Written by Sal Conti Follow on Twitter @SC2_DFW
We have a long ways to go until the 2014 NFL Draft. But since some of you guys know I LOVE me some prospects why the hell should we wait any longer?
While Teddy Bridgewater is my clear-cut best QB prospect for the upcoming draft class, Marcus Mariota isn’t far behind and could even overtake Teddy if he has a monster year.
Why am I so confident in the redshirt-Sophomore? It’s simple: Mariota is the poster child of the new-age quarterback we have in the NFL. Some call him a clone of the San Francisco 49ers’ QB Colin Kaepernick. He’s a threat to throw the ball AND run the ball exceptionally well. That combo will get you ridiculous points in any fantasy football match up. I can already see his skill set translating nicely to the NFL.
The scary part? Mariota has up to two years of college left to grow and mature. The potential this kid has is truly insane. He could truly be a franchise cornerstone on any fantasy team by the time he hits the league.
So without further ado, let’s dive into every aspect of Marcus Mariota’s game.
Mariota stands tall at 6’4” but at present day, only weighs around 210 pounds. He barely looks like he’s 200 pounds in pads. Mariota does use his height well to peer over linebackers and float passes in that short-intermediate range, but as of now, he’s a bit too skinny. NFL lineman and linebackers would flatten him like a pancake. Would it be wishful thinking to see him shoot up to 225 pounds for the draft? I don’t think so. And if he does, this issue is as good as gone leaving Mariota with an exceptional frame.
Mariota won’t “wow,” anyone by stretching the field with the long ball. What he CAN do is throw the ball with a lot of zip from 10-15 yards. If you watch his tape against USC, for example, some of his deep balls catch a little too much air while all of his short throws are crisp and on time. He throws a tight spiral that comes out faster than a pitching machine especially on those 5-yard slants.
Mariota VS USC
Just to clear this up: there’s a difference between “putting zip on a ball,” and being able to “push the ball down field.” So even though Mariota doesn’t display the arm strength of say an E.J. Manuel, he puts more zip on the ball and throws a tighter spiral on the shorter patterns.
Marcus also does a decent job of masking his inability to push the ball down field with his accuracy. He completed 69% of his passes this past season, his first as the starter. Say what you will about how “quarterback-friendly” the Oregon offense is or how the stats are padded. The tape doesn’t lie. Mariota simply gets the ball where it needs to be more times than not.
Mariota has a very crisp release that helps him fit the football into a tight window. The ball shoots out of his hand. He has good footwork in and out of the pocket, but I feel he would benefit from adding bulk to his lower body. It’ll make him sturdier in his drop backs and less prone to go down from arm tackles. Some college quarterbacks have very long laborious deliveries that distort timing and cause incomplete passes and interceptions. Mariota doesn’t have this problem and he has learned to get rid of the ball quickly at Oregon, where every play is run at a fast-paced tempo.
Mariota collected 106 rushing attempts for 752 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground last season. These numbers alone tell us one thing; he can really scoot. Mariota has the speed to break away from any interior defensive lineman, defensive end, linebacker, or even most defensive backs and safeties in all of college football.
It’s one thing to be fast. But he’s also long; it’s hard to bring down a 6’4” gazelle in the open field.
Mariota is an obvious candidate to run the “Zone Read” in the NFL (it’s NOT CALLED THE PISTOL. THE PISTOL IS A FORMATION, PEOPLE, NOT A PLAY). :)
Mariota isn’t only enticing for his speed and agility though. He’s a SMART runner. Mariota will do whatever it takes to find space and eat up yards, as he displayed in the USC game. He has also shown a willingness to slide and protect himself which seems surprisingly hard to “teach”.
Mariota is strong in the mental strength department for such a young kid. He isn’t afraid of the big stage (which is a good quality to have as the starting quarterback of a top-5 team in the country). The best example of this I can find is the Fiesta Bowl, where the Ducks were matched up against Kansas State, who had one of the best defenses in college football. The game wasn’t exactly close, thanks to Mariota’s ability to remain cool, calm, and collected under pressure. Mariota went for 166 yards through the air and 2 TDs all while pitching in another 62 yards on the ground (good for another TD). Nothing to go “ga-ga” over, but solid with no turnovers which lead to a dominating 35-17 victory over the Wildcats.
Even though Mariota is normally fluid and precise with his reads, he can lock onto his targets causing incompletions and many near-interceptions. His presence and awareness in the pocket could improve as well. He has a good sense of when to scramble out of a passing play, but needs to get a better feel for blitzes and exotic coverages in order to avoid sacks and get rid of the ball on time.
I’m not a huge fan of player comparisons. But since readers love them, I’ll be glad to list off a few players that Marcus Mariota reminds me of as a prospect.
BREATH. Relax. I’m not trying to sell you the fact that Mariota will become a Super Bowl winning elite-caliber quarterback. But both Mariota and Rodgers were more accurate and mobile than the other QB’s in their respective draft classes.
Kaep was another West-Coast QB product that specialized in running the ball. We’ve all seen how his style of play has truly flourished in the NFL. Colin has the bigger arm, but Mariota has been much more accurate in college thus far and is a smarter ball carrier as well.