The NFL Draft is finally upon us. Plenty of future NFL players will be waiting and watching to see who selects them to begin their NFL journeys. And for a select few, they get to walk out on the stage after they are selected by a team and sport their new team’s hat. But there are two players that will not be present at the Draft that many will be talking about. That would be the top quarterbacks in the draft, Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Both have chosen to stay at home for the draft. Winston is staying at home in Hueytown, Alabama to be around family and around his grandmother, who would not have been able to go with him to travel to Chicago to see her grandson drafted. For Mariota, he said he was “important to him personally and culturally” to be at home and around his people in Hawaii when he is selected. While Michael Irvin may feel both are big-timing the NFL, both have their own personal reasons for not coming and that can be respected. But what happens when both are selected and it’s time to perform. In the case of Winston, he has had moments where he is too confident in his arm and takes too many chances, but he also has had some great moments where he put the team on his back and led them to a win. Some feel he may be a risk character-wise, but many scouts are not concerned about his play on the field. But in the case of Mariota., it seems that there is not a consensus on him. Some believe he will be a good pro quarterback, while others think he could be a bust. Mariota is hearing the criticism whether he acknowledges it or not and deep inside he is probably itching to make the doubters wrong. But other than the perception he has right now, he is also battling the quarterback perception of Oregon.
Over the years, Oregon has become one of the teams that everyone loves to see. Their flashy uniforms tend to grasp the attention of high school kids and college football fans alike along with their winning ways. But what also grasps everyone’s attention these days is the speed they run their offense. It seems like they are running at breakneck speed when they are on the field. During the last two years, that offense has been ran by the talented Mariota. He would make things happen with his feet and also make things happen with the short passing game. He is a talented quarterback, but we have seen many a talented quarterback line up for Oregon before heading to the NFL. Going all the way back to Akili Smith, Oregon has not had a successful quarterback play in the NFL. Players that have played quarterback since Akili ar Oregon are A.J. Feeley, Joey Harrington, Jason Fife, Kellen Clemens, Dennis Dixon, Brady Leaf, Jeremiah Masoli, Justin Roper, Darron Thomas and the aforementioned Mariota. Out of these names, there are not many that have had any success at the professional level. Of all these names, Harrington was the one that had the most notoriety. He was drafted 3rd overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. Many thought that he would be a solid NFL quarterback because of the supposed skills that he possessed and his ability to think the game. But whether it was due to the dysfunction of the organization in Detroit or the bad play of Harrington, he never succeeded and he lasted only a few seasons before he was done in Detroit. He would go on to play in Miami and Atlanta in his career, but he never lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he came out of school.
As for Mariota, he is definitely more talented than Harrington ever way. In fact, you could say that he is the best quarterback prospect to ever come out of there. But the stigma of the past will be something that will haunt him even though he probably has not thought about it. And with each bad pass and decision he makes, the reminders of what Akili Smith and Joey Harrington were will remain stuck in our minds. For Mariota to get rid of those stigmas, he has to come out of the gates strong. The biggest thing said about Mariota is that he has not played in a pro style offense. In the NFL, he will have to prove that he can handle the pro style offense. That means he will have to learn how to read defenses even more than he did in college. At Oregon, he only had one maybe two reads and then the decision was made. At the pro level, there will be more than that to read. He will have to see what the linebackers and secondary are doing and how they are adjusting to the motions and alignments of his team. The only way he could get out of having to read all these things is if he goes to Philly, where he would be reunited with his former college head coach, Chip Kelly. Another thing that he will have to do in the NFL is prove he can hit all the throws. At Oregon, he wasn’t asked to do so as much, but in the pros he will be asked to hit the difficult throws like the long outs. He has to be able to hit the difficult throws with regularity as well as the routine ones to make that stigma disappear as well. The more regular those throws come to him, the more he will not be compared to the former Oregon quarterbacks that played in the NFL.
Today is the day the world changes for Mariota. No longer will he be known as an Oregon Duck. From here forward he will be known as the next former Oregon quarterback to make it to the NFL. And whether he wants it or not, he will be charged with erasing the stigma that has stuck with Oregon quarterbacks since Akili Smith and Joey Harrington. Can he erase the stigma or will he be adding to it is the question that he will be answering the rest of his career potentially. Is he ready for the task?