There is at least one NFL scout holding off on declaring Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota a franchise player. A conversation with UCLA head coach Jim Mora might be all that scout needs to change his mind.
Mora, the former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach, delivered one of the strongest endorsements of Mariota's pro prospects to date ahead of the game between the Bruins and Ducks this Saturday.
"I had a couple NFL guys ask me if he can play at the next level and I told them, 'Have you not watched him?' " Mora told reporters Monday. "He's going to rip it up at the next level. He's ripping it up at this level. He's special."
It was the second time in as many weeks a Pac-12 coach has linked Mariota to the NFL. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said he thought Mariota, whenever he decided to enter the draft, would be a top-5 pick.
Listing Mariota's composure first among his most-desirable attributes, Mora said the redshirt sophomore would be "great" regardless of what system he plays in.
Mariota has thrown 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. He has also scored nine rushing touchdowns, and his numbers would be even gaudier if he was playing into the fourth quarter of every game.
But the Bruins might have the linebackers capable of pressuring Mariota in the pocket and limiting his explosive runs, starting with Anthony Barr, the top player on NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt's Hot 100 list.
UCLA also expects to have solid inside linebacker Eric Kendricks, who is the younger brother of Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, available at Autzen Stadium. Kendricks missed the second half of the 24-10 loss at Stanford to undergo tests on his kidneys after being hit in the back.
Kendricks leads the team with 56 tackles and has 1.5 tackles for loss as well as an interception this season.
To contain a player of Mariota's immense ability, as reflected by Mora's praise, UCLA will certainly need all hands on deck.