This truly is the most wonderful time of the year for me. I know I sing the songs around Christmas time, but this is really my favorite time of year: the 60 days prior to the NFL Draft.
While teams are rounding up all of their thoughts and notes from the February Combine, enthusiasts and experts of the NFL Draft are really starting to be able to shape their big boards. Things you heard in December changed in January, again in February and once more in March. There’s smoke in the air when any team “reports” anything new on a prospect or draft move and nothing can be believed. Which is why I think you need to go with your gut when evaluating. It’s important for us (as enthusiasts and experts) to form our opinions and back them with rational analysis and stick to those opinions. If you think Player A is a Top 10 player and another expert has him as a fringe first rounder, do your research, re-evaluate and stand by your opinion. We’re not all right, while we’re also not all completely wrong, but not one expert is ever 100% right in their projections of an NFL talent.
This brings me to this article in which I want to debunk the idea that Marcus Mariota is the best or top two quarterback of the 2015 NFL Draft. I keep seeing this guy mocked as a top five and 10 selection, but I just don’t see it. Remember, players fall. We knew one of Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith would fall a few slots, but Rodgers sliding into the 20’s was unforseen. Same with Brady Quinn slipping (which should have slid even more…), same with Johnny Manziel in 2014.
Top tier prospects sometimes fall and it’s because people aren’t doing enough research. Here’s one secret to draft time that the experts won’t tell you. When a general consensus about a high profile player or prospect is formed, most of them just go along with that opinion. Hence why Marcus Mariota has been projected as the #1 overall pick in 2015 for the last year and a half. Why? Because they can focus on the rest of the lower round players and have defined opinions formed that make them look like they really know what they’re talking about. You see Mel Kiper on ESPN talking about some guy from The Citadel blowing it up, you’re going to listen and think “Wow, this guy watches everything”. But sometimes with top tier prospects, we miss the boat and sort of assume that they’ll work out.
But I’ve been doing the research on Mariota for quite some time and to put my Dennis Green voicebox in for a second, Mariota is what I thought he was. He’s an exceptional college athlete that will leave a remarkable legacy on a program and be remembered for a long time.
That’s just a fact. Mariota has easily been the best Oregon quarterback to come out since Joey Harrington. Speaking of Joey Harrington, can we just discuss some of the “successes” of Oregon quarterbacks coming in the NFL Draft in the last decade or two?
Dennis Dixon and Kellen Clemens are the most recent. Both were very different quarterbacks. Dixon was all speed with no ability to throw. Clemens was accurate with a noodle and no awareness.
Perhaps my favorite NCAA Football cover, Joey Harrington was the third overall quarterback in 2002. To be fair, his lack of success was also heavily due to being on such a bad team.
A.J. Feeley was drafted to be a backup and was a mediocre backup for a few years, starting a few games here and there. He had low expectations, however.
I can’t stop listing Oregon quarterbacks without listing my absolute favorite of all time. One of the most creative names of Akili Smith. Despite being a Browns fan, as a kid I would root for him to succeed. Oh, my God was he bad. He lasted four seasons after fumbling 14 times in his second year. He’s from that ever so famous 1999 NFL Draft in which every quarterback was overdrafted by at least one round: Smith, Tim Couch, Cade McNown, Shaun King and Brock Huard. Hey, at least they got some years of out Daunte Culpepper and a Super Bowl QB in Donovan McNabb.
I think I’ll stop there. No need to include Tony Graziani or Bill Musgrave.
I usually don’t care for the “Former Quarterbacks” argument. Not all of those quarterbacks played under the same coaching staff with the same system, playing the same bowl formats, etc. Some schools may seem to produce more quarterbacks, but to me you either have the ability or not.
So, if you want, I’ll throw that argument out of the court room. That evidence is dismissed as it doesn’t fully apply to the case.
The case is Marcus Mariota vs. the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Mariota is the defendant, and I represent the plaintiff, the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft in defending that Mariota does not deserve first round consideration.
Let’s start with what I love about Mariota. I love the fact that Mariota is an exceptional person on and off the field. I love the support he gives his teammates and I love the fact that he’s extremely reliable, smart and willing to learn.
His upside is obviously there. Mariota has the ability to become a top tier quarterback at the next level from a physical and mental perspective. I also love Mariota’s speed and elusiveness in the open field. As pass rushers in the NFL are getting bigger and faster, our quarterbacks need to be more light-footed and able to move around in the pocket. Mariota can move outside the pocket and gain a few yards with his long stride. I enjoy the fact that he’s improved since 2012, making better decisions and gaining a better understanding of that extremely high paced offense and showing that he could control the offense.
There really is a lot to like about this guy. He’s very talented and he definitely has made some room for him in our minds as one of the best college players in our day.
So, here’s where I’m going to change the tune and start my argument as to why Mariota should be dropped off of first round draft boards.
I’m going to start with the most obvious issue. He’s part of the system. We say he’s part of the system meaning that he’s an exceptional quarterback assuming for the rest of his career he’s playing in an up-tempo, no-huddle shotgun spread that looks over to the sidelines for the play at the snap. This system relies heavily off of speed and space. Lineman have bigger splits, while the ball carriers are usually smaller, agile backs and receivers with great hands and route running ability.
This system produced guys like De’Anthony Thomas who had a solid year with the Chiefs on special teams, Kenjon Barner who was traded out of Carolina, LaMichael James who does… something, and Jonathan Stewart. A guy who can run for 5.0 yards per carry when he’s healthy and not having to share carries with DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton. Oh, that’s never, by the way.
Those guys are all athletic and versatile, while the most recent three are 5’9 or under with great quickness and hands out of the backfield.
Am I saying that a guy like Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley couldn’t succeed in Oregon’s system? Not in the least, because they’re great backs. Oregon can utilize bigger backs, but usually not between the 20’s so much, although there is LeGarrette Blount.
Regardless, it doesn’t matter so much, except for the fact that offenses like that are exposed heavily when a defense with more size and just as much speed jumps on the other side. See: 2015 College Football Playoff Championship.
Or just watch whenever Oregon plays Stanford or another physical team that runs a 3-4 base defense. They can’t pound the ball over the middle, so those teams focus on the flats and short passes.
It’s exactly the reason why Oregon has never won a National Championship, and likely won’t for awhile. That type of offense is fun and flashy when exposed to above average defenses at best. But defense wins championships and you can bet that when Oregon gets to the end, they’ll face a team that can play ball defensively. I don’t want a quarterback that can get me to the Super Bowl and never when, speaking of Donovan McNabb (’99 REPRESENT!).
God I miss watching Akili Smith play. Words that have never been spoken. Until now. Congratulations, you’ve been a part of history.
Okay, so let’s put aside the system thing. It’s quite clear what I think of the [Chip Kelly] offense.
How about the fact that this guy plays in a conference that just hasn’t been the same since the USC sanctions? How about that because he plays in said conference, his offensive line has made it easier for him to sit back and do whatever he wants.
Mariota didn’t see pressure on a consistent basis until he faced Scooby Wright and the Arizona Wildcats on October 2nd, 2014. That game ended in Oregon scoring just 24 points, despite their 45 point average. Arizona simply got pressure on him, not just on the outside, but immediately at the snap on the interior. And that’s how Rich Rodriguez, the guy that absolutely ran one of the best programs in the country into the ground at Michigan, beat Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks. I’m going to tell that story to my children, and my grandchildren.
Needless to say that in the Pac-10 or Pac-12 or Pac-23, whatever it is, conference game, those same Rich Rodriguez guided Wildcats held Oregon to just 51 points, on their way to an outstanding(ly embarrassing) 13 points.
Which tells me Oregon and Mariota learned a few things since that loss, earning them a College Football Playoff birth. And let me tell you that while I knew Oregon would not win the championship, even with a (1) seed, I did believe that they deserved to be in the playoff, much unlike my view on Florida State getting in over TCU. But that’s another article down the road in which I’ll beat a dead horse.
But let’s face it. What’s so special about the Pac-12 when USC is in re-building mode while getting over the last few years of suffering through reduced scholarships. Granted I think USC is back in 2015. That’s another article for down the road. But Stanford was without Andrew Luck for a couple years, Oregon State is nothing special, Cal just hasn’t gotten in together, leaving UCLA and Oregon to be the dominant teams. Now this argument will come back to bite me in the ass because I’m actually very high on Brett Hundley, who if you didn’t know plays for UCLA, which is a school featured in the Pac-12, which is the conference that I’m absolutely trashing right now.
I’m not saying that the Pac-12 isn’t a great conference, but these last two years especially when Mariota was on the rise was partially in benefit to teams like Stanford, USC and Cal losing a lot of talent. Oregon’s offense is very hard to get used to and Mariota certainly expanded it’s potential with his ability to run the ball down field, but he could get it out on time and let his receivers make plays after the catch. That’s dangerous when your opposition is starting a record number of underclassmen still adjusting to the speed of the next level.
I may have made up that last stat, but USC and Stanford were both pretty young in the last two years.
So what about his actual game play do I not like? Well I’m certainly not a fan of his true arm strength. Sure he can pull a J.T. Barrett and throw it 60 yards down field on a rainbow, but that’s just the problem. In the NFL there won’t be a receiver 10 yards up the field for him to throw to. I take that back, there will be, but there will also be a safety and cornerback joining him, making that for a long punt. So if your punter’s not very good, hey maybe Mariota’s your guy.
Now I’m not saying that Mariota necessarily makes bad decisions. Not yet at least. At this moment I’m implying that he’s quite used to getting his way because his receivers get such great separation, that he doesn’t have to put much on the ball. When he needs to force a throw in, he’s terribly inconsistent. I’m also implying that he doesn’t have the accuracy to get it to the receiver in tight spaces. Getting the ball to the “area” is not a good idea in the NFL, not with defensive backs that can knock the ball down. He simply can’t make all the NFL throws, his footwork needs to be touched up and his throwing motion overall is just funky. His throws lack any zip and when he tries to put that zip on, he’s terribly inaccurate. I think you get the idea after like seven examples.
Sure in the National Championship Game things would have gone a lot differently had his receivers caught all of his passes. But guess what, that’s not something you see in the NFL. NFL wide receivers still drop the footballs that they’re getting paid millions of dollars to catch. You know, because having ONE JOB is so hard! Actually it’s a difficult position, sort of.
This entire issue supports my idea of him being a system quarterback. If it weren’t for his receivers doing a great job catching passes in space and getting down field, Mariota would post above average stats. If we’re talking about using him as a traditional quarterback, or even a Cam Newton type, is he going to Super Bowls, let alone playoff games?
Cam Newton’s a great example as Carolina is a fringe playoff team let alone Super Bowl caliber team, and Newton hasn’t shown signs of getting to the last tier of greatness. He’s a great quarterback but not living up to #1 overall potential.
I’ve known about Mariota’s struggles for awhile. And while I love the kid, I was so excited to see my thoughts come to reality when he faced defenses in 2014 that actually gave him a pass rush and/or played Oregon physically after the catch.
Against Florida State he got a lot of pressure in the first quarter and a half. Florida State was still very much in the game and the defense was playing better than it had all season. And then a bunch of mistakes happened and Jameis Winston butt fumbled or something and Florida State’s defense was on the field for what seemed like three decades and wore down exponentially.
But while Oregon capitalized on the mistakes of Florida State, an even more physical team in Ohio State rolled into Jerry World turning the ball over like four times and played Oregon so well defensively, that Oregon failed to capitalize on any of them. I could be wrong. They may have gotten a field goal or something. Either way, every time Ohio State turned the ball over, the fans screamed and then a few plays later we rejoiced and said “Thank God that the fumble doesn’t matter anymore”, or whatever.
Mariota really has a great frame at almost 6’4 222 pounds. He ran a quarterback combine best 40 yard dash at 4.52, slightly better than Dennis Dixon’s 4.58! He also had a very solid 36 inch vertical. That darn traitor Bryan Bennett, his former quarterback counterpart, beat him with a 37 inch vertical. Perhaps we should look more into him. That’s a joke. I’m not that stupid, although I do think Bennett could be a viable backup in the future, but that’s if he even gets drafted.
From a physical standpoint, we have a lot to like about Mariota on paper. But it doesn’t translate in pads. When I look at him, I just don’t see an NFL quarterback. Is that a hunch, or a legitimate opinion that I’ve formed over months of research of one player who perhaps I’m obsessed with?
That’s neither here nor there!
Getting back to it, he just does not fit the part to me. I question his leadership ability. When I see him barking out orders, I imagine a high pitched puppet voice calling it out. I don’t know, something stupid. Maybe even Kermit the Frog, I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say Kermit the Frog in this article without getting in trouble. But I said it twice. Maybe I can get Mariota to pay the fine.
He’s not a dominant or motivating/leadership type of guy to me. I think people may get motivated by him as a person, but they don’t see him on the field as a true grit player with moxy that will carry them to the championship. Not that players should be looking up to quarterbacks like this because Tom Brady looked like a toddler until Giselle introduced him to a tanning bed and facial hair.
Mariota just doesn’t have that IT factor for me. It’s what I felt about Geno Smith also, yet everyone kept saying that he could adjust out from the shotgun into a leader that makes all the plays. It’s what I told people that Ryan Tannehill had and why he did deserve to be in the first round and why also threw Christian Ponder down the NFL Draft toilet. They just didn’t have IT.
If I want to be modest, I’ll say that I’ve made a lot of mistakes on quarterbacks. I did think that Blaine Gabbert had the tools to succeed under the right coaching, while also saying that Ryan Nassib could be an NFL starter. Although that’s yet to be determined with him not getting any chances behind Eli. I’m sticking to it. Boom.
What happened when Mariota faced off against Ohio State? It can be broken down a few ways. What happened when Oregon was winning, when Oregon was a score away from winning, or when Oregon was more than a score down.
Tied/Winning – The winning started on the opening drive when Mariota and the Ducks took the ball down the field and threw for a touchdown. Relaxed in the backfield, showing patience. Throws complete passes despite lack of touch. Suffers through a key drop.
Score Away – Came out of second half and made a great pass over the middle to Byron Marshall for a 71 yard touchdown. Extremely inaccurate passes in the following drive.
Two+ Scores Away – Inconsistent play. Very rushed. Short yardage situations taking a lot longer to obtain yardage. Inaccurate throws to the middle of the field. Poor decision making. Holding onto the ball too long at times. Not getting positive yards on first down. Very inaccurate pass four yards out to a tight end. Coming into fourth quarter made a few decent throws that were dropped or batted. Great throw standing by his own end zone for completion. Makes great run getting outside pressure to get to second and long. Lack of zip forces throw to be batted. Stands tall in the pocket and delivers high pass to sidelines dropped. Suffers through another drop and the game is over basically.
See the similarities in the two losses. Once Oregon became two scores down, Mariota seemed to go into panic mode which actually extended drives, but got them a short amount of drive yardage through several plays. Offensively they were getting challenged and Arizona exposed it by holding them to a field goal after a 3+ minute drive (which is sort of high for Oregon).
Arizona ended the game by giving Oregon a ton of pressure in the 4th quarter, forcing him to make bad decisions and the Ducks ultimately losing. Now in the championship game that happened pretty much all game, as the Buckeye defense seemed to get pressure for four quarters.
Do I really want to spend a first round pick on a guy that not only has never won a championship, but when he’s faced with extreme pressure, seems to crumble? I’m not going to say that he hasn’t worked some 4th quarter gems because I saw that Civil War finish in 2013, and I also give him credit for coming out strong in the second half against a very physical Michigan State defense. But he also had to pull it out against Washington State. Washington State, a team that already gave up 38 points per game playing in the Pac-12, giving up 41 to RUTGERS… Bahaha, and another 60 to California. Yet 38 points is exactly what Oregon scored that game in one that people felt Oregon would win by 30+.
I just can’t give him that much credit as an NFL football player. He still just seems like a kid to me. I would almost say that if he spent one more year in college that he’d be a lock for #1 overall in 2016 and become a star. But running the same system at Oregon would do him no more good in his pursuit of the NFL. We’ve got to teach him to take snaps from under center, we have to teach him how to get rid of that stupid throwing motion, we need to work on his foot placement and how to not throw the ball across your body on the run.
The inconsistent play through the air for Oregon against Florida State was frustrating to watch, but the Buckeyes exposed Mariota and that up-tempo offense by bringing in fast guys that could hit you.
My other belief is that unless you’re a playoff team with a veteran quarterback that has two or three years left, you shouldn’t be drafting Mariota. He’s not a Week 1 starter in the NFL and he will not be a winner in any way as a rookie. I don’t care if you put him in Denver or Philadelphia with the best receivers. He’s just not there, folks. If Philadelphia was smart, they’d wait for him to fall at pick #20, stash him and give Nick Foles another year to develop as trade bait and groom Mariota. That’s the most ideal situation for Mariota to succeed in the NFL, I don’t care who says otherwise.
This kid is special. He’s an exceptional athlete who excelled in college both on the field in the classroom. An overall class act, he’s beloved amongst his community and despised by the rivals. Dare I say this is a Tim Tebow type situation? Yes. The situation is extremely similar, although the players are not as similar.
Tebow was a system guy who won a ton of games. He was a part of a couple national championship winning teams and played in a top conference and played very well. Another Heisman winner, partially because of how much he was loved across the country, outside of the conference. Still, everyone always wanted him to succeed, while also partially knowing that he wouldn’t.
And we were all correct. Well I was, as I will be once Mariota flops if he’s drafted in the top 20 picks. Is he worth a first rounder? Yes, under the condition that he’s drafted by the Eagles. So no, otherwise. Let’s get off the band wagon and see Marcus Mariota for who he is.
People refuse to exploit his weaknesses because of how exceptional his character is. He deserves to win and succeed. But can he in the NFL? That’s what I doubt, and heavily I might add. I personally want to see Mariota succeed and make me eat so much crow because I also love this guy. He’s been so much fun to watch and observe in the last three years and has brought what I do so much more excitement. But in the end, Marcus Mariota does not belong in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.