Wednesday, April 08, 2015

2015 NFL Draft #63 - Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
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Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon - 6'4, 222 - RS Junior - 4.52 40
National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State
So much has been said and so much has been written about the top 2 QBs in this draft that we are possibly missing the real point here: It isn't either/or.  There is little reason to believe that there will be one who is a superstar and one who is a washout.  Yes, it happens - Peyton Manning vs Ryan Leaf comes to mind, but most times, their careers are only related because we linked them together in their draft year and that a few teams at the top of that year's draft had to choose between one or the other.
I think that is important to say because if you like Jameis Winston, I doubt it means you are arguing against Mariota - or vice versa.  They are separate guys with separate stories and reasons why one might be the real deal for the next decade and one might be someone's reclamation project in 2018.  Once upon a time we spent all sorts of time analyzing Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert.  It wasn't that long ago, either.  Both went high in the draft and both are not in the same city they were selected now.
But, in Winston versus Mariota, there are some things to compare and contrast.  The reason I have Marcus Mariota above Winston is rather simple, really.  Mistakes.  When Mariota makes a mistake, it generally bounces on the turf.  When Winston makes a mistake, it often is run back the other direction.  That is huge in the QB game and when one QB threw 4 more interceptions in 2014 than the other did in 2012-2014, we have a major disparity in the way they play the position.  Mariota threw 445 passes in 2014 and only threw 4 to the wrong team.  That is an insane 1 pick every 111 passes (Winston averages a pick every 30 passes).  And this evaluator puts a major premium on play-makers who limit destroying themselves.  To further dig into his game, I looked at the games versus Cal, Washington, Michigan State, Oregon State, Arizona, and Ohio State.
Mariota wears #8 in these videos (but if you can't figure out which one is the QB, we have bigger issues).
What I liked:  Mariota is a real impressive play-making QB who is best complimented by his size and his wheels.  He is often the fastest player on the field and he also has the ability to make the throws needed to be the possibility of a QB like Colin Kaepernick, but with a far better throwing game or maybe even a QB like Russell Wilson, but with a 6'4, 220 pound frame.  He moves so well and throws going in either direction and also can slide around in the pocket and keep plays alive.  He certainly has open receivers in his offense, but knows where to go with the ball on most occasions and looks in complete control of things.  He hits those wheel routes so well and vertical seams are his bread and butter.  He will run for countless 1st downs on 3rd and long because he can and it is even a higher percentage play than a throw when his many deployed targets draw man coverage.  I really enjoy his composure and his "dude" qualities to steal a Trent Dilfer term as he looks the part of a leader in the huddle.  His decision making is always to avoid dangerous throws that are low percentage.  I admire that in a QB if he is still racking up huge yards and touchdowns.  Mariota gave you all of the good and almost none of the bad.  Aaron Rodgers-like in that respect.
What I did not like:   Clearly, he misses guys.  I would not call him erratic with downfield accuracy, but I would say he does not hit all of the throws like you wish he would.  But, with a completion percentage of 68%, he isn't missing much.  Also, it is unfair to say he is throwing nothing but horizontal passes - if people say that they didn't watch him much.  Oregon will throw the ball downfield and although we just don't know how much is scheme and how much is QB, we do know that he had what appeared to be an inordinate amount of open targets running down the field.  If he is not in a scheme like that, will he be able to become the multiple-read QB in a pro style offense?  We have not seen him under center and we have not seen him without a run-fake, read-option so we are left to guess what would happen if someone tried to put him in Tony Romo's offense.
Summary:  This guy is not Andrew Luck.  There are major questions about scheme-fit, and whether he can get a redshirt year to figure out his new destination.  However, I feel that he is more likely to achieve "solid starter" status than any other QB in this draft and while that may put me in the minority on that front, I can live with it.  Mariota is perfect in a Philadelphia or Seattle-type offense and while I don't know how healthy he can remain if he runs 100 times like he did in a normal college season, I do know that he is going to be very difficult to defend.  He will put defenses in a real bind where you cannot defend everything and move the chains with his feet if you load up the secondary, and unlike Kaepernick, can make all of the throws if you sit on his runs.  I really believe that in a few years, Mariota is going to be something pretty special.
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