It’s been a while since I’ve been active on here, so I decided to start up once again as we wind towards the 2015 NFL Draft with a big topic: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Mariota is near unanimously considered the second best passer entering the draft this season, behind only first-overall projected Florida State product Jameis Winston. A redshirt junior, Mariota amassed enough awards to fill a trophy case in 2014, including the Heisman Trophy and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP as he led the Ducks to a 13-2 season in which they were edged by Ohio State for the national title.
Where do we start with Mariota? Well, he’s an athletic freak for the position. Mariota led quarterbacks in every combine drill, including an impressive 4.52 second 40-yard dash time. At 6’4″ and 222 lbs, Mariota is also sized like a prototypical quarterback.
While Mariota’s athleticism is obvious, he follows this up with a very strong arm. However, unlike many cannon armed passers coming out of college, he also possesses a solid touch on his passes, lofting the ball when necessary and throwing bullets when needed. Mariota also has a quick delivery with sound mechanics. He’s been very careful with the ball in his time at Oregon, only throwing more than one interception in a game three times in his 41 starts for the Ducks.
Perhaps what he’s best known for are his Tebow-esque skills of improvisation, making would be tacklers miss and extending plays with his legs — keeping his eyes on the field for a play in the process. Similarly to 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel, Mariota also has a solid feel for passing on the run and handles off balance throws well.
Mariota’s first and foremost criticism is that he did not play in a pro-style offense at Oregon, something that tipped the scales for Winston over Mariota in many profilers’ minds as the top passer in this year’s draft class. The reasoning behind this is solid, as Mariota took few chances as a passer and was not asked to anticipate routes and defenders or throw into tight spaces often in the Ducks’ offense.
In addition, Mariota showed a tendency to sail passes when throwing down the field and overall has some questions about accuracy. His pocket presence is something that needs to be worked on, as he’s quick to pick up rushers and abandon the pocket rather than step up into a pass. Mariota also showed a lack of protection for the ball, coughing up 27 fumbles as a three-year starter.
While Mariota may not be the favorite for many at the quarterback position as a high potential, medium risk candidate, he’s a much more sure thing than Johnny Manziel coming out of school last season. Mariota will need to prove he can adapt to a pro-style offense and silence doubters by holding on to the football and working on both his overall accuracy and ball placement in tight windows.
The combination of arm, athleticism and improvisation has made some compare Mariota favorably to Robert Griffin III circa his rookie season, but I’m much more inclined to the Colin Kaepernick comparisons due to Mariota’s quick release and abilities outside the pocket.
Mariota is a sure-fire first round pick, and likely to be a top five selection as well, with the Jaguars, Raiders and Redskins (picks three through five) all dearly in need of talent on their rosters and the possibility of a team trading in front of the quarterback needy Bears and Jets (picks six and seven) to ensure they get their guy.
As the 2015 quarterback class is fairly thin and many teams looking for both a short and long term solution, teams will likely scramble over the opportunity to land Mariota, giving him a solid chance to land in the top five next month.