Matt Waldman’s RSP Sample Pre-NFL Draft Scouting Report: QB Marcus Mariota (Tennessee)

Matt Waldman’s RSP shares a sample scouting report on Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota, a player whose pocket presence and the potential turnstile of NFL coaches he might (and has) have to endure could be barriers to his upside. 

3. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (6-4, 222)

There’s no shame to Mariota’s game that he’s No.3 on the RSP’s list. The Oregon quarterback has undeniable potential as a starter. The ranking comes down to what I saw with Mariota’s thought process and how it plays out with his footwork.

Jameis Winston’s feet are a reflection of a powerful, agile player who’s anticipating the next step and sometimes gets ahead of himself. It leads to awkward moments, but once Winston gets his bearings he’s tough to stop. It’s a metaphor for his game.

Brett Hundley’s feet show an explosive quarterback with fluid athleticism and urgency that sometimes drifts across the line to impatience. Mariota’s footwork is deliberate, short-striding, incremental, and analytical.

This isn’t bad—it’s different. However, the first two quarterbacks display a level of creativity I don’t see in Mariota’s play as often. One reason is that Winston and Hundley’s offenses required more creativity from the quarterbacks and they were proven improvisers outside the structure of the play. Mariota’s offense worked without the need of the quarterback to do this kind of work as often.

Mariota’s footwork from the snap to the release of the ball is like Robert Griffin’s and Steve Young’s: quick and alert, but short and deliberate. When you watch these players, you can narrate “click…click…click..” to each step and sense, there’s a bit of a task-oriented, even robotic, element to their play. Young’s play is at such a high level that the formulaic quality faded as he truly embodied the footwork of his offense. Griffin’s footwork is closer to Mariota’s because both are still in the developmental stages of their professional careers.

Mariota processes information fast enough to execute on time, but reading ahead of his actions don’t seem as natural to his game as Winston and Hundley. It’s a fine distinction and one that will easily be misunderstood by those thinking that I’m saying Mariota isn’t as smart or he can’t create.

The truth is that Mariota is just more of a step-by-step guy than a flowing improviser. If you look at the Chip Kelly-influenced offense, it matches up well to players who submit to the system without being too creative. The creativity is built-in. You could say something similar about Bill Walsh’s offense, which broke the wild horse that was once Steve Young. In case you didn’t know, Mariota was a Kelly recruit.

If you’re thinking, Steve Young and Robert Griffin are analytical bordering on robotic? If that’s true, then I’ll gladly take Mariota, you are correct. The Oregon quarterback will start in the NFL and he has the upside to thrive as a top-12 passer.

Though I put Hundley ahead of Mariota, the difference was small enough that if my audience was a specific team, the organization might value something about Mariota as a person a little more than swings the needle towards the Oregon Duck. At the same time, the smallest differences can have a great effect in a league that truly represents its cliché “game of inches.”

The Mariota has a quick setup and release. He delivers the ball in the short game with accuracy and a minimal setup from a spread scheme. He also displays thorough play fakes in this theme and he can set and throw fast from these situations.

He can drop and set on three-step or two-step/rock-step and throws in rhythm. Mariota can also throw accurate passes off a three-step scissors drop, a jump-pivot, or moving right or left with accuracy to the short-range. He delivers the ball over his shoulder with a decent snap when velocity is called for. He’s also capable of some touch and loft in the short game.

There is potential for him to deliver the ball well in the screen game. He reminds me of Mark Sanchez in this aspect of his game because he’s mobile, uses a variety of pumps and play-fakes, and he sets up his team for success in the short game this way. When he takes
shorter, controlled, and even paced strides as a passer, he can move around pressure and deliver the ball downfield with anticipation and accuracy worthy of an NFL quarterback, especially to the perimeter.

He’s also willing to take one hitch step or slide a step to the right or left and deliver the ball. This isn’t great footwork, but it’s some display of climbing and sliding in the pocket. Mariota does it with controlled, deliberate steps to stay in position as a thrower.

It makes his pocket presence a little better than some quarterbacks who do not slide at all but only break the pocket as a runner or rollout passer. Mariota can also climb and slide from pressure while still looking down field. When necessary, he’s willing to deliver the ball under pressure without his feet set.

He displays the capability to exhaust a play before creating as a runner. Mariota was a little more consistent than Hundley in this respect, but it might not be a fair apples-to-apples comparison. Mariota’s scenarios weren’t as consistently difficult as Hundley’s.

Projecting what I saw from each to the pro game, I think Mariota’s slightly more deliberate nature won’t work as well in a muddy pocket as Hundley’s. It’s an estimation on my part and none of this may come into significant play depending on the team that drafts them.

Despite illustrating some capability to exhaust a play before creating as a runner, Mariota is far from immune to abandoning the pocket too early. He can get too aggressive with reads when he should take less and keep the chains moving. He often abandons the pocket too early to throw on the run. This choice limits the scope of the reads that he can make and eliminates any effect of a blocking scheme designed to protect the pocket, not the perimeter.

The net effect of Mariota’s pocket presence flaws is that he’s forced to throw a lower percentage pass. Mariota needs to take the short gains on appropriate down and distance rather than get greedy and go for a bigger play.

As mentioned earlier, Mariota can slide a step. However, he needs to display that he can slide multiple steps rather than take a step and then break into a run. In this respect, Hundley and Winston are more adept. Mariota will slide a step and then bolt from pressure whereas

Winston and Hundley take 2-4 steps in similar situations. It’s good that Mariota will often keep his eyes downfield when he initially runs. His initial movement costs him control to make certain throws, but he limits his options when he abandons his spot too fast.

He needs to learn to slide in the pocket with more control so his feet remain under him and he can maintain a throwing position. He shows signs of doing this from clean enough pockets that he can hitch a step from pressure and hit a short or intermediate route in single coverage to lead a receiver, but it’s not often there in muddier pockets.

Mariota can throw the ball on the move and with accuracy and range at least 40 yards from his release point. He’s also capable of accelerating his release plan and delivering a well-placed ball 25-30 yards from his release point. He knows how to target a receiver’s back shoulder to protect the player from a defender’s hit. When he stays in the pocket and looks to his second or third options he tends to make smart decisions with the football.

Mariota is a quick runner who is capable of baiting pressure and then cutting outside of them to earn yards downfield. If he gets an open lane and doesn’t have to change direction, he has the speed to take it the distance.

He has vision in the open field, but he’s not as dynamic or as patient with setting up blocks as Hundley. He has good burst in the read-option game, and he knows how to slide to protect himself from contact. He’s more mature in this respect than Winston and Hundley despite the fact that conditions have to be more optimal for Mariota to break a long run compared to his UCLA rival.

Although Oregon’s offense provides Mariota optimal throwing lanes against zone coverage, he displays some promising skills as a passer. He has the touch to work over a shallow defender and he will make accurate throws with pressure in his face and lead a receiver to the open field.

Mariota reads progressions and often looks to a second and sometimes third read. While Mariota demonstrates smart decisions with windows to target against zone defenses, there are question marks in his game about his choosing those targets in the first place—especially when there’s time to look to another outlet. Many of his plays don’t require him holding a safety or defender as much as reading one side with two options close enough that’s it’s hard to tell who he’s reading. I want to see more evidence of him manipulating a defender.

He is capable of good downfield placement on intermediate routes, and he can deliver throws in the middle of the field into reasonably tight windows. However, Mariota’s placement on intermediate routes lacks consistent, pinpoint placement—especially for targets that are often wide open even by college standards. Mariota forces receivers to leave their feet when there’s open space to extend plays after the catch.

Although deliberate and incremental, Mariota’s footwork isn’t technically smooth or precise. Sometimes he hitches and the movement seems to occur in two parts: One foot moving at a time rather than in tandem as one fluid movement. It seems a little disjointed and lacking a flow with his legs on some drops beyond the quick, three-step delivery on a quick-hitting play from the gun.

His touch can improve. Mariota can get the ball ahead of a defender, but he still places the ball in spots where the action is contested or more difficult adjustments are necessary.

One of Mariota’s major flaws comes when he extends plays. He attempts too many throws across his body or to the opposite side of the field rather than making check-downs. While I have seen him throw a ball out of bounds to avoid a sack, the longer he’s invested in keeping a play alive, the less likely he’ll throw it away.

Mariota is a strong match for an offense that uses a lot of pre- and post-snap movement, quick-short passing, and spread sets that allow Mariota to play point guard with his distribution. I see him as a productive system passer with some creativity, but I haven’t seen enough tight window accuracy or pocket presence to say his upside is much more. If his pocket presence improves, he has a greater statistical upside.

Marcus Mariota highlights (NSFW)

RSP Film Room:

Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Unless Chip Kelly and the Eagles are bluffing and target Mariota in the draft, it’s likely the rookie will benefit most from a year or two on a bench. He’ll need to develop drops from center, and master a pro-style play-action game and system of reads.

Don’t count on this happening. Mariota will likely startDay 1. If so, don’t expect a Luck, Griffin or Wilson-like rookie year and hope Mariota’s play doesn’t regress or that he’s subjected to a turnstile or meatgrinder of a coaching staff and personnel.

You’ll have to invest in him as a first-round pick in fantasy leagues that draft prior to the NFL. None of the quarterbacks are worth it in my opinion. If Mariota somehow falls to the mid-second round or early third round in your league, the value is good enough to pull the trigger. Don’t count on it.

For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019  Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.

Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 each. 

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