Baker Mayfield made his case as an NFL player for the past 30-plus games. The former Oklahoma quarterback won a bunch of games, helped the Sooners to the playoffs twice, won the Heisman once and showed everything from solid leadership to how to deal in crisis communication.
There’s not much more Mayfield can do in a game situation, particularly in an exhibition game like the upcoming Senior Bowl to improve his draft position. Mayfield is scheduled to play, but honestly, what can he gain by playing behind an offensive line he’s not familiar with and receivers he’s never thrown to before? Any questions about his leadership, his skills, desires or wants can be handled during practice or even after-practice interviews.
Likely, Mayfield is a first-round pick. A great performance during practice will help his case, but a great performance in the game, itself, won’t be the barometer NFL scouts use to evaluate him.
Meanwhile, there’s another likely first-round draft pick who has little to gain the rest of the way. It would be unconventional and a bit rogue, but Oklahoma guard Trae Young could sit the rest of the season and still be a lottery pick. Young’s stock is high right now. Now, possibly there’s more for him to prove, but consider even if Young faltered the rest of the season, played horribly and didn’t match his numbers from the first part of the year, he’d still be a lottery pick.
We haven’t seen a college star, not in basketball anyway, sit out voluntarily, but it’s bound to happen, especially in this age where football players are skipping out on bowl games and families (such as LaVar Ball) are orchestrating futures. We’ve seen football players skip out on real games and we’ve seen LSU basketball player Ben Simmons and his team skip out on a chance to play postseason games, too.
Young is leading the NCAA in scoring and in assists. He’s got plenty of game experience and plenty of film for any NBA organization to sift through. He’s likely a top-10 pick. Could he improve? Well, sure. Could he dip to the bottom of the first round? Well, probably not. The real likelihood is Young’s stock is pretty much set.
Kyrie Irving’s was. He played the first eight games of the season for Duke before getting injured. He was still considered the best college player in the country. Irving returned for the NCAA tournament and played just 11 game the entire season. He didn’t need to continue playing. Despite the lack of experience, and despite his injury, Irving was the No. 1 pick overall.
Brandon Jennings was selected 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2009 draft. Jennings wasn’t near the player Young is, and Jennings decided to skip college and play pro ball in Europe. Did Jennings help his draft stock by shooting 38 percent in Italy and averaging seven points per game?
Terrance Ferguson averaged 15 minutes per game, 4.6 points and 1.2 rebounds per while playing pro ball in Australia. Ferguson was drafted in front of the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Derrick White last June. The Thunder weren’t deterred.
Quitting in the middle of the season could be devastating for Young or for the first player who eventually will do it. Red flags would be raised and Young would be criticized for everything from not caring to skipping out on his teammates. It could also be a financial loser for Young.
But the reality is, Young is going to be drafted early in the first round. It doesn’t matter if he plays another another game for Oklahoma and I wouldn’t blame him a bit if he decided not to.