Holbrook: Mahomes, Mayfield trailblazers for Big 12 quarterbacks in the NFL

Then-Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield throws the ball to wide receiver Dede Westbrook at the Oklahoma versus Iowa State game Nov. 3, 2016, at Jack Trice Stadium. 

Trevor Holbrook

College and professional football seasons are in full swing and Cyclone fans are starting to see a few more familiar faces in the pocket on Sundays.

The Big 12 earned a reputation of its quarterbacks racking up impressive stats in college but failing to translate that success into the NFL. With Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes — a former Texas Tech Red Raider — lighting the league on fire last season en route to winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award, the Big 12 somewhat thwarted that narrative.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are coming off a Monday Night game against the Jets with a Sunday Night game looming this weekend. After years of poor products put on the field, the Browns are one of the most exciting teams with one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league: former Oklahoma Sooner Baker Mayfield.

On the other side of the league, the NFC received a Big 12 jolt when former Texas Tech coach (and quarterback who failed in the NFL) Kliff Kingsbury selected Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray first overall for the Arizona Cardinals.

Aside from the young trio, 24-year-old Mason Rudolph — an Oklahoma State graduate — appears to be in line to take over for the Pittsburgh Steelers due to injury.

(Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton also played at Texas Christian, but the Horned Frogs were a part of the Mountain West Conference at that time.)

While four out of 32 isn’t a huge portion, it’s progress for a conference that’s seen a string of successful college quarterbacks fail to pan out in the NFL (think Vince Young, Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert, etc.)

If you look back to a random year — say, 2005 — you’ll see very little Big 12 representation behind center. The 2005 season had Chris Simms (Texas) as the only Big 12 quarterback among the top 32 yardage leaders in the NFL that year.

As the game evolves, the Big 12 receives more chances at quarterback.  

The rule changes have promoted more offense and are favorable to the longevity of quarterbacks. NFL teams, like other leagues, also increased their emphasis on analytics and crunching numbers.

In 2018, 14 NFL teams had a passing play percentage rate of 60 percent or higher, according to teamrankings.com. In 2008, the league had seven teams reach that threshold. Furthermore, 2003 saw three teams hit 60 percent.

Not only are teams passing more, but they’re making the job easier, too. While a quarterback like Mahomes can air it out like he’s Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite,” he also benefits from coach Andy Reid opening up the offense with motion and short dump offs while embracing Kansas City’s crew of athletic skill players.

Big 12 quarterbacks also dealt with the stigma of not playing in an NFL-like offense in college. Now, the NFL borrows concepts — and coaches — from the NCAA, embracing creativity in the passing game.

The NFL’s changed. Defense can still win championships, but so can an elite quarterback. Be prepared for game-managers to be phased out of the game and playmaking quarterbacks to be even more embraced, opening up the door for the Big 12.