Inside Slant: Making the case for Mariota to be a top-5 draft pick

The conversation is already starting to shift, both inside the league and within the media. As Tampa Bay zeroes in on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as the No. 1 overall pick, the buzz in the 2015 NFL Draft is moving West toward another highly rated signal-caller who might turn out to be this year's most debated prospect.

With Winston seemingly already off the board, the potential landing spot for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has become the focal point of the draft.



Mariota has plenty of scouts and coaches who like what they see from his tape at Oregon, where he carved up secondaries with his arm and his legs. There are plenty of others around the NFL, however, who remain skeptical that a master of the spread offense can develop into an elite NFL quarterback.

Now is not the time to overthink things, though. Mariota is an elite prospect at the position and worthy of a top-five pick for some franchise desperate to find stability at the most pressure-packed spot on the field. He has ideal height, a tight delivery, beautiful touch, above-average arm strength and, certainly, top-end speed.

Mariota is one of the most accurate and mistake-free quarterbacks to come out of college in years. He demonstrated in three years that he makes good, quick decisions at a spot that requires them.

Were it not for the uncanny savvy that Winston displayed in Tallahassee, Mariota would be head-and-shoulders above any other QB in this class, a likely lock for the top pick for the Bucs, and perhaps the second-best prospect at the position since Andrew Luck was taken by the Colts in 2012.



Yet despite his unique blend of skills, Mariota has plenty of detractors. One growing criticism is that he is unable to win from the pocket. The fact is, we have no idea how any college QB's skills will translate or if he can do it in the NFL.

Oregon's offensive scheme has also brought out skeptics of Mariota's ability to succeed in the pros, but a close examination of his games shows he's been able to do anything that would be asked of him in the NFL -- perhaps just not at the frequency some would like.

Those that say otherwise either haven't looked or are just seeing what they want to see.

"Some of the experts that try to pick apart his game a little bit with, 'Oh, he's not a pocket passer,' or, 'He doesn't get to his third or fourth read' -- those guys must not have video," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said before the Rose Bowl.

Frost, a former third-round pick and six-year NFL veteran, is on the mark with his comments, even if he has a vested interest in Mariota.

Mock drafts on NFL.com vary on Mariota's projected draft slot, but most see him falling just outside the top five, to the New York Jets at sixth overall. That could end up being a bargain for a franchise still trying to find some stability at quarterback.

There has also been some talk of Mariota's old coach, Chip Kelly, trading a chunk of Philadelphia's assets in order to move into the top five to draft him. That would be a terrific pairing in the NFL, and it's meaningful that the coach who knows Mariota best might be willing to part with so much in order to draft him. Kelly's system might be tailor-made for Mariota, but it's notable that no other spread quarterback in recent years has garnered this much discussion of a potential draft trade.

There's also the issue of the Tennessee Titans, who are in the enviable spot of potentially landing arguably the best player in the draft, USC's Leonard Williams, or one of the two best quarterbacks. Overdrafting Jake Locker a few years ago might have left a small scar on the franchise, but the Titans will have to dig deep and try to figure out if Mariota fits into their long-term plans.

If Mariota is, indeed, the pick at No. 2, a lot of scenarios can be thrown out the window. If the Titans opt to bypass drafting a quarterback, though, things are up in the air when it comes to Mariota's potential landing spot.

No prospect is a sure thing, of course, and the hit-rate for quarterbacks in the first round has been less than stellar. Few will disagree that Winston is the superior pro prospect at this point, but rare talents at quarterback only come along so often, and Mariota is one of potentially two in this draft class.



There are so many misses when it comes to drafting a quarterback that teams would be foolish to pass up a chance to select one of the cleaner prospects on and off the field that has come out of school in some time. Mariota might not be a lock to land in the top five, but thanks to his talent and natural abilities, he certainly is deserving of that status.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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