Stepping Up: The Footwork of Marcus Mariota vs Jameis Winston

With the advent of the spread option offense in college football, more and more draft prospects lack familiarity with taking the snap from under center and executing a traditional drop into the pocket. Saturday’s NFL Scouting Combine provided a stage for quarterbacks to simulate this maneuver. Inside the Pylon’s QB Mark Schofield examines the footwork of Marcus Mariota vs Jameis Winston.

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are the top quarterbacks in this year’s class and, while there is debate over which is the better prospect, both are likely top ten selections, participating fully in the testing and on-field drills at the combine. While each performed well throwing the ball, there is a noticeable difference between the two when it comes to the drop-back.

Near the end of the passing session the quarterbacks were tasked with executing a five-step drop from the center and throwing a 9, or go, route. Here is Winston’s first throw:

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Now, here is Mariota’s:

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Did you notice any differences between the two quarterbacks, particularly regarding their footwork? If not, these two videos are illustrative. Here’s Winston again, with annotations:

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Now Mariota once more, with comments:

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The rules for a (right-handed) QB on a five-step drop are as follows: After taking the snap from center, he pivots and makes three hard right-footed strides as he retreats into the pocket. The specific sequence calls for a deep right step, crossover with the left foot, a second deep right step, another left foot crossover, and a final deep step with the right foot to plant and gather. The depth goal is seven yards from the line of scrimmage.

Winston is flawless in his execution of the five-step drop here, as he glides effortlessly into the pocket, hits his depth of seven yards, and then gathers to throw. Conversely, Mariota struggles to achieve a depth of even six yards, using a massive final step to get to that mark. At the moment of release, Winston’s left foot is anchored to the 15-yard line, meaning he is five yards from the line of scrimmage at the moment of release. Mariota, however, has his left foot on the 16-yard line, only four yards from the line of scrimmage. Both players measured 6 feet 3¼ inches tall at the combine, so the difference is not a matter of their relative height. (Anecdotally, I check in at 5’ 10” and could hit the seven-yard depth consistently back in the day ‒ at least in practice.)

You may wonder if this even matters, but in the NFL every inch is critical. On Sunday at the combine, prospective edge defender Vic Beasley ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash. Another, Dante Fowler Jr., ran a 4.60-second 40-yard dash with a 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds. With speed like that coming off the edges, every yard of depth a quarterback can gain in the pocket increases his likelihood of staying upright. In addition, with athletic defenders like J.J. Watt knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage increased depth on the drop allows a quarterback to throw over the line without added loft on the pass.

Now, does this video of Mariota cause me any reservations about his draft stock? Not at all. I believe he and Winston are 1 and 1A in this draft class, and I am confident that Mariota can be a very successful NFL quarterback. But when you hear draftniks and scouts talk about the transition of spread quarterbacks to the professional game, little things such as the drop from center are what they have in mind.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy the NFL.

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