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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

NFL Draft Profile – QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on April 30, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 15 offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota would be best suited for a Shanahan-type system that emphasizes mobility.

College: Oregon
Height/Weight: 6’4”/222
Hands: 9 7/8”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.52
Vertical Jump: 36”
Broad Jump: 10’ 1”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.11
3-Cone: 6.87

Background (College Stats)
Mariota wasted little time proving then-Oregon HC Chip Kelly right about the Honolulu native being the perfect fit for his system, completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards and 32 touchdowns with six interceptions while also rushing for 752 yards and five more scores as a redshirt freshman in 2012. That was enough to make him an honorable-mention All-American and the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, becoming the league's first freshman quarterback to earn first-team all-league honors in 23 years. It was more of the same in his sophomore campaign, posting a 3,665-31-4 passing line and 715-9 rushing tally. Those gaudy totals made him a finalist for the Manning Award and a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award (college player of the year), the Davey O'Brien Award (national quarterback award) and the Walter Camp Award (most outstanding player). Mariota took his game to another level in his final season at Eugene in 2014, throwing for 4,454 yards, 42 TDs and four interceptions, rushing for 770 yards and 15 scores and leading his Ducks to a runner-up finish in the first-ever College Football Playoff. This time around, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and 2015 Rose Bowl Offensive MVP took home the following honors or was named to the following teams: Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year, Associated Press Player of the Year, Walter Camp first-team All-America and Associated Press first-team All-American.

NFL Player Comp(s): Ryan Tannehill

Best Scheme Fit: Spread attack. Short of that, an offense that utilizes a great deal of quarterback movement and asks him to make throws on the run (very similar to the offenses Mike and Kyle Shanahan are synonymous with running).


  • Exceptional athlete – especially given the position he plays – that doesn’t automatically look to run when his first option in not available, but is more than capable of going the distance as a runner on any play.
  • Good decision-maker that takes few unnecessary risks; threw 14 interceptions in three seasons and no more than six in any one year.
  • Remarkable ability to throw accurately on the run and from an unbalanced platform.
  • Quick, compact and smooth release with enough arm strength to make all the throws he will be asked to make; shows touch when needed and throws a very catchable ball.
  • Showed much improvement in his ability to scan the field as career progressed.
  • No character red flags, tough and durable (did not miss a start in three seasons); senses oncoming defenders and knows when to slide to protect himself from taking the big hit.


  • Consistent footwork during drop back will be a work in progress; doesn’t always transfer weight correctly during throw (both of which are to be expected from a spread quarterback and both of which looked vastly improved at NFL Combine and pro day).
  • Has not been asked to anticipate many throws in his career and, as a result, lacks efficiency on them (i.e. very little evidence he has much experience passing to a spot before a receiver has made his break or throwing to an open spot versus zone).
  • Displays occasional good pocket presence (got better as career went on) considering lack of experience in “traditional pocket”, but drops his eyes too often when pocket collapses.
  • Doesn’t always react quickly when it appears he is looking at a receiver that has broken open during his progression read.
  • Will occasionally short-arm or throw behind a short target – likely a function of being forced to reset his feet – but rarely seems to do short-arm intermediate or long passes.
  • Needs to tighten up ball security as a runner; often lets the ball come away from his frame (fumbled 27 times in his career).

Bottom Line
Evaluators like to say that college quarterbacks from spread systems like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel are “pure projection players” and there is a reason that is the case. Most NFL offenses are based on “marrying” a quarterback’s steps after the snap to the routes (and, more importantly, the breaks) of the receivers. When scouts and general managers don’t get to see a college quarterback do this on a consistent basis (or in the case of some spread quarterbacks, at all), it makes them question if he can do it or if they want to invest the necessary time and patience it will require to get him up to speed in that regard (assuming he can even do it). Today’s NFL is more open to a different kind of offensive system than the traditional Bill Walsh West Coast offensive thinking detailed above than it was even five or 10 years ago, meaning there is more opportunity for a player like Mariota to succeed. That doesn’t mean every coach is ready to embrace the new thinking and, chances are, the team that drafts the Heisman Trophy winner will be asked to fit into the existing offensive system much more than that team will cater to his skills.

Like Tannehill, Mariota will probably be an average-at-best NFL starter in a traditional offense because it won’t highlight his strengths. Again, like Tannehill, it wouldn’t be hard to see Mariota flourish the very moment his new employer opens up the field. I don’t think there is much debate the Oregon signal-caller is a better prospect than Manziel and I would tend to consider him a better prospect than RG3 as well because he isn’t nearly as reckless, more durable and seemingly a more capable leader. With that said, scheme fit (as well as the flexibility to rewrite parts of the playbook) will still be extremely important to whatever team ends up drafting Mariota if they hope to play him at any point during his rookie season. It is unfair to ask Mariota, who also ran the spread in high school, to go from the only style of offense he has known for his adult life to the NFL way of doing things and make that transition over the course of one summer or one year. Even for a player as smart as Mariota, that metamorphosis will take time, so fans and NFL teams should be happy if they get league-average quarterback play from him in Year 2. In short, give him time to make the transition to pro quarterback and he should be a more-than-capable starter no later than 2017. If his new team tries to rush this process, there is a very good chance he will bust.

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and 2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. E-mail Doug or follow him on Twitter.