OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baker Mayfield has often been described as cocky, and Lamar Jackson has impressed teammates with his humility. Jackson strikes fear with his explosive speed, and Mayfield beats defenses deep with a strong arm and fearlessness.
While Jackson and Mayfield appear as opposite as their draft positions — Mayfield was selected at the top of the first round and Jackson at the bottom — they are more similar than many would think.
That’s according to tight end Mark Andrews, one of the few people who would know. In college, Andrews was Mayfield’s favorite pass-catcher at Oklahoma. In the NFL, he has become a popular target for Jackson.
“In terms of personality, guys like that have a certain thing about them – the ‘It Factor,’ I call it,” Andrews said. “They’re someone that you want to be around. There’s something about them that makes people gravitate towards them. They both have that. I think that speaks a lot to who they are and what they’re all about.”
These rookie quarterbacks are among the headliners for Sunday’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. Jackson and the Ravens (9-6) can clinch what has been an elusive AFC North title with a win. Mayfield and the Browns (7-7-1) can secure an even more elusive winning record by beating Baltimore.
It will mark the first time in the Super Bowl era that two first-round quarterbacks face off as rookies in the final game of a season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Even though Jackson and Mayfield have never played against each other on the field, they’ve gone head-to-head against each other over the years. In 2016, Jackson won the Heisman Trophy and Mayfield finished third. In 2017, Mayfield won the Heisman and Jackson finished third.
Does it feel like Jackson has already competed against Mayfield?
“No, not at all,” Jackson said. “He’s just playing a part for his team. He’s just doing his thing, and I just do mine — that’s all. We all want to win at the end of the day. So definitely, you can say that.”
Mayfield said he got to know Jackson and his family pretty well through the two Heisman ceremonies and the pre-draft process.
“Great guy,” Mayfield said. “He is someone who is fun to be around and makes it enjoyable so I would assume it is the same when it is coming to work every day.”
Jackson and Mayfield have been two of the most successful quarterbacks over the past two months. Since Week 10, they each own 5-1 records, and only three quarterbacks have more wins over that span (Drew Brees, Andrew Luck and Dak Prescott).
Over those seven weeks, Mayfield has the NFL’s second-best passer rating at 115.2. He has passed for 1,581 yards, throwing 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Since taking over as the Ravens’ starter in Week 11, Jackson has rushed for the eighth-most yards (466) in the league. He has broken five runs of 20 yards or more, and only Saquon Barkley and Josh Allen have produced more.
“[Jackson] is kind of unique in the way he plays the game, which is a positive,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You have to try to find unique ways to utilize guys like this. I think the coaching staff in Cleveland has done a great job with Baker in doing the same thing.”
Andrews received a text from Mayfield this week wishing him a Merry Christmas. But Andrews knows Mayfield’s real intentions this week.
“He’s a killer,” Andrews said. “He doesn’t mess around. He’s fully intent on ruining our season. We’ll be ready for it.”
Would Andrews classify Jackson as a “killer” as well?
“Yeah, there’s no doubt. It’s a little bit different type of killer,” Andrews said. “Lamar hates to lose. He’s a guy that’s … you know, you’re down, you can rely on him, he’s going to do everything he can to win – whether it’s running the ball for fourth-and-inches or whatnot. He’s a guy that’s going to make the play. You saw it in the game when we were down – he makes that big play. That’s the type of person he is, and that’s the type of player he is, as well.”
This rookie class is the latest influx of quarterback talent in the NFL. The five quarterbacks drafted in the first round are the most since 1999.
Jackson and Mayfield have been the best in this group, besting the likes of Sam Darnold, Allen and Josh Rosen, and now they face off in one of the more important games of the final weekend of the regular season. Jackson is looking to lead Baltimore to its first division title in six years, and Mayfield is attempting to lift Cleveland to its first winning regular season in 11 years.
Ravens safety Eric Weddle wouldn’t be surprised to see more rookie quarterbacks squaring off in these critical games going forward.
“I think the philosophy and the game is changing that you’re going to see more young quarterbacks have success early, taking the dynamics of what they do in college and adapt that to the system they’re running in the NFL,” Weddle said. “Baker was talented in college. You knew once he got in there and made some plays, he was going to do well. Lamar is getting his opportunity, and each week he’s showing what he’s all about.”