Marcus Mariota is widely considered a top 10 NFL Draft prospect and to many people who follow the draft he is the most polarizing prospect in this class. There are pundits who talk about how he has the talent to transcend the position, but even more of them seem to be worried about his ability to translate to the league.
After hearing people debate whether the Jets or Titans are going to select Marcus Mariota or if the Jets will be leapfrogged in the draft by his former collegiate coach, I’ve decided it is time to take a deep dive into Mariota. Let’s see if he has what it takes or if the spread QB stereotypes you hear ring true for the talented QB out of Oregon.
Common Mariota Criticisms
1) “His system only asks him to be a “One Read QB” and can’t win from the pocket”
2) “Not asked to read and manipulate defenses”
3) “Poor pocket presence and accuracy under pressure”
These are things you frequently hear about QBs playing in spread systems in college. In 2014, he proved these criticisms to be out of place.
Scott Frost, Oregon’s offensive coordinator, did a great job of using Oregon’s non-traditional sets to provide some awesome window dressing for some traditional NFL concepts. All NFL quarterbacks have to learn to thrive in these areas in order to have long successful careers.
3:25 Left in the 1st quarter vs South Dakota in 2014
The Ducks line up in 11 personnel and run a double post combination off of Play Action. This is a play you’ll frequently see NFL teams go to near their opponent’s 30 yard line.
Mariota executes this read perfectly as he sells the backside safety on the post coming from the TE, resulting in a huge throwing lane to the skinny post and he finishes the play by delivering a beautiful ball to get the Ducks inside the 5 yard line.
13:07 Left in the 2nd quarter vs Ohio State (National Championship)
Oregon lines up in 11 personnel, and runs a slant route off of a rub of the stack receiver to the QB’s front side. Mariota opens up to his left towards the flat 7 combo by the TE and flanker, but is able to quickly work his way all the way back across the field and deliver a strike to the receiver running the slant route.
On this play you see some great movement in the pocket to help the G mitigate the pressure from the DT and great footwork and accuracy in delivering the ball.
4:50 left in the 2nd quarter vs FSU (Rose Bowl)
Oregon lines up in a 3 x 1 set with the RB in the backfield to the trips side. They run a very common route combination in the NFL from 3×1 sets, where they have the 3 receivers in trips run verticals.
FSU brings an overload pressure from the QB’s left. Mariota takes a subtle step up in the pocket to help set the RB’s pass protection angle, and delivers a beautiful back shoulder throw down field on the go route.
0:30 left in the 3rd quarter vs Arizona in 2013
The Ducks motion the RB out to show a true spread 5 WR look with trips to the QB’s right. Mariota sets in the pocket with his eyes to the left, steps up and drills the ball with just the right amount of velocity to get over the LB and in front of the closing safety to convert a difficult 3rd and long.
8:54 left in the 4th vs Arizona in 2013
The Ducks line up with Twins to the QB’s left with the slot receiver on the line and outside receiver off the line. They run a “Dagger” combination against Cover 2 with the CBs sinking to the sticks.
The Dagger combination is a classic Cover 2 beater where the slot receiver runs a go route to draw the safety deep and the outside receiver runs a deep square in with the ball being delivered in the spot the S just vacated. Mariota is very calm in the pocket as he slides away from a quick interior rush and then executes the combination perfectly and delivers an accurate ball where only the receiver can get to it.
The next area where people frequently question Mariota’s game is his ability to read and manipulate defenses. The former Duck frequently shows the type of eye discipline necessary to manipulate defenses and make plays in the passing game because of that manipulation.
11:35 left in the 3rd vs Ohio State (National Championship)
The Ducks line up with Y trips (2 wide receivers and an in-line TE) to the offensive right. They run 3 verticals out of this formation, with all 3 WRs having vertical option routes—note the outside WR running a hitch—and Mariota freezes the free safety keeping him focused on the TE.
As he breaks his route across the field around 12-15 yards, which results in the throwing lane breaking open to hit the slot on the go route for the touchdown, exceptional eye work on an NFL concept.
10:33 left in the 4th vs Washington in 2013
Oregon lines up with 4 WRs, 2 stacked on each side of the formation and a running back in the backfield. On the snap, they fake an inside zone to the RB and the lead receivers in the stack push their way up the field.
On the offensive right, the trail receiver in the stack runs a square in, and to the left the trail receiver runs a quick hitch. Mariota opens up to the offensive left after the play fake and with his eyes and shoulders he brings the linebacker flying to that side of the formation. He follows it up by stepping up and drilling the ball to the receiver on a dig route.
8:05 left in the 1st quarter vs South Dakota in 2014
The Ducks line up in a traditional 2 back shotgun set with 2 WRs to the left and 1 to the offensive right. They run a traditional post wheel combination, a great cover 2 and 3 beater, but dress it up by having the RB to the QB’s right run the wheel.
Mariota takes the snap and executes an inside handoff play fake, and immediately brings his eyes up to the left side where they have the WRs running a switch combination. He brings his eyes back across the post route and freezes the safety responsible for getting outside to cover the wheel route, resulting in a wide open RB that ends up going all the way in for a score.
6:52 Left in the 3rd quarter vs FSU (Rose Bowl)
Oregon lines up with 2 Receivers to the offensive left, 1 back, a tight end in line to the right, and a WR wide to the right. They run a curl-flat combination, which is designed to put a vertical stretch on the CB, but the WR and Mariota are on the same page as the WR continues his route up field because of a breakdown on the back end.
Mariota gets the snap and lures the CB down to the flat route, even though the LB was widening to the flat, and then drives the ball into the spot vacated behind him. A classic quick hitting combo executed to perfection that lead to a huge play.
11:17 left in the 1st quarter vs Arizona in 2013
The Ducks line up with 11 personnel, with twins to the offensive left. On this play Oregon picks on the ILB by setting bait with a RB coming out of the backfield and drilling the ball in on a dig route behind him.
Mariota prompts the LB to step up, creating a big throwing lane for the dig behind it. This pass was incomplete, but no fault on the QB here, as he makes another play with his eyes to move defenders and create a throwing lane.
A weakness that has recently begun to crop up in conversation about Marcus Mariota is his ability to deliver the ball accurately from different platforms within and outside of the pocket.
There have been some stats flying around the internet about how frequently he is off target when on the move, but this is something I see as a strength of his. I’ve pulled out a few examples from my research of him throwing from a secondary or sometimes tertiary launch point.
4:17 left in the 4th quarter vs Ohio State (National Championship)
Mariota uses Tony Romo’s reverse pivot to escape pressure and then shows off impressive arm strength, and incredible ball placement to hit a receiver deep downfield in stride. This is one of the most impressive flashes of physical talent you’ll see from a QB this year.
4:07 left in the 2nd vs South Dakota in 2014
Mariota has plenty of time in the pocket as he drops back on this 1st and 10 play from the 11. He shows great patience in not breaking the pocket too early and eventually escapes out to the left and delivers a little touch pass on the run for the score.
12:30 left in the 1st vs Ohio State (National Championship)
This first and goal play is another example of Mariota showing elusiveness in the pocket and the ability to work all the way back across the formation as he’s scrambling and fire the ball on target for a touchdown.
4:30 left in the 2nd vs Ohio State (National Championship)
Mariota leaves this pocket a little sooner than he really had to, but when he does he eventually gets to the edge of the defense and delivers a strike on the sideline to a WR who executed the scramble drill to perfection.
4:00 left in the 2nd vs Florida State (Rose Bowl)
Here, Mariota breaks one of the cardinal rules of playing QB. He throws the ball back across his body to the middle of the field. However, in this case he does so after shedding a blitzing LB and delivers the ball accurately and with nearly no risk of interception. Mariota’s improvisational skills are special.
Marcus Mariota’s skill set is a lot more pro-ready than many people are indicating. Don’t fall for the typical spread QB stereotypes. He can be so much more than that, including the future for the New York Jets at the QB position.