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Player Spotlight: Marcus Mariota

A detailed look at the fantasy prospects of Marcus Mariota in 2016

Setting the Stage

Marcus Mariota was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and attended Saint Louis School there where he was a two-sport star running track and playing football. In track, he competed in the sprints and long jumping. He helped his high school team win the state title with a 42.83 second 4x100 meter time as he ran the second leg. He ran a 11.63 second 100-meter, a 23.41 second 200-meter and long jumped 20’-7”. He did not start as a quarterback until he was a senior, but passed for 2,597 yards with 32 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. He also ran the ball well with 455 yards rushing and another 7 touchdowns.

Mariota admired the play of fellow Samoan, Jeremiah Masoli who also played and Saint Louis School and attended Oregon. Mariota attended an Oregon camp in the summer of 2010. The coaches there were intrigued enough to travel to Hawaii to watch him practice before his senior season and offered him a scholarship despite the fact that Mariota had yet to start a high school game at quarterback.

He was rated as a three-star quarterback by both Rivals.com and Scout.com and recruited by several schools but only Oregon and Memphis offered him a scholarship making the choice to attend Oregon an easy one.

He redshirted his first season and in 2012 became the first freshman to start a season opener by Oregon in 22 years. He started every game of his three years there. He played well from the start, completing 68.5% of his passes as a freshman, averaging 8.0 ypa and throwing for 32 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions. He improved every season, winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior with a 68.3% completion rate, passing for 4,454 yards (10.0 ypa) and throwing 42 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. He was also an effective runner with 2,237 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns in his three seasons. Oregon won 36 games with only 5 losses with Mariota leading them.

Following his junior season, he declared for the 2015 NFL Draft. Prior to the Combine, Mariota was considered one of the two top quarterbacks. He showed well measuring 6’-4” and 222 pounds and running the fastest 40-yard dash of all the quarterback at 4.52 seconds. He had a 36” vertical and broad jumped 10’-1”. His upside was his speed, quickness and mobility, but many questioned that he had played only in a spread offense that was predicated on simplified reads and had not operated often under center. He also had a huge downside in that many scheme based college quarterbacks are not ready for the challenges of reading defenses composed of superior athletes and his ability to go through progressions was doubted. Yet, Mike Mayock was very impressed by both Jameis Winston and Mariota. He thought that Mariota had excellent footwork, a sense of urgency and that he would be able to adapt getting under center.

The major storyline leading up to the draft was which Heisman winning quarterback, Mariota (2015) and Winston (2014) would go first and whether either Tampa Bay or Tennessee would trade their pick for an abundance of picks. Both stayed with their pick with Winston going 1st and Mariota 2nd. Surprisingly, no other quarterback was drafted until the 75th pick when Garrett Grayson was drafted by New Orleans. No quarterbacks besides Mariota and Winston played significant snaps last season.

Mariota started every game of his rookie season that he was healthy. He produced perhaps even better than he was expected, completing 62% of his passes and averaging 7.60 ypa. He threw 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but had several turnovers in games where he played after he was injured. He did miss four games over two stretches with sprained MCLs. He added 252 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.

The following table provides his rookie campaign statistics.

Year Games Comp Att % Yards ypa TDs ints Rushes Yards TDs
2015 12 230 371 62.0% 2,818 7.6 19 10

34

252 2

Looking Forward to 2016

The running backs were completely overhauled, which is definitely a good thing. Their leading rusher a year ago was Antonio Andrews with 143 carries, 520 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mariota had almost half the rushing yards and 2 TDs with only 34 carries. They traded for DeMarco Murray and drafted Derrick Henry with the 45th overall pick in the second round. Regardless how either of them play, it is a definite upgrade for the Titans and should improve not only the running game, but also the passing game.

Mariota returns for his second season and rookie starters often improve considerably in the second year. He showed a lot of potential as a rookie, so the improvement could be substantial. Jason Wood provided a summary of the anticipated offensive coaching changes for the Titans in 2016 http://subscribers.footballguys.com/apps/article.php?article=coachingcarouseltitansstaff in Coaching Carousel 2016: Tennessee Titans

Many call out the Titans’ proposed “exotic smashmouth” as reason #1 why Mariota will disappoint fantasy owners this year, but he points out the idea is to focus on a power running game but to use a variety of formations and trick plays to augment the multi-facated talents of Marcus Mariota -- who is as much a weapon for his mobility as he is with his arm (Mariota broke the Titans rookie passing record last year with 2,818 yards in 12 games).

The Titan wide receivers are perhaps best described as having potential to be better than they have been. Kendall Wright (1st rounder) is the only one with a great season and that was in hos only healthy year when he caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards. Dorial Green-Beckham (2nd round) is an imposing 6’-5” 235- pounder with excellent athleticism, but disappointed with only 32 catches in his rookie year, but did average 17.2 ypc and score 4 TDs. Justin Hunter (2nd round) is also an athletic 6’-4” player, but he has managed only 68 catches in three years. All three of these guys are currently behind Rishard Matthews and rookie Tajae Sharp on the depth chart. The Titans also brought in elder statesman, Andre Johnson who has now been on the roster of three of the four AFC South teams. The sum of all this potential should also be a positive factor when considering the upside of Mariota. If the lights come one for one or especially for two of these guys, Mariota will benefit greatly.

Matt Bitonti of Footballguys.com provides the following summary of the Titans’ offensive line for 2016. Even though, he lists them a little lower than last year there are several new players with potential to make a better line than a year ago.
• Preseason rank: 22nd. Difference from the end of last season: -6.
• Run Blocking: C. Pass Blocking: C+. Total: C+.
• Projected Starters: LT Taylor Lewan, LG Jeremiah Poutasi, C Ben Jones, RG Chance Warmack, RT Jack Conklin.
• Key Backups: Andy Gallik, Brian Schwenke, Sebastian Tratola.
 
The Titans added several new pieces to their line this offseason. As these pieces learn the system and play together, this line could very feasibly move up the rankings. Center Ben Jones was signed from the Houston Texans, and he should be a significant upgrade over Brian Schwenke. Right tackle Tough guy Jack Conklin was drafted with the 8th overall pick in the first round and should be a instant starter at a troublesome spot. Last year’s right tackle Byron Bell was moved to left guard, but hurt his knee in organized team activities. In his place, Jeremiah Poutasi should be the favorite for the gig, but the team could also make a move for a starter during cut-downs. Poutasi should be a decent run blocker between Jones and left tackle Taylor Lewan. Lewan was quietly among the league’s better left tackles and is considered a young leader on the team. The team declined right guard Chance Warmack’s 5th-year option, but he will continue to start and has no clear competition on the roster for his job this season. Overall this unit has a good mix of talent and their ranking can improve as the talent grows familiar with each other.
 
Positives

• Mariota should be improving in his second year and played well as a rookie
• He has excellent accuracy and mobility, using the latter to extend plays and produce in the running game
• The new running back duo should improve the running game which should open up opportunities in the passing game
• Their poor defense may mandate more focus on the passing game than anticipated with the “exotic smashmouth”

Projections

Name Games Comp Att Yards TDs ints Rushes Yards TDs
David Dodds 16 324 515 3,682 23 16 62 403 3
Bob Henry 16 331 530 3,930 26 14 50 330 3
Jason WOod 16 315 506 3,540 24 15 65 450 3
Maurile Tremblay 16 337 536 3,851 25 15 50 208 2
Stephen Holloway 16 333 520 3,848 28 14 70 475 4

Negatives

• The wide receiver corps could again fail to meet expectations
• The running game could limit Mariota’s passing game production

Final thoughts

Mariota has a current ADP of QB20 and the Footballguys.com consensus staff ranking is QB20 so he can be a late round quarterback that you expect to use only in emergency. Yet, he has solid potential to improve on his first season where he finished as QB22 even while missing four games. He had six games (half) of his 12 games played with multiple passing touchdowns and one other with over 100-yard rushing yards as a rookie.

Other’s Thoughts

Chris Wesseling on NFL.com “Jurrell Casey: Mariota 'definition of a true leader"

It all starts with promising face of the franchise Marcus Mariota. "He's got those (knee) braces off, and he's flying around," Casey said on Friday's edition of NFL Network's NFL HQ. "I think he's learned the playbook a lot better, and he's going to come out there and lead ... hopefully we make it to the playoffs this season."

Stressing that Mariota is the "definition of a true leader," Casey is the latest in a long line of Titans expressing the utmost confidence in the precocious quarterback's ability to lead the organization out of the dark ages.
New offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie has raved about Mariota as a "special talent, a special guy, a special player." Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker marveled in December, "I always knew he was going to be a great player."

Phil Alexander in his Footballguys.com Player Comments – Mariota had an encouraging six weekly QB1 finishes in 11 starts as a rookie (we won’t count his Week 15 start against New England when he was knocked out of the game after throwing only six passes). I see no reason why he shouldn’t been better in year two, with the addition of Rishard Matthews, the expected development of Dorial Green-Beckham and a lousy Titans’ defense that should keep Mariota in pass-first mode a fair amount.

Teresa M. Walker on Pro32.ap.org Tians ready for Marcus Mariota to run much more this season

Mularkey has talked most of the offseason about getting Mariota running much more in his second NFL season.
The Titans plan to run the ball much more in 2016 after trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry out of Alabama.
Mariota, the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft and a Heisman winner, ran for 2,237 yards in his career at Oregon and will be a big part of that after running only 34 times as a rookie.
After all, the quarterback who ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine turned in the NFL's longest play from scrimmage last December. Mariota took off on an 87-yard run where he split through the Jaguars' defense for a touchdown.