges I identified were Michigan’s Kwity Paye and Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham.

There were so few opt-outs in the grand scheme of things that I don’t see this being an issue. Part of the “value” of producing earlier is simply playing time. More live reps is a good thing.

I’d have to go with the PFF Forecast as a BIG favorite. The line opens at -400. They have age and overall physical fitness on their side. The only thing keeping this line from being off altogether is that Steve has early 90’s wrestling in his blood, and Sam is an MMA connoisseur. Don’t think that’s gonna save 'em, though.

In my opinion, it would be completely asinine for him to return to school. Well-run franchises rarely end up with the No. 1 overall pick — almost by definition. That’s just how the draft is set up. If he really thinks the Jets are beyond repair, Lawrence has more than enough leverage to force a trade. And here’s the thing … not a soul would blame him. Jets fans would be like, “yea; we get it.”

It’s not going to hurt his “brand,” just like how Eli Manning’s forced trade never gets brought up when discussing his legacy.

With the kind of guy Lawrence seems to be, I doubt he comes back to school or forces a trade. If he can make the Jets a winner, he’ll be a legend forever in New York. That doesn’t sound too bad to me.

First off, I think he has a stronger arm than Joe Burow. It's not by much, but I’d give Tua that edge. Burrow, however, is well on the low end for arm strength in the NFL; I’d put him slightly below-average for the position in the league.

Here is Tua putting about everything he has into one and it going around 60 yards:

Side note: the amount of people angry about that factual tweet with no editorializing is still hilarious to me

There’s a number of quarterbacks in the league who are on a similar tier to Tua in terms of arm strength. The most successful one in that group would be Deshaun Watson. He had a hail mary that went about 65 yards in the air against the Pats a few years back and has routinely topped out at just over 60 on his deep balls:

No one is confusing Watson or Tua for Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes, but they’ve got more than enough to get by.

Baron Browning is far, far more intriguing to me as an edge prospect — which is reportedly where he’ll be playing more this year — than he is at off-ball linebacker. His play speed and processing weren’t close to the level you’d like to see as an inside linebacker. When given a simple task like “beat the man in front of you,” however, Browning looked considerably more capable. He got home for 19 pressures on only 57 pass-rushing snaps last season. He’s a long, explosive athlete, and as I outlined above, edge talent is easy to recognize because it’s so tools-based.

As far as Zach Harrison, from a pure grading perspective, he’s a ways behind Young and Bosa to start his career. He earned a 70.7 overall grade as a freshman on 281 snaps compared to an 80.7 for Young and an 86.5 for Bosa. To me, he’s a different kind of defensive end entirely. I don’t quite see the bend that Young or Bosa had, but he’s got grown-man strength for a true freshman. I see him more as a Trey Flowers-esque player with inside/outside versatility and a massive frame to grow into. He still looks legit for such a young player, and while I wouldn’t lock him into the top five, he’s got first-round tools for sure.

I will say this is getting close. Chase is easily the more complete, true “X” type of receiver. That role is diminishing around the league, though, with the increases in bunch sets, condensed formations and motion. Just like last year, when the Raiders made Ruggs the first receiver taken in the draft, I can see teams feeling the same way about Waddle in 2021. That’s because speed and playmaking ability to that degree is more dangerous than ever in the NFL (as I say pretty much every week). At this point, it’s “pick your poison” because both are deadly (I hate myself).

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