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A Closer Look at Marcus Mariota, the Pro Prospect

If you ask the casual fan what college quarterback should be the first to be selected in the NFL draft next year, it is very likely that they will say Marcus Mariota is the clear cut answer. Mariota has dazzled people with the many big plays that he has produced during his time at the University of Oregon. He is a Heisman Trophy favorite this season as well. There is no way that anyone can say that he hasn’t been a successful college quarterback. The real question that we have to ask is: How does his game transfer to the NFL?

Every year quarterbacks come into the NFL after putting up video game like passing statistics. That doesn’t always guarantee success in the NFL. Danny Wuerffel, Andre Ware and David Klinger are examples of that. One thing that separates Mariota from those guys is his ability to make plays with his feet. This has caused some to compare Mariota to Colin Kaepernick. That’s not a bad comparison, but it points to the fact that he still needs to further develop as a passer.

[airesizeimg src=”http://ngscsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Marcus+Mariota+California+v+Oregon+xCtiRUgAOGax$-300×180$.jpg” alt=”Marcus+Mariota+California+v+Oregon+xCtiRUgAOGax” class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-5955″ ]The wide open offense that Oregon runs has hindered Mariota’s development. It doesn’t require him to truly go through his progressions. The offense for the most part is a one or two read passing game that is based off of him make quick reads from the shotgun. This is yet another similarity to Kaepernick. Most offenses in the NFL will require Mariota to be able to really digest what the defense is trying to do and make more reads.

He will also have to get acclimated to taking snaps from under the center. Doing so is much easier said than done. Taking snaps from the shotgun formation allows a quarterback to have extra time to see what is in front of him. It’s kind of like having a head start in a race. When a quarterback has to take the snap from under center, he has to complete his drop. While doing so, he has to be able to process what is happening and know where he wants to go at the top of his drop. It’s a big change.

If the two reads are taken away from Mariota, often times he will take off. Whether or not that is something that he’s coached to do is a mystery. From the outside looking in, I would say that it isn’t because it is something that he does naturally. Once he is able to break out of the pocket, Mariota is a truly dangerous runner. He has the speed to out run most defenders, including defensive backs. He also has the wiggle to make a defender miss. The Washington State game last year is proof. He broke off a long run after he made a defender miss when they were squared up.

One concern that arises when Mariota takes off to run is ball security. Mariota has a penchant for putting the ball on the ground. He will need to learn how to secure the ball at the next level.

I would like to see Mariota do a better job of running to pass. He has made some throws after buying time but I would like to see him attacking defenses vertically. The threat of him running will command the attention of the opposing secondary. They’ll have to make a choice of whether or not to commit to him running or throwing the ball. That will allow his receivers to work the scramble drill and create big passing plays. This is something that separates Kaepernick from Mariota.

I was at the San Fransisco 49ers training camp last year and interviewed Anquan Boldin. One of the things that Boldin said was a key attribute of Kaepernick’s was his ability to extend plays and put defenders in a bind. He said that they worked on converting routes during broken plays because Kaepernick runs with his eyes down field looking for his receivers to break open. Russell Wilson is probably the best in the NFL when it comes to creating big passing plays because of his elusiveness.

[airesizeimg src=”http://ngscsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Marcus+Mariota+Tennessee+v+Oregon+9QE0j7urshox$-300×194$.jpg” alt=”Marcus+Mariota+Tennessee+v+Oregon+9QE0j7urshox” class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-5958″ ]Teams will look to put heavy pressure on Mariota to disrupt the passing game. Stanford did a great job of getting pressure on Mariota and it rattled him. Mariota also has a penchant for scrambling to his right. When he does, it often times will cause him to overthrow his receivers on go routes. Offensive coordinators are likely to use Mariota on designed roll outs to move the pocket for him and cut the field in half to make reads easier for him. These are the kinds of playcalls that will make the transition much easier for Mariota.

As for his passing ability, Mariota has shown that he has a big arm. He can push the ball down field with ease. His big arm is a gift and a curse. There are times when he puts too much on the ball and leads his receivers too much. However, there are also times when he puts perfect touch on his deep passes and drops the ball right into the receiver’s hands like the Colorado game last year when he delivered a perfect pass to Josh Huff on a post route.

Mariota also does a good job of throwing the deep crossing routes. The velocity that he puts on the ball allows him to hit his receivers in stride and give them the opportunity to get yards after the catch. He has to consistently be able to make that throw. That is something that separates the men from the boys at the next level. It is something that Johnny Manziel struggled with at Texas A&M. The mid range passing game is a must have area of expertise for NFL quarterbacks.

[airesizeimg src=”http://ngscsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Marcus+Mariota+California+v+Oregon+boqeAaBoGCFx_1$-300×192$.jpg” alt=”Marcus+Mariota+California+v+Oregon+boqeAaBoGCFx_1″ class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-5960″ ]Lastly, Mariota showed the ability to get the ball outside of the numbers. They don’t run a lot of deep outs or comebacks at Oregon but when they did, Mariota was able to get the ball to his target on time. There are times when he didn’t time his throws correctly and that cause the ball to get there late. With Mariota, it isn’t as much of an arm strength issue as it is an anticipation issue. He has to be able to place the ball in spots before his receivers make their breaks. The rhythmic passing game is something that will take some work but can be developed.

Overall, it is easy to see why Mariota is considered to be one of the best college quarterbacks. He specializes in making the dynamic play. While he may electrify fans a the college level, Mariota has some things to refine in order to succeed at the NFL level. If he lands in the right situation, he will be a solid pro. He will need to go to a coach such as Bruce Arians, Jim Harbaugh or Sean Payton that specializes in developing quarterbacks. That’s if he is expected to be effective right away.

Unfortunately, it is not likely that any of those coaches will have a team that would be in position to select a prospect like Mariota that is likely to go in the top 15 slots of the draft. Then again, who would have thought that Teddy Bridgewater would drop to the last pick of the first round this year. Mariota came back for another year of college football after graduating. He is a redshirt junior which will allow him to participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl if he wants to.¬†It will be interesting watching Mariota continue to develop as a passer. As you will see when I release my top five quarterbacks in this NFL draft class, Mariota is not the number one prospect at the position.

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Email: tdavenport@ngscsports.com

Video courtesy of www.draftbreakdown.com

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