While he has the arm strength and the leadership makeup that are needed in an elite signal caller, Marcus Mariota severely lacked something during his time at Oregon: the proof that he can make NFL throws.
While Mariota is far beyond just a system-made quarterback, the Oregon offense did Mariota no favors in his preparation for the league during the last three seasons. While watching Mariota, there is no doubt that he has perfected screens, short slants and short in routes, as well as the occasional seam pass that works into the read option. However, we have never seen Mariota play under center at all or even throw many posts or NFL type routes. Mariota does a tremendous job on about 20 to 30 percent of the routes he would throw in the league, but he would need to learn on the job after being drafted. Due to this, Mariota is likely at least two to three seasons of preparation away from being able to be a difference maker in an NFL offense.
With the Oregon offense, Mariota also showed that he lacked the ability to make reads past his first option in the pass game. Many times it appeared that Mariota was very eager to get out of the pocket when that first option was not available. To have success in the league, pocket presence is a necessity. Reads and adjustments on the fly are also big keys — good NFL defenses excel in taking away the first option on plays.
However, one of the biggest drawbacks for Mariota was glaringly apparent in the national championship game: his struggles in the red zone. This was not just a one-game occurrence. ESPN reported on its broadcast that Mariota completed just over 40 percent of his passes within the 20. This absolutely has to improve for him to have any shot in the NFL.
One of the biggest selling points on Mariota is that he threw only 14 interceptions in three seasons. However, he also showed a lack of interest in fitting a ball in a tight window most times. While the turnovers did not come from interceptions in college, Mariota did lose 11 fumbles in those three seasons, while putting the ball on the ground 27 times.
Mariota is extremely athletic and intelligent. His off-field work ethic and his handling of the media are impeccable as well. Mariota is fast and agile when running with the ball outside of the pocket. His speed will certainly aid him in the NFL — he can make defenders miss. This also allows Mariota to avoid sacks, which allows him to extend plays. That is a vital asset for a pro quarterback.
While he has not shown the consistent NFL throws, Mariota does have the arm strength to succeed in the league, and he owns a quick release. Mechanics in the throwing game will not need to be changed with Mariota, but it will take some reps to get accustomed to hitting those NFL routes.
However, one of the biggest qualities that will aid Mariota is the fact that he is a proven leader with a substantial passion for the game and his teammates. He also appears to be a player who will listen and put in the work, based on his personality.
The dreaded term “upside” is no doubt present in Mariota’s game — all of the tools are there to be great if he puts in the work and gets into the right system. However, to me Mariota is more of a project than a sure thing. I have a really hard time investing a top draft pick in a project at a position as crucial as quarterback. If you miss, it sets the franchise back at least five or six seasons.