The NFL Draft evaluation process is equal parts cruel, weird and fueled by hype. Time is running out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make their decision – notorious local legend Jameis Winston or the potential weaknesses of Marcus Mariota. Mark Schofield has reviewed all of the film…and renders his verdict on Mariota v. Winston.
Marcus Mariota capped off his prodigious collegiate career by being named the 78th recipient of the Heisman Trophy in 2014, the first in University of Oregon history. It was a historic 2014 season, completing 304 of 445 passes for 4,454 yards and 42 touchdowns against only four interceptions, to the tune of a 181.7 quarterback rating. In his career, Mariota completed 779 of 1,167 passes (a career completion percentage of 66.8%) for 10,796 yards and 105 touchdowns with only a scant 14 interceptions to his credit.
The Heisman Trophy was not the only post-season honor he received. Mariota was named the winner of the Maxwell Award (given to the College Football Player of the Year), the Davey O’Brien Award (given to the top collegiate quarterback), and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (given to the nation’s outstanding senior or fourth-year QB). The signal caller was named the Walter Camp Player of the Year, the AP Player of the Year, and was a first-team selection to both institutions’ All-America teams. Mariota was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and the MVP of the 2015 Rose Bowl.
Basically, if there was an award to be won by a quarterback in 2014, Mariota had his name etched in the trophy.
However, despite the accolades, Mariota is not the consensus number one prospect in this draft. Critics have attacked his footwork, his success in a “simple” offensive system and his ability to transition to the next level. But as Mariota grew in that one read scheme at Oregon, the coaching staff asked him to read defenses and make more decisions. The film in 2014 shows a quarterback with many of the traits needed to succeed in the NFL.
Tale of the Tape
Mariota is a tremendous athlete, with quick feet and tremendous speed. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 222 pounds, Mariota has ideal size for the position.
He also has hands measuring 9 and 7/8s inches, the third-biggest hands at the 2015 Scouting Combine among quarterbacks – hand size has been shown to translate to success in the NFL.
Mariota was a full participant at the Combine, and posted standout numbers in nearly every workout. He was the top performer among QBs in both the 40-yard dash, with a time of 4.52 seconds, and the three-cone drill, with a time of 6.87 seconds.
He has no significant injury history, having started all 41 games for the Ducks over the past three seasons. He was diagnosed with an MCL sprain in 2013, but missed no games and suffered a shoulder injury in the National Championship, but it has not affected his workouts this spring. Oregon posted a 36-5 record over that stretch.
The Hawaiian native is athletic, bringing the ability to escape the pocket and elude tacklers, which can make up for lapses in protection. He also has tremendous balance and the ability to throw strong, accurate passes when on the move.
This first play is from Oregon’s regular-season tilt against Michigan State. The Spartans’ defense is in a 3-3-5 nickel and they bring a blitz to Mariota’s right. The defensive end crashes inside on the left guard and the edge rusher flies upfield to occupy the left tackle. This opens up the B gap, and a direct path for the linebacker to the QB:
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Mariota first evades the free defender and proceeds to break three other tackles as he escapes the pocket. He then has the presence of mind to flip the football to his running back in the flat, who secures the toss and cuts upfield for a first down.
Because of his athletic prowess, Oregon used Mariota in a number of ways. On this play against Arizona, the QB takes the shotgun snap and pitches the football to his running back on what seems to be a toss play. Mariota jogs around the left end and as he escapes the vision of the defenders, races up the seam:
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He catches the pass from his running back, bounces off the safety – who had a free shot to light him up but fails – and fights his way into the end zone. Mariota lost control of the football but it had already crossed the plane for the TD.
In the Rose Bowl, Mariota displayed his ability to evade pressure as well as his gift of throwing the football on the run. He stands in the shotgun with dual inverted-slot formations. Florida State runs a twist up front, which worked to free up defensive end Desmond Hollin (#43). Mariota slides to his left to escape the DE, but, with the play covered downfield, he then breaks the pocket to his right to buy time:
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Watch how he races to the other sideline before delivering a strong, accurate throw to a receiver along the boundary. The pass was ruled incomplete, but Mariota did his job.
Here is a similar play from the National Championship Game against Ohio State:
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A Buckeyes twist/stunt combination up front collapse the pocket inside, flushing Mariota outside. He unleashes a throw on the move from his own 19-yard line to a receiver on the OSU 40, a rocket covering 40+ yards – that should have been caught for a big play.
Needs Improvement: Ball Security
Despite large hands and his incredibly low interception totals, ball security is still an issue to be concerned about. Mariota has had trouble with fumbles, putting the ball on the ground 27 times during his career at Oregon, losing 11. The most worrisome example is from Oregon’s regular-season loss to Arizona.
Trailing by seven with a little more than two minutes remaining, Mariota has the Ducks on the march toward the game-tying score. But on this 1st and 10 play he is flushed from the pocket, and Wildcat linebacker Scooby Wright III simply rips the ball from the quarterback’s grasp, in the manner of one Tedy Bruschi:
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For a quarterback that thrives on the move and likes to run, Mariota needs to do a better job keeping control of the football.
Plus: Arm Strength
This first play is a deep curl from the left hash to a receiver out near the right numbers:
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This throw is delivered accurately, on a line and timed perfectly; the defender has no chance of preventing this incompletion.
A deep curl route:
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With the football on the right hash, Mariota throws the deep curl route to the outside of the left numbers. The pass is coming out of his hands as the receiver makes his cut, allowing the receiver to gain separation on the break and putting him in position to gain yards after the reception.
Needs Improvement: Footwork
Much of the NFL passing game is built off the three-, five-, and seven-step dropback, especially from center. Mariota needs to improve in this aspect of quarterbacking. While at Oregon he operated nearly exclusively from the shotgun, and his footwork was lax when using three- and five-step drops in the shotgun formation.
This first play is a basic three-step stick concept, with the running back running an out, the flanker running a snag route, and the tight end running a corner route. Mariota completes a short toss to his RB for a first down, but note his footwork:
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This is not a well-executed three step. He shuffles his feet, never crossing over at all. You can compare his footwork here to Chris Bonner, a quarterback in this class with more experience in the three-, five- and seven-step dropback game.
This next play against Arizona is another example, a straight go route using a five-step drop. He gets the first three steps right, with a right foot back, a crossover step with his left foot, and another right foot. But again, he shuffles his feet on the final two steps:
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Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.