Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Marcus Mariota - 2015 NFL Draft Scouting Report

With the college football season over, the 2015 NFL Draft season immediately starts up to fill that void. I plan to take a look at all of the top quarterback prospects but will also be willing to take suggestions if there are prospects at other positions that you would like to see analyzed. But my bread and butter is quarterback play (a position I still feel is underrated in the draft). Today, I wrap up the series by taking a look at Oregon Ducks Quarterback, Marcus Mariota.

Statistically speaking, you cannot get much better than Mariota. He absolutely dominated during his final college season and led the Oregon Ducks to the National Championship game. Most casual football fans assumed that he would be the first quarterback taken, because Winston threw more interceptions and interceptions are bad. As I'm writing this, Winston has gained the edge, but I'm not really worried about consensus, I'm worried with how these guys produce. Courtesy of Draft Breakdown, I was able to take a look at his 2014 games against Michigan State, Florida State, and Ohio State.

Awareness
The first thing that people seem to bring up with Marcus Mariota is that his offense made him tough to evaluate. Honestly, I don't think scouting an Oregon player is more difficult than scouting an Alabama player. For Oregon, it is scheme that gives them an advantage, but Alabama brings in nothing but the best recruits so it is easier for a player to shine with all of that talent around them. With the efficiency in the design of Oregon's offense, I was worried that Mariota wouldn't have to go through progressions on throws. For the most part, this was true, but he did have plays where it was necessary, and he showed aptitude. This is a good example:

He looks to his left, but then works his eyes back towards the middle where he sees that his receiver has a step on the defender. Even with good coverage, there is not much you can do when a quarterback throws a ball like that.

Pocket Presence
If you give him a comfortable pocket, he can carve up a defense. Once the pressure comes crashing in, he takes a lot of sacks and will too often throw off his back foot. Here is a play where he sees pressure coming but has plenty of space to step up and make a throw.

Unfortunately, he throws off his back foot and misses a wide open receiver. He's going to have to learn to throw in tight pockets, so not being able to step into a throw like that is definitely worrisome.

This is another example of Mariota adjusting his throwing motion when the pocket closes in on him.

He likely has enough room to make that throw, but he hesitates on it, and then short arms the throw.

Still, it's not all bad, as he did show the ability to move well in the pocket on this play.

He starts by looking to his right, adeptly slips a rusher, sees that things are still crowded in front of him, so he looks up, spots an open receiver and makes a touchdown throw.

Wow Plays
Full disclosure: I take notes while I watch the games, and I pressed pause and wrote, "I keep saying that he is very good, but I never get the feeling of greatness." Then I watched the very next play and started laughing at my stupidity.

There is so much that is right with this play. First off, the throw is great, but that pales in comparison as to what he does mentally here. Marshall is his third option on this play, but he is so quick at going through his reads that it doesn't matter. His first option is the tight end, but the linebacker in zone takes away that, so he looks to his left but the receiver on the outside is not open, he works his eyes back to the middle and fires a great pass to his receiver who is streaking open.

The issue that people have with Mariota is the offense. He wasn't asked to do the same things that Winston was required to do. Still, he showed flashes of having any ability that an NFL team is looking for. The biggest question mark I am left with is whether he is willing to trust his arm and pull the trigger by throwing into tight coverage. The physical capabilities are there; it's just a matter of believing he can squeeze the ball into tight windows.

Overall
There is a reason that everybody puts Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston far ahead of all of hte other quarterbacks in this draft. Although I have found myself liking the skills that Brett Hundley brings to the table, he is a step below these two quarterbacks. But this is the (likely) the last guy I will be looking at, so who's #1? Well, it really depends on what you want.

Marcus Mariota gets really bad comparisons. He gets compared to Colin Kaepernick, but he has less arm strength but maintains a tighter delivery, makes more accurate throws, and is far better at reading a field. I have also heard Alex Smith, but I think he is a far more dangerous quarterback in every aspect than Smith. The guy I see is Randall Cunningham. He doesn't quite have the arm, but he makes up for it with his accuracy. Meanwhile, I see Winston as a non-athletic Andrew Luck. They both make stupid throws, but they also do incredible things when it matters, and they are guys who find ways to win.

When it comes down to it, the offense that you want your team to run should be the difference maker between the two prospects. Jameis Winston fits that bill for more teams than Marcus Mariota, but Mariota would be good in a Winston offense, while Winston drops off quite a bit if asked to do what Mariota does. In the end, I have Winston a hair ahead of Mariota, as Winston has consistently displayed the ability to stand tall under pressure and deliver passes while Mariota has only flashed it. Off the field, there are plenty of question marks, but on the field, Jameis is the best talent in this draft.

Quarterback Prospect Rankings:
1. Jameis Winston - Florida State
2. Marcus Mariota - Oregon
3. Brett Hundley - UCLA
4. Shane Carden - East Carolina
5. Bryce Petty - Baylor
6. Sean Mannion - Oregon State
7. Garrett Grayson - Colorado State
8. Blake Sims - Alabama

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