Inside The Pylon‘s head writer Mark Schofield has spent the last three months watching quarterbacks and wide receivers, evaluating their potential on film, at the Combine and at Pro Days. This quarterback’s footwork, strengths and weaknesses, and transition to the next level have all gone under the microscope and now it’s time for final arguments on this three part series on why Marcus Mariota should go #1 overall.
Playing – and Winning From – the Pocket
NFL coaches and scouts want to know: “Can a QB win from the pocket? Can he make plays with bodies flying around him?” Watch Mariota on this play from the Arizona game. The Ducks face 4th and 11, trailing by seven with under nine minutes to go. The QB stands in an empty backfield with his tight end as part of a trips formation to the right and slot formation to his left. On the trips side, Oregon runs the middle receiver on a post, while the TE runs a crossing route with the outside receiver (who starts in motion) running a curl:
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Mariota eludes edge pressure by climbing the pocket, and firing a strike to the receiver on the post route for a fourth down conversion. This is textbook “winning from the pocket.”
This next play from the 2014 incarnation of the Civil War displays more of Mariota climbing the pocket and making a strong throw. Oregon has trips formation to his right. Oregon State shows Cover 2, but rolls to Cover 1 Robber with the trips-side safety dropping down into the box. There is pressure off the edge to Mariota’s right:
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He glides forward in the pocket and then throws a beautiful pass to the middle receiver running a post route; Mariota’s throw perfectly leads the WR away from the CB but arrives before the FS can break on the ball.
Another knock on Mariota is that, because of Oregon’s system, he rarely needs to make throws into tight windows. While the Ducks’ offense does create mismatches and open receivers, this does not mean the quarterback shies away from these reads and throws. Check out this play against South Dakota where Oregon has trips formation to the right. The inside trips receiver runs a post route. South Dakota shows Cover 1, but the safety drops as they roll coverage to quarters. Mariota chooses the post route between the two middle safeties and splits the DBs while dropping the throw over the retreating MLB:
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This is the right read and a perfect throw into a small throwing lane.
An inside post route is a great read against Cover 2 or any variation thereof, as the middle, between the safeties, is a weak spot in the zone that can be exploited quickly. This is a good read and an outstanding throw.
This play against Washington is a fine example of how a quarterback executes the four verticals concept against Cover 3, as Oregon deploys dual slot formations. The key here is for the QB to influence the middle safety towards one of the inside vertical routes (from the slots) and throw to the other:
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Mariota runs this to perfection. At the snap he first looks right, freezing the safety in the middle of the field. He then drops the throw into the seam route on his left, over the linebackers and between the cornerback and free safety. A very well-executed read and throw.
An anticipation throw is where the QB throws the ball before the receiver’s cut or break. This is one such example of Mariota making an anticipation throw on a deep curl route. In its game against the Huskies, Oregon again has dual slot formations, with the running back in motion at the snap toward the right and running a swing route, while the outside receiver on the right runs a crossing route underneath. Both inside slot receivers run seam routes, while the outside receiver on the left runs a deep comeback. Watch as Mariota delivers the ball to the receiver on the curl route as he emerges from his break:
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Mariota releases the football while the WR still has his back to the QB. This puts the ball on the receiver as he turns, timing the play perfectly and putting the receiver in position to pick up yards after the catch.
If I could use just one play to sum up Mariota’s potential transition to the NFL, it would be this play from the Civil War:
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Mariota stands in the shotgun with dual stack-slot formations. The Beavers run Tampa 2 for this play. On the left Oregon runs a curl/streak combination, while on the right the Ducks run a dig/seam combination. Mariota executes this play flawlessly, working on the front-side from the swing to the streak route, and then backside to the dig route. He climbs the pocket and releases a perfect anticipation throw before the receiver breaks free. His pass leads the WR open into the soft spot of the Tampa 2 coverage, nestled between four defenders. This is an NFL caliber read and throw from the pocket.
In my opinion, Mariota is the top quarterback in this class. A case can certainly be made for Jameis Winston, in that the Florida State signal-caller is a proven commodity on the field in terms of a pro-style offense. But on film, Mariota displays many of the traits that are necessary for a quarterback to flourish in a professional offense: He works through progressions, he can make throws into tight windows, he can win from the pocket, and he can make anticipation throws when needed. He will only improve on these traits over time and with repetition. In addition, Mariota is a superior athlete, one who can make up for protection flaws using his feet and quickness, and who can make plays escaping the pocket with his feet. For these reasons alone he is the superior quarterback to Winston.
When you factor in the off-the-field concerns surrounding Winston, Marcus Mariota should go #1 overall in this draft.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.