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 would be best suited for
a Shanahan-type system that emphasizes mobility.
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
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
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
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
Needs to tighten up ball security as a runner; often
lets the ball come away from his frame (fumbled 27 times in
Evaluators like to say that college quarterbacks from spread systems
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.