Marcus Mariota, the Task-Oriented QB

This is the second part of an analysis on Mariota. The first part is how to develop a grading scale for quarterbacks. This post covers notable parts of Mariota’s game from video. 

Even with a set of clearly defined and traits to look for and a system in which to filter their importance, quarterback scouting can still be really, really hard. That largely has to do with sample size and the amount of useable plays a quarterback has per game. I’ve said often that the NFL likes Jameis Winston because he’s a straightforward evaluation.

Every game he’s in has exposure after exposure of him showing these things – whether he shows these things in a good or bad way becomes almost secondary. The lack of nuance required to actually see the traits elevates him almost on principle, and that’s largely due to the style of offense that Florida State plays. I’ve never been a fan of the term “pro style” when describing a college offense, preferring to call them “traditional” offenses.

His offense plays at a normal pace, he takes drops from under center, and he’s not a threat as a runner. In turn, defenses respond by playing Florida State in a more traditional manner. You get more man coverage and confusing pre-snap defensive looks, tighter windows to throw into, more compressed pockets for the quarterback to navigate, etc.

Marcus Mariota sits on the other end of the spectrum. The way they play offense (and, in turn, the way defenses respond to their offense) vastly limits the amount of usable snaps per game you get from Mariota. He’s asked to make some “traditional offense” reads and throws (it’s not like their pass offense is just a million screens over and over), but the way that defenses play Oregon makes things incredibly easy on the quarterback.

Oregon’s offense is actually very easy to figure out from a theoretical standpoint. They want to use their no-huddle pace and spread formations to get the defense to declare their intentions pre-snap. Spread formations and the hurry-up tempo prevent the defense from clustering or disguising their coverages pre-snap (and the coverages tend to predominantly be zone as opposed to man).

When the defense goes into a two-high safety look, Oregon wants to run it (or combine play-action with Quarters/Cover Two beaters). Against one-high safety looks, they’re looking to combo their run game with horizontal stretches or screens in the short areas of the field (or they’ll run Four Verticals when they feel like taking a shot play). Again, a lot of these pass concepts are “traditional,” but often times Oregon is getting the perfect play-call in against a clearly defined coverage/front.

This doesn’t necessarily make Mariota a worse prospect; it makes him a tougher evaluation. You just have to search harder to find plays that display projectable traits, and because you’re dealing with such a smaller sample of usable plays, the answers can be inconclusive or even contradictory.

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