Column: How will Marcus Mariota fare in the NFL?

Story posted April 11, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Jack Milewski

When it comes to Marcus Mariota and this year’s NFL draft, two questions seem to rise above the rest. First, should Mariota be taken above Jameis Winston in the draft? The speculation for most of the offseason has been that Winston will be the number one pick, but only recently has that changed and now an assortment of experts are taking Mariota first in their mock drafts. Second, and perhaps more intriguing, is the question of whether Mariota’s game will translate from the college level to the pros?

Mariota’s college numbers are staggering. In just three seasons, he amassed over 10,000 yards through the air and threw for 105 touchdowns while producing only 14 interceptions. Couple this with 2,237 yards rushing and 29 ground scores and you have one of the best dual-threat college quarterbacks ever.

Many argue that Mariota’s numbers are inflated because he has benefited from an offensive minded system at Oregon. While that is true, it doesn’t immediately mean that Mariota’s game won’t translate to the NFL. However, he is a systematic quarterback who would benefit greatly from a similar system like the one he ran in Oregon.

If you look at Mariota’s numbers when it comes to passing accuracy compared to other Power Five conference quarterbacks, he ranks in the top five in: overall accuracy, pocket-passing, completion percentage on throws 15 yards downfield, pistol/shotgun passing and passing when blitzed. Again, though these numbers are staggering. Based on the way Oregon’s offensive system is built, they run routes that regularly leave receivers wide open. This allowed for Mariota to pad his completion stats due to the fact that he made a lot of fairly easy throws, especially for NFL standards.

Watching tape of the former Duck, you often times see him hitting receivers in stride for big plays. However, if you dissect these plays more, you often find that these receivers are fairly open. On routes where receivers are more “NFL open” and Mariota has to put the ball in a particular spot, he often puts the ball in a place where both his receiver and also the defender can get the ball. In the NFL, this is going to result in many more interceptions than it did in college.

Another knock on Mariota that holds a lot of weight, is the fact that he is not the best pocket passer. Again, the numbers are inflated by the Oregon system (2nd in pocket-passing completion percentage). If you look at video of Mariota, it is tough to find footage of him standing tall in the pocket and firing bullets downfield. This shows he isn’t comfortable in the pocket and will opt to move outside or throw on the run if he can. In the NFL, while not essential, being a pocket passer raises ones stock tremendously in the eyes of general managers and coaches.

Finally, Mariota does not recognize pre-snap blitzes well at all, which will spell trouble in the NFL where the defensive schemes are even more sophisticated pre-snap. There are times when Mariota is too quick to give up on the passing play and will look to either throw it away or run. If he wants to become a successful quarterback in the NFL, he will need to work on his patience as well as his ability to read opposing defenses.

The point here is that while the argument that Mariota is a system quarterback may not be 100% true, there are some flaws in his game that the system has masked. Mariota isn’t as polished a quarterback as Andrew Luck (though almost no one is out of college) and he may not even be as NFL ready as Jameis Winston. However, he can fit into almost any system in the NFL because the system isn’t really the issue. Rather the issue is that Mariota has a few crucial flaws, pocket passing and blitz recognition to name a few, that he needs to address if he wants to succeed at the next level.

Photo Credit:  (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

Jack Milewski is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jbm250@psu.edu.