CFF Player Profile: Marcus Mariota, QB
After breaking down Marcus Mariota’s game every which way, it’s hard not to like what we see on tape. As our own Sam Monson put it, he has more question marks than negatives. The questions surround the Oregon offense and the translation of Mariota’s game to the NFL.
Much like the Philadelphia Eagles, the Oregon offense creates easier throws for the quarterback and often inflates statistics for the signal-caller. That’s not to say that Mariota can’t make some of the more difficult stick throws that are prevalent in the NFL, he just hasn’t had an opportunity to make many to this point.
Among the stats that was first highlighted on Pro Football Focus: Grading the 2015 Draft, the Eagles offense has been the best in the league at manufacturing big plays the last two seasons while Oregon’s was the best in college football last season. For context, the quarterbacks with the highest percentage of explosive (20-yd plays) on “easy” or “expected” throws were Nick Foles in 2013, Mark Sanchez in 2014, and Mariota in college. This is just one way to measure that the gaudy stats aren’t always the result of exceptional quarterback play.
As for the grades, Mariota showed extremely well in 2014 after posting solid grades in 2013. He did take a step up as a passer this past season, avoiding some of the inconsistency he showed a year ago. He fared well under pressure and against the blitz, whether avoiding defenders to find throwing lanes or using his athleticism to break the pocket. Perhaps overlooked is his ability to work through progressions and hit passes on the back side of plays. He will often start his progression on one side of the field, then come back to hit the back side post/dig route. You see this with him multiple times every game.
In order to get the most out of Mariota at the next level, his skills must be maximized. As much as the Oregon offense creates big-window throws, a lot of that is due to the threat Mariota poses as a runner. His ability to run the read option and work off play action should be featured early in his career, just as it was with Robert Griffin III in Washington in 2012.
The difference for Mariota is that he’s better than Griffin at avoiding hits, and he must be trusted to take what is given in order to stay healthy and ease the concerns many teams have with using their franchise quarterback as a runner. If Mariota is put into a system where he is a threat as a runner, his team can the duplicate the efforts Oregon put in to keep force run defenders on a string in order to open passing lanes.
Among the negatives for Mariota are the random bouts of inaccuracy. He’s still been excellent at avoiding interceptions, but this inaccuracy could change that at the next level. Still, he rarely throws into coverage and his interception numbers are reflective of this trait.
Instead of forcing passes, he’ll pull the ball down to run, often making good use of his athleticism to move the chains or find open receivers when scrambling out of the pocket. However, this is also where he gets into trouble. As good as he’s been at avoiding interceptions, he has put the ball on the ground more than you’d like to see. He took a sack on 23% of his pressured dropbacks, among the worst in the draft class, and some of those sacks turned into fumbles as Mariota tried to make a big play with his legs.
It looks like Mariota will end up at No. 2, either to the Tennessee Titans or a willing trade partner looking to build around the former Oregon signal-caller. Regardless of his eventual home, Mariota’s new team needs to play to his strengths while he learns some of the nuances of the NFL game. The finished product may end up somewhere near Ryan Tannehill or David Garrard from a production standpoint.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve