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Marcus Mariota And The NFL Draft: Where Should He Land?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

 

With the 2015 NFL Draft arriving in just over two weeks, much is being said about which possible team will be smart enough to claim former Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota. Why won’t he go number one, you might ask? Well, the short answer is that while he is an outstanding athlete, an undisputed gem in the PR department as well as the perfect teammate, there are lingering concerns about Mariota’s accuracy, durability, and fit in a pro-style system. 

Standing 6’4” and 218lbs, he is not small, and doesn’t look fragile, either, and the injuries he’s dealt with at the end of the 2013 and 2014 seasons will happen occasionally to even the safest of players, which Mariota could of course be counted amongst.  But public belief is tough to quash once they get going. 

Most experts assume Mariota will go number two at the earliest, so let’s leave Tampa Bay, the holders of the first pick, off the board. The big question is, what team provides his best chance to start his NFL career and pick up where he left off at Oregon? Let’s look at the most likely options, and why each would or wouldn’t fit.

1. Tennessee Titans - #2 overall

Why it makes sense – Ken Whisenhunt is an offensive guru, and has worked well with future potential HOF players Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, and Philip Rivers. Whisenhunt helped revive the careers of Warner and Rivers and gave a very young Roethlisberger the right plays to win his first Super Bowl. 

Why it won’t work – Whisenhunt has not shown that he can develop a young QB, and even his short time working with Roethlisberger was not career defining. While his ability to help re-tool veteran QB’s is well-documented, his failed attempts working with Matt Leinart, Kevin Kolb, and John Skelton in Arizona should make Mariota’s camp nervous, and the lack of established playmakers in Nashville should make them sweat a bit more.

Grade - C

2. Washington - #5 overall

Why it makes sense – There isn’t a QB entrenched in the starting gig, and HC Jay Gruden helped build an offense around Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, covering up his weaknesses while enhancing his strengths to work well with the supporting cast.

Why it won’t work – Quality supporting casts are great and all, but Gruden is notorious for pushing to convert mobile passers in to pocket passers as it helps his scheme, regardless of how it affects their ability to play at a high level. The fact is that most players aren’t of the “plug and play” variety, and while guys like Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy can thrive in that system, it’s a graveyard for superior athletes like RG3 and could be a toxic environment for Mariota.  

Grade - C-

3. St. Louis Rams - #10 overall

Why it makes sense – Home games in a dome and a chance to re-ignite the “Greatest Show on Turf”, for starters. With the addition of Mariota, they could sell even more tickets as “The Flyin Hawaiian and the Greatest Show on Turf”. New Rams OC Frank Cignetti, Jr. knows a thing or two about running a high-octane offense from his days at Fresno State, and the weapons in St. Louis are starting to look good. He’d have a great defense to lean on and an underrated group of talented receivers to grow with. The running game needs work and Tre Mason is not a bruiser, but he can get away in a hurry. 

Why it won’t work – There aren’t any established playmakers on offense other than the blockers up front, and while OC Cignetti has a good mind for offense and got some good run from relatively unknown Austin Davis last year as the QB coach, he’s a largely unproven commodity at the pro level. It could work but there would be just as much risk as optimism for Mariota lands here. 

Grade - B

4. Cleveland Browns - #12 overall

Why it makes sense – Honestly, it doesn’t. The Browns have expressed interest in Mariota and may even trade up to get him, but this would be bad for Marcus. Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon are already providing a bad environment for players young and old, they are on their third OC in three years, and the newest guy leaves a lot to be desired in the playbook department. The GM is suspended for four games for tampering with play calling, and there won’t be an established running back or receiver to lean on. Personally, I’d pull a page from the Eli Manning playbook and demand a trade if the Browns call on Draft Day.    

Grade - F

5. New Orleans Saints - #13 overall

Why it makes sense – There have been parallels drawn between Aaron Rodgers and Mariota, and this would be the best way to complete the vision. Mariota could sit and learn behind future HOF QB Drew Brees, and really dig in to the vast playbook that Brees and head coach Sean Payton pull from. Payton is arguably the best playcaller in the game today, and it would be a wonder to see what he could do with an athlete like Mariota in his system. Brees is 36 and plans to play for many years to come, but this is a young man’s game, and he’s likely to be on another roster or retiring with three years.  

Why it won’t work – There’s no such thing as a perfect situation, and if Mariota falls to them that’s great, but the Saints will likely have to trade up to get him, and if they have to give away a future number one to get it done so be it, but if they have to send another weapon after already losing Jimmy Graham, it might become a bad deal. The running game and defense already leave something to be desired but a fully healthy Mark Ingram will help the ground attack, and Brandon Browner and Jairus Byrd should be able to revitalize the Rob Ryan defense in the next year or two. 

Grade - B+

6. San Diego Chargers – #17 overall

Why it makes sense – Head coach Mike McCoy is one of the best offensive minds in the game, and even helped make Tim Tebow a hero in Denver as recently as 2012. McCoy has flourished since being able to work with Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers the last two seasons, but I’d love to see what he can do with a complete athlete like Mariota. Antonio Gates provides a great safety cushion for the young passer, and a steady offensive line should keep him upright. The 6 hour flight home to Honolulu isn’t too shabby, either. 

Why it won’t work – Young, inconsistent receivers and a patch-work running game are not ideal for a rookie QB, and even if the team finds a way to trade up and get Mariota without sending away Rivers so that the rookie can sit and learn, it’s not a system with established playmakers not yet anyway, and that’s tough to cover up when you’re also trying to learn the ropes. 

Grade - B+

7. Kansas City Chiefs – #18 overall

Why it makes sense – A chance to work with Andy Reid who made Donavan McNabb a potential HOF candidate and worked wonders with guys like Kevin Kolb and Alex Smith, with limited playmakers around any of the three. Now that Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, and Jeremy Maclin are all in town, it would be great to see what Reid can do with a fully loaded roster. There would be growing pains, but this could be the next great offense if the chemistry is right and everybody starts clicking, and the defense is pretty great already. 

Why it won’t work – Reid will have to give up someone to get high enough in the order to snag Mariota, or give up more than just a future pick which will make it difficult to keep building around Mariota year to year. With a lack of playmakers other than the limited amount of stars as it is, trading up for a talent like Mariota doesn’t make sense if you can’t get him the supporting cast he deserves. 

Grade - B+

8. Philadelphia Eagles – 20th overall

Why it makes sense – Chip Kelly was Mariota’s coach his first two seasons at Oregon, and runs a similar system at Philadelphia, with superior athletes on the offensive line. The passing game needs work but the arrival of DeMarcus Murray and Ryan Mathews make the running game an instant success, and young receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff could prove to be a good fit with veterans Miles Austin and Riley Cooper. 

Why it won’t work – Kelly knows he can win in the NFL with Mark Sanchez at the helm if he has to, and he isn’t likely to pull a page from the Ditka playbook especially if he really believes that Sam Bradford is the next great NFL QB. No one knows what Kelly is thinking except for Kelly, but Mariota doesn’t land here unless he happens to drop past several QB-needy teams, or a team with a top-10 pick desperate to collect a mixture of role players and future picks comes calling. 

Grade - B

Assuming that GM’s overseeing teams that are a bad fit or already have an established QB will let him pass to the teams drafting later, I believe the Chargers, Chiefs, and Saints would be the best fits, with the edge going to the Saints. That said, I would be very surprised if he got past St. Louis at #10, and the three best spots only work if they are able to send a future draft pick in order to move up, if they have to give up a marquee player, the deal is a bust. 

New Orleans only has to move up three spots if he drops to 10, and the Rams like to collect picks and think they have a good QB in Nick Foles, so it would be a good fit for both sides. Even if the Rams are listening and the Saints aren’t interested in moving up (cue “The Rock” Nicholas Cage: Shame … on …THEM!), I think any team needs to offer the same deal or take their finger off the trigger and let him go to a team that has the system, coaches, and players in place to offer him the home and supporting cast he deserves. 

That said, Mariota is probably going to wind up in New Jersey fighting Geno Smith for the starting job, but I’d prefer that not be an option. 

Wherever he goes, he’ll make his family and fans in Hawaii and Oregon proud.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

Related Slideshow: Reactions to Mariota Winning The Heisman

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John Canzano

"If you weren't moved by Marcus Mariota's speech, you have a heart of stone," Canzano wrote.

"He was the unusual blend of special athlete and solid human being that too often in our sports world just isn't the case."

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Dennis Dodd

"The rest was history made whole Saturday night. Mariota was named on a record 95 percent of the ballots. That leads to the question: Who didn't vote for him?" Dodd stated.

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Kirk Herbstreit

"You have to be impressed with this young man," Herbstreit said. "There's been no better player this year in college football."

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Lee Corso

"I love this kid's playmaking ability," Corso said.

Corso enthusiastially picked the Ducks to defeat Michigan State in September.

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Ryan Kostecka

Kostecka said Mariota showed he deserves the Heisman during the Michigan State game earlier this year.

"Mariota had, what many consider, his first 'Heisman moment,' when he alluded pressure and flipped the ball to a wide open Royce Freeman for the first down," Kostecka said.

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"Luckily for the shy Mariota, he didn’t need the extra attention," Zac Ellis wrote. "Oregon’s quarterback did enough on his own this season."

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Tim Rohan

Mariota was an inspiration in his home state. He further validated the Oregon football program," Tim Rohan wrote. "And he has become viewed as the N.C.A.A.’s ideal student-athlete, especially after character issues in part defined the previous two Heisman winners, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel."

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Michael Weinreb

I have no idea if Mariota will make it as a pro quarterback; of all the alchemical sciences, quarterback evaluation has become the most confounding to me," Weinreb wrote. "Given Mariota's prodigious accuracy (he's thrown six interceptions in the past two years), intelligence and ability to run and throw with an equal measure of grace, I have to imagine he has a good shot."


 

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Andy Hutchins

"Mariota became the most definitive top-three player in any season in the history of college football, if not the most agreed-on Heisman Trophy winner ever."

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Chris Johnson

"Marcus Mariota dominated footbal amid lofty expectations."

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Ryan Thorburn

"The Ducks’ gracious star is now a college football immortal."

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Brandon Sonnone

"The sample size is small and the results are mixed when determining whether the reigning or current Heisman winner has an edge in head-to-head matchups," Sonnnone wrote. "In the previous two instances, a national title has been on the line, so the Jan. 1 semifinal will fittingly determine whether FSU or Oregon makes it to the national championship contest against the winner of Alabama-Ohio State."

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Alexander Lee

"His play down the stretch of his junior campaign simply removed any suspense from the Heisman race, turning tonight's festivities into a mere formality," Lee Wrote.

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Brian Dohn

"My ballot, in order, was Marcus Mariota, Amari Cooper and Melvin Gordon. I though there were the top three players in the nation, and that was before I went and looked at their statistics," Dohn Wrote. "In choosing Mariota first, it was based on watching him play, and his ability to make the correct reads and throw the ball with tremendous accuracy while playing at a high level."

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Chip Brown

"Mariota's selflessness embodies the Heisman Trophy's credo as the 'outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.'"

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Dudley Dawson

"The other two young men that were finalists also were fine representatives for the award, but in the end I just felt like the case Mariota put forth was the best."

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Dan Legge

"The best player in the college football, which is what this award is about, is and has been Oregon’s Marcus Mariota," Legge Wrote. "I watched him as often as I could this fall."

 
 

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