One of the best quarterbacks from the New York Jets' past spent time recently with potential quarterbacks of the future.
Working in an official mentoring role at the Senior Bowl, Chad Pennington got to know Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, both of whom have been linked to the Jets in pre-draft speculation. For different reasons, they're also two of the most polarizing players among scouts. Pennington, who was in Mobile, Alabama for three days, watched them at practice and the game, and spoke with them individually.
Pennington is an astute observer who played 11 years in the league, so I thought it would be interesting to get his take on the two young quarterbacks. With Mayfield, the biggest question is maturity, on and off the field. The Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma has been arrested once and made headlines last season with his flag-planting, crotch-grabbing histrionics.
Asked how Mayfield would handle New York, Pennington laughed.
"Being from the Midwest, it would certainly be different for him," he told ESPN. "The whole challenge is to make sure you have the right support group. You want to have people in your support group that are going to be honest with you, that have experience, that aren’t looking at you as a superstar. You want people that look at you as a human being, like, how can we truly assist this guy?
"That’s where I get worried with agents and marketing people," Pennington continued. "They develop plans for these guys as if they’re entertainers. When you approach this business as an entertainer, you will get eaten up. You have to keep it about the game of football."
Mayfield is trying to distance himself from the Johnny Manziel comparisons. Smart move, according to Pennington.
"For him, his whole challenge -- and we talked about this -- is to make sure people understand that he’s a footballer," the former Jets quarterback said. "And that’s where the conversation needs to stay, making sure he does everything in his power off the field to keep the conversation about how good a football player he is.
"For a lot of these kids, the big adjustment for them is to realize this isn’t s recruiting process. This is a process where they’re trying to find reasons not to draft you. You can’t give them, as a prospect, any reason. That’s a different environment than they’re used to."
Pennington said Josh McCown, the Jets' 2017 starter and current free agent, would be the ideal mentor for Mayfield. What about Mayfield, the quarterback?
"I know he had a good week of practice," Pennington said. "From what I could see, it looked like he understands -- and has the ability to understand -- an NFL offense and be able to be successful. I certainly think he needs to be put with the right organization that has the right plan, that has the correct system for him to be successful."
Pennington praised Mayfield's competitiveness, noting he was a two-time walk-on in college.
"Baker is one who has had to work extremely hard to get where he is," he said. "He hasn’t been given anything. I think that’s a positive."
With Allen, the main issue is his accuracy (only a 56 percent passer at Wyoming).
"There aren’t many arms like his," Pennington said. "The challenge for him -- he and I talked about this -- is understanding that every pass doesn’t need to be a 100 mph fastball. There’s a difference between throwing and passing the ball. His challenge will be to hone his skills as a passer, knowing when to take advantage of that elite arm strength he has.
"There are plenty of times when it’s not about the arm strength. It’s about the touch, the zip, the accuracy, the ball placement that separates this league from college. No doubt, he’s a guy -- 6-foot-4, 240 -- who can move, can extend plays and make any throw on the field."