Oregon QB Marcus Mariota may be the hottest topic leading up to the NFL Draft. We can conclude that there's almost no chance Mariota is still on the board when the Browns draft at #12. However, there's reports everywhere that the Browns are definitely interested in his services, and may be willing to move up to get him.
#Browns have had talks with #Redskins over the past week about potentially moving up to No. 5. They’ve touched base with most Top 10 teams— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 27, 2015
With that in mind, I thought he'd be a great fit for our next Q&A. Rusty Ryan (@Rusty_Ryan11) of SB Nation's Oregon blog, Addicted To Quack, was nice enough to answer a 6-pack of questions on Mariota. Check out his answers below:
1. First off, does Chip Kelly make a real play to get Mariota? Or do you see the Titans making a Philip Rivers move?
I think there is a very real chance Chip Kelly makes a real play. He's a coach that when he knows what he wants he goes and gets it. If he thinks that the value of adding Mariota outweighs the immediate costs of draft picks, he'll do it. It's important to remember that Chip Kelly doesn't really care about anyone outside the coaching staff thinks. He doesn't explain his decisions and he's always been a contrarian, for better and for worse.
I see the Titans making a Phllip Rivers move. They need a lot of pieces and have a lot to gain by getting a sure-fire quarterback who has worked well with their OC in the past. Rivers is a known quality while the other quarterbacks in the draft still have to prove themselves. Besides, it sounds like Rivers wants out of San Diego and he has history with Tennessee and could make a longer-term stay than with the Chargers. There have been rumors of a 3-way trade with the Browns and Titans so the Titans would get picks, the Browns would get Bradford, and the Eagles could get the #2 pick. At that point it's Chip Kelly's world and we're all just living in it.
2. By all accounts, he looks as composed and a team-leader as you could want in a QB. Any insight to this? He seems like a stand-up dude.
You know it's weird when ESPN and the other talking heads who believe in certain football dogmas think that Mariota is too nice. I rarely comment on the "character" of an athlete, whatever that means. But I can tell you from all accounts of everyone I've ever run into from college back to his childhood, has only the nicest things to say. I've never heard one negative thing about him, which is really startling. Like, almost too good. Keep in mind, he wasn't a leader at all when he started. It was tough to him to adapt to leading the team. An image that has always stuck with me that plays into him being more introverted and not being a ra-ra guy was when the Oregon team travelled to Virginia a couple years ago, and after a big touchdown the cameras showed Mariota sitting on a giant case by himself just kicking it. So he's come a long way since then.
3. He gets labeled in the cliche "spread QB" or "scheme-QB" category. Do you think he can overcome that stigma at the next level?
I'm not sure what it even necessarily means to be a spread quarterback anymore. When is a player that is insanely accurate and never throws picks a product of the system? Geno Smith and Blaine Gabbert come to mind as players who never had to throw downfield very much, but Mariota can throw the ball all over the field. I think a lot of the talking heads who promote "the core values of THA LEAGUE," see a guy from a spread background not succeed in the NFL and they use it as an opportunity to discuss how these guys don't have it cut out to make it in the league. To me, it's a confounding variable. It's probably something that people will point to if/when he falters. Does he have to adapt because the windows in the pros are smaller than the ones he's used to? Yes, but all quarterbacks have to deal with it. I don't think the offense someone ran in college is nearly as big of a determinant at the next level as mental fortitude and handling preparation.
4. He's a very gifted athlete, but more than just an athletic QB prospect. What do you see as his greatest strength?
By far his greatest attribute is his decision making. He rarely threw picks when he was at Oregon. I think half of his picks came near the end of a half or in a fourth and long situation and it was essentially an arm punt. He is excellent at distributing the ball and finding the most open receiver. He knows when to run and when to use his athleticism to extend the play. The one criticism I really have of him is ball security in the pocket. You'll see more players tuck the ball and grip it tight against their chest once things get hectic in the pocket. He has a tendency to leave the ball exposed too long and that led to a few fumbles.
5. Outside of playing in a spread scheme, what do you see as his biggest deficiency heading into the NFL?
The windows and types of throws he makes will be vastly different. In the NFL, you spend more time throwing guys open, hitting players in pockets of space before they've come out of their cuts, and throwing the ball to receivers based on body position. I believe he has the arm and mental ability to cope. The unknown in Mariota is that no one has seen him consistently have to make NFL-type throws. We've seen plays where he scrambles and then throws a bullet to the opposite side of the field. He's extended a play and thrown a 32-yard dime to a place only the receiver could get to it. However, we haven't seen him consistently throw smash routes, quick outs when the field isn't so spread out and defenses have to be more honest, and we haven't seen him throw out of a bunch formation. The question is if he can take his clearly excellent skills, and adapt them to the types of things he will run in the NFL.
6. Ultimately, where do you think he'll get drafted, and what sort of immediate impact can be expected?
I don't see him dropping out of the top-6 based on team needs. If he escapes past the second pick I think a lot of people will make a scramble to get the third pick from the Jags who, for some odd reason, are in love with Blake Bortles. The Raiders like David Carr so that could be an option as well. I think his immediate success is slightly dependent on where he ends up. Coaching in the NFL is such a strong indicator of success. Almost anyone can look good playing for the Patriots. Almost everyone looks bad playing for the Jags. In the Eagles the learning curve will be much less than if he went to Tennessee. His first year will probably see him struggle in certain games when he's not used to certain defensive pre-snap reads, certain routes and adjustments, and not being able to having such vast athletic superiority over others.