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Let's talk about Marcus Mariota

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Breaking down one of the most polarizing players in the draft, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more polarizing prospects in recent memory, Marcus Mariota is an interesting study. You see traits that are musts at the next level, and you see traits that he just hasn't developed yet to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. Let's get right into arguably the most important trait for an NFL quarterback.

Pocket Presence

This is a must in the NFL. While it's so much easier said than done, quarterbacks need to be able to work from a "muddy" pocket, manipulate said pocket, and stay patient while keeping their eyes downfield.

Mariota has above average elusiveness when it comes to avoiding defenders in the pocket. It's a special trait of his. Mariota has also shown that he can go through his progressions and deliver with accuracy. Mariota has also flashed the ability to hang in the pocket and take a hit. When you watch him, there are plenty of positive transferrable traits that would suggest Mariota will be fine at the next level. In the NFL, quarterbacks have to be able to win within the structure of the play, and outside of it. In the structure of the play, Mariota managed Oregon's offense about as well as you could ask. Even though roughly half of his passes involved some sort of run-action, he was able to hit open receivers. He also was able to manipulate the defense by holding the safeties and using pump fakes that helped these receivers get so open. Below, it's 3rd and 8 and Mariota's initial read is taken away. He does a good job of staying patient, working through his progressions, and hitting the backside slant.

When the play extended, or outside of the play structure, this was an area I felt Mariota needs to work on. In the NFL, you have to be aggressive. You also have to know when to pick your battles and live for another day. There's a difference between recklessness and aggression. In the 6 games I charted, Mariota only threw the ball away 3 times. There were times he would hang onto the ball too long and take unnessacry sacks. When the play broke down, he also had a tendency to break the pocket and try and make something happen, and the result would be late throws over the middle that at the next level will result into turnovers. When dealing with pressure right in his face, Mariota's mechanics took a hit. He wouldn't fully step into his throws and this would cause passes to either sail on him or one hop the receivers. Mariota flashed the ability of being patient in the pocket, but he'll need to be more consistent if he wants to be successful in the NFL.

Accuracy, Velocity, Anticipation and Decision Making

The 4 qualities that make a top tier quarterback. Below is a chart that tells you exactly where Mariota threw the ball and how it was received by the receiver in 6 combined games. I omitted all throws behind the line of scrimmage. They are color coded based on the result of the pass. Triangles are completions and X's are incompletions.

a

  • Blue-Behind
  • Yellow-Low pass
  • Orange-Overthrow
  • Green-On target
  • Dark Green-Drop
  • Teal-Throw Away
  • Red-Interception
Here is a look at a table broken down into how many steps, where the pass was thrown, including air yards, sacks, touchdowns and interceptions.


Steps Comp attempt Behind Low Overthrow On Target Drop Air Yards Would be TD Would be INT Sack
1 10 11 1 10 2 14
3 31 44 4 5 4 31 2 306 3 2 2
5 1 2 1 1 3 1
7
Play-Action 57 87 6 3 21 57 2 506 4 5 5
Roll Out/Out of Pocket 15 22 5 1 1 15 5 161 3 2
Throw Away 3

This is a lot to digest, but there's a lot of valuable information here. Mariota had 40 attempts within 5 yards and only 5 of those were off target. He was very accurate and showed a quick release while allowing his receiver to pick up yards after the catch. When you get between 5-10 yards, Mariota had 28 attempts, but 15 of those were off target. Much is made about quarterbacks and their deep accuracy, but this is the area of the field where 60-70% of the throws are made. These are your slants, curls, and all timing routes coaches call to stay ahead of the chains. Mariota's flaws in this area of the field are reasons why he's just not ready to start in the NFL day 1.

Mariota can go through multiple progressions with ease. The issue is once he's forced to reset, the velocity and accuracy just wasn't there consistently. Defenders were able to jump in front of throws and knock the pass away, or passes were off target because his throwing base was off. Another issue that's alarming in this area is the 5 charted interceptions in this area. This goes back to throwing the ball away. 4 of these 5 throws were a result of pressure. Instead of throwing the ball in the stands Mariota chose to go late over the middle and it's a trait that showed up in every game. You can't be the hero on every play. This throw against UCLA is a good example of hero ball. It's 3rd and 11, just throw it away.


When you get the intermediate part of the field, 10- 20 yards, Mariota had 56 attempts and was accurate on 36 of those throws and only had 1 interception worthy throw. This area is tough to project because more often than not Mariota was throwing to receivers running free. He did hit those receivers in stride and that's something you can't take away from him. The issue in the intermediate part of the field is Mariota's anticipation. He's a "see it thrower." You can pause several of his throws  and see that the receiver is well out of his break and the ball is still in Mariota's hands. With more anticipation he gives his receiver a better chance to gain yards after the catch, and better yet, allows his receiver to avoid taking hits. Mariota will lay receivers out to dry in this part of the field, and I believe it's partly due to the lack of anticipation.

Mariota had 22 throws over 20 yards and 12 of those were off target, including 2 to be interception worthy. Mariota misses some layups that were sure touchdowns. Criticizing his deep accuracy is fair, considering the context of missing open receivers, and not it just being 50/50 balls. This isn't an arm strength issue, Mariota has plenty of arm to make these throws, though the Russell Wilson/Colin Kapernick comparisons are off base, I believe this comes back to an anticipation issue.

Where do you take him?

Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10 8.5 – 9.0
Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round 8.0 – 8.4
Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round 7.8 – 7.9
Reliable Starter, 2nd Round 7.5 – 7.7
Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round 7.0 – 7.4
Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round 6.5 – 6.9
Productive Backup, 5th Round 6.0 – 6.4
Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round 5.5 – 5.9
Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round 5.0 – 5.4
Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round 4.5 – 4.9
Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations 4.0 – 4.4
Non-Draftable 4.0

Trait Weight Grade
Pocket Presence 4 3.8
Accuracy 4 3.6
Velocity 2.5 2
Decision Making 2.5 2.1
Anticipation 2 1.5
Arm Strength 2 1.8
Footwork 2 1.6
Ball Security 2 1.2
Release 2 1.8
Athleticism 2 2

Mariota grades out to a 7.7, or a reliable starter. His pocket presence will help him as he's patient, and can go through his progressions quickly. Within the structure of the play, Mariota is very good and will do what's needed to move the chains and control the offense. Mariota should also be able to keep you ahead of the chains with his escape ability or pure athleticism. Again, I don't believe he's in that same dynamic as a runner as Kaepernick or Wilson at the next level, but still above average.  It's outside of the structure where he struggles and why I would not take him in the 1st round if I needed a quarterback. His footwork breaks down in the face of pressure. His lack of anticipation and velocity will hurt him at the next level and he won't be able to get away with the same types of decisions he made in college. Mariota can be a good quarterback at the next level, but I don't believe he's a guy that can carry your offense. At the end of the day it's about making those 100-150 plays on 3rd down when everyone knows you're going to throw it, I don't trust Mariota in that situation.