– Jim Bearor
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#27 Titans – Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota has a strong arm, he’s very fast, and he has the leadership qualities that you want out of your quarterback, but his critics – and there are a lot of them – attribute much of his success to Oregon’s offense that Chip Kelly put in place way back when. While the offense was heavily reliant on Mariota to keep the tempo up and make plays, his job was made easier by the defined reads and progressions in the playbook. This simplifies the passing game a bit and allows for the breakneck pace of play that Oregon loves, but for Mariota as an NFL prospect, it makes it a hell of a lot harder to judge his decision-making.
Personally I think Mariota has what it takes to become an upper-echelon quarterback in the league. He’s going to have to fill out, learn how to use his speed in a more quarterback-ish way, and prove that he’s capable of leading a much more complicated offense. There is so much about his game that he has to change or develop, and I totally understand where the naysayers are coming from – hell, I’m not 100% sold on him yet. If he truly is going to grow into a great NFL quarterback, it’s going to take some time, and that will require a lot of patience from the Tennessee Titans.
He might not take the league by storm the way Andrew Luck or RG3 did in their first year, and that’s perfectly fine. Rookie quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be that good. Mariota’s athleticism may catch some teams off guard, and we might see flashes of the great player he is going to become, but expect him to struggle through most of the season and look like a rookie who’s in a bit too deep.
He’s going to look uncomfortable when the pocket breaks down. He’s going to throw some ugly interceptions. He might not see the wide open slot receiver 30 yards down the field because somewhere between breaking down the huddle (which he didn’t do in college), making adjustments under center (Oregon only ran shotgun), and going through the correct progressions for “Scatter-Two Bunch-Right-Zip-Fire 2 Jet Texas Right-F Flat X-Q” while Tennessee’s terrible offensive line is being ravaged by JJ Watt, he just got a little lost.
I’m cool with this. Mariota is getting thrown to the wolves right away, and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. His learning curve is going to be steeper than Jameis Winston’s, and he needs all the playing time he can get, so he can make these mistakes now and get better for it.
It’ll be a little while before we know what this Heisman winner can do in the NFL. Right now, he doesn’t size up well against the rest of the quarterbacks in the league because this is his first time around. If the Titans were a better team, I could see coach Whisenhunt putting Mariota in more of a game manager-type role in an attempt to win now (like Sanchez with those great Jets teams). However that’s not the case, and Marcus has plenty of time to get the professional game figured out.
Ken Whisenhunt’s offensive philosophy will make Mariota’s transition to the NFL a little smoother. Whisenhunt likes to spread the field and get running backs involved in the passing game, counting on his quarterback to make quick reads and a lot of timing-based throws. This isn’t exactly the Oregon Ducks offense – even though the Titans have been toying around with some option plays during training camp – but the high tempo and quick, easy reads are definitely a good fit for Mariota.
He’s got the physical and mental makeup of top NFL quarterback, but he’ll have to adapt to the style of football played in the NFL. This is a major project and it may never come to fruition, but Marcus Mariota has undeniable talent. He hasn’t taken a snap in a game that matters and he’s already among the position’s top athletes. If he manages to use his power for good and play more like Russell Wilson than Michael Vick, he could be elite someday.
#26 Redskins – Robert Griffin III
Following the concussion he sustained in week two of the preseason, it’s fair to say that Robert Griffin III’s stock is at an all-time low. It didn’t help that he declared himself the best quarterback in the NFL this week, then promptly jammed his foot in his mouth, fumbled twice (once without contact), threw an interception, and got injured. His incredible speed isn’t what it was before all the lower body injuries, and it seems that he still can’t read a defense at an acceptable NFL level. He’s entering his 4th year in the league and Washington just picked up his contract option for 2016, so he’ll conceivably be around for at least another two full seasons.
Side note: (I have to give props to Dan Snyder and his front office for doubling down on the guy they gave up so much to draft. He hasn’t shown them much development over the past couple years, but I find it oddly refreshing that they’re staying the course. )
The film and the advanced stats confirm what everyone but the delusional already knows about RG3: his numbers throughout his career have been inflated by check-downs, short routes, and play action. I can’t take play action away from him, it’s part of the game and great quarterbacks are usually great at play action. However, when you take into consideration how good Alfred Morris is, and that the offensive line wasn’t the problem (11th in pass protection according to PFF), Griffin’s numbers weren’t all that impressive.
Bob Griffin has always preferred the short, safer passes. He didn’t throw 4 interceptions in his rookie year because of his Tom Brady-esque football acumen, he did it because the Shanahans knew they had to make the game simpler for him.
There is a compilation of videos on nflbreakdowns.com that analyze all 5 of Griffin’s touchdowns in 2014, and it’s as plain as day that he lacks the ability to move quickly through his progressions. The fifth and final video on that site really captures the essence of who he is as a player. Morris is lined up in the backfield, the fullback goes in motion to make it a power-I. RG3 takes the snap, makes a half-assed attempt at play action, then stands in the pocket like a deer in headlights before abandoning his receivers altogether and scrambling for a touchdown. Yes he scored on that play, but he also showcased his shortcomings as a pocket quarterback.
Around this time last year on Colin Cowherd’s radio show, Ron Jaworski said that RG3 was fundamentally flawed as a passer and his mechanics had taken a step back from where they were in 2013. Jaws pointed to his inconsistent footwork and throwing motion as some of the worst problems with his game. This shouldn’t be the case for a 4th year quarterback. We don’t see these problems in Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, or Ryan Tannehill (who learned how to play quarterback a year before he was drafted).
Who knows, maybe he’ll start to piece his career back together in year two of the Gruden regime. First he has to shake off this concussion and remain healthy enough to stay on the field, and it’s hard to believe he’ll even achieve that. If he doesn’t play well early on, fans will be calling for Cousins to take over because they like to be periodically reminded that he’s not good. Chances are, RG3 will either get injured again, or have the deficiencies in his passing game exposed. I don’t want to totally write him off because I’ve seen crazier things in sports, but if he were to have a rebound season in 2015, I would be shocked.
#25 Buccaneers – Jameis Winston
Famous Jameis. Shameless Jameis. He’s a Heisman trophy winner and a shoplifter. He yelled obscenities in the student union and he won a national championship. His football IQ and work ethic are supposedly “off the charts”, but he’s a notorious knucklehead off the field.
He’s a tough one to figure out, that Jameis.
To be fair, he is only 21 years old and immaturity is inevitable with anyone that young – let alone a superstar and first overall pick in the NFL Draft. His unpredictability can’t totally be attributed to his age though. His mechanics are inconsistent to say the least, and for better or worse, he has a gunslinger mentality – often toeing the line between threading the needle and forcing it into coverage. He trusts himself to get the ball into tough spots, and although these sort of throws are more likely to get picked off, they also present some of the best scoring opportunities.
I have no beef with Winston being ballsy on some of his throws – risk takers make some of the best quarterbacks. I’m just worried about his overall on-field decision making. He’s heralded as one of the best X’s and O’s guys around, and he’s great at finding and anticipating openings in the defense that a lot of good quarterbacks wouldn’t spot. He’ll also make some poor decisions that really surprise you because you think he’s smarter than that.
Sound like a quarterback that’s already in the league? NFL.com compared him to Eli Manning, a quarterback who also has a very high football IQ, inconsistencies on the field, and is great when it matters most. Winston is more mobile than Manning, but I have to admit, the parallels between the two are definitely there.
The expectation for Winston is that – above all else – he’s going to be a fierce competitor who doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. His experience running a pro-style offense at Florida State will help his transition to the league, and most of his game should improve with age. I know it’s hard to envision right now, but eventually Jameis Winston is going to mature. He might not exactly turn into Elder Statesman Peyton Manning or be as low key as Russell Wilson, but he’s not going to be forever 21.
Winston has vowed to head coach Lovie Smith and the rest of the Tampa Bay organization that his shenanigans are behind him, and frankly I believe him. I also have faith that he’ll be a team leader from the get-go because of stuff like this:
Jameis Winston was first to arrive at One Buc to meet & greet all of his fellow rookies heading into Mini-Camp https://t.co/phCGki8tBW
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@TBBuccaneers) May 7, 2015
In the Mariota vs. Winston debate, I’m siding with Winston. He stands strong in the pocket, he’s familiar with the pro-style offense, and all his problems are very coachable. He makes the same kinds of mistakes that Eli does: throws that are too creative, and lapses in mechanics. If those really are the only issues with his game, he’s going to be just fine.
#24 Raiders – Derek Carr
I want to say that the numbers don’t tell the whole story, and Derek Carr was a very good rookie quarterback last year, but I’d be lying to you and I’d be lying to myself. He was among the least accurate passers in the league, and although he has more than enough arm strength, his deep ball numbers were no bueno. Given, he didn’t have much surrounding talent, but any way you slice it, he was a mediocre quarterback in 2014.
There is something about him though – that je ne sais quoi that makes me think he can make it in the NFL. He’s been a leader even since he snatched the job out of Matt Schaub’s hands last preseason. We don’t know if he’s going to end up developing into franchise quarterback that Oakland hopes he can be, but right now he’s the man. From Charles Woodson to Michael Crabtree, this team respects the hell out of Derek Carr.
Maybe it’s a little easier to love your quarterback when you haven’t had a viable one in a decade, but I’m totally with the Raiders in backing Carr as the face of the franchise. He started all 16 games last season (the first Oakland QB to do that since Rich Gannon in ’02), and he certainly has the potential to grow as a passer. He has a higher ceiling than most, and I think he’s the least likely sophomore quarterback to have a second year slump. He’s working with better coaches than last year (HC Jack Del Rio and OC Bill Musgrave), and he’ll be throwing to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree instead of Andre Holmes (now fourth on the depth chart) and James Jones (released).
Carr has the poise, the leadership traits, and the work ethic of a high caliber quarterback. His passing stats aren’t flattering though, and there’s no getting around that. It won’t matter who he’s throwing to if he continues to miss his target 42% of the time. According to Pro Football Focus’ grading system, he was the 38th best quarterback in the league last year – out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks. He has a lot to improve upon if he’s going to stick around in the NFL, but his head is on straight and he looks the part of an NFL quarterback.
There is an older South Park episode where the boys get to meet a young Jay Cutler (then a Bronco). They had something very funny and true to say upon meeting him, and I feel like it applies to Derek Carr here. “You kinda suck, but my dad says you might be good someday.” I mean this with love.
Derek Carr looks the part of an NFL quarterback, and he’s carrying himself like one. The on-field production isn’t quite there yet, but the additions of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree should help a lot. It will be a few years until we’re even discussing whether or not he’s capable of winning a Super Bowl – right now he’s still taking it all in.
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)