STANFORD, Calif. -- The press box was loaded with NFL personnel executives and scouts at Thursday night's Pac-12 showdown between Oregon and Stanford. Prior to the game, I had a chance to visit with more than a dozen of them and every one of them spoke highly of Ducks QB Marcus Mariota. He didn't play very well against the Cardinal, but he still showed enough tools to avoid a major hit to his reputation with NFL evaluators.
When I studied him on tape, my biggest concern was a lack of consistency with his accuracy. That was once again an issue tonight. He underthrew a wide-open deep ball in the first half that would have resulted in a score. He also misfired on a couple of quick, underneath throws. His refusal to throw the ball away was also an issue. He fumbled twice on plays where he had time to throw the ball out of bounds and save field position. Both of those plays came with the Ducks inside the red zone.
There were some positives to take away from his performance. He made a few special throws, including a cross-body dart in the first half and a few stick throws in the beginning of the fourth quarter. His touchdown pass on 4th-and-goal from the 12-yard line was outstanding.
After the game, Mariota addressed reports that he had suffered an MCL injury prior to the game and acknowledged his knee is "a little banged up." That would explain why he was so reluctant to run the football. There were several plays where a lane opened up for him to take off and he refused to leave the pocket. His mobility is a huge asset to his game and Oregon's offense wasn't quite the same with this missing element.
Here are some of my observations on the other top prospects I watched closely Thursday night:
» Stanford LB Shayne Skov had an outstanding game. He was very stout against the run and he held up well in pass coverage. On one play, he mirrored a wide receiver on a crossing route and collected a pass break up. His forced fumble against Oregon RB De'Anthony Thomas was a huge turning point in the first half. He lacks the lateral speed to excite 4-3 teams but he'll be coveted by teams that run the 3-4 defense.
» Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney was a workhorse for the Cardinal. He carried the ball a school-record 45 times and racked up 157 yards. He lacks ideal suddenness, but he showed excellent vision and he finishes every run. He's a possible late-round pick.
» Stanford QB Kevin Hogan didn't throw the ball a lot (13 pass attempts) but he played nearly flawless football. He connected on a beautiful deep ball early in the game and was aggressive as a runner to pick up key third-down conversions. He still has a very long delivery but he was more accurate tonight than he has been in the last month.
» Stanford G David Yankey isn't a great athlete but he was a people-mover at the point of attack against Oregon's front. He took good angles when working up to the second level but he lacks the ability to adjust in space. As long as he can stay on his original path, he's very effective.
» Stanford LB Trent Murphy showed off his violent hands in the first half and came away with a sack and a few pressures. He also did a nice job holding the point of attack against the run.
» Oregon WR Josh Huff didn't have a great game. He dropped an easy ball in the first half and he struggled to create much separation down the field. After watching him live, I would estimate his speed is in the mid 4.5 range. He also suffered an injury in the fourth quarter. He looked like a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
» Oregon RB De'Anthony Thomas had an underwhelming performance. He finished the night with six carries for 30 yards and four catches for 45 yards. His first half fumble provided a huge momentum boost for Stanford. He is best suited to play in the slot at the next level but he needs to get physically stronger.
» Stanford TE/FB Ryan Hewitt's numbers didn't stand out (two catches for 15 yards) but he had a great game as a lead blocker and he's a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield. His ability to play both tight end and fullback is a huge asset to NFL teams. His versatility saves a roster spot. He has value as a late-round pick.
» Stanford DE Josh Mauro has a big frame (6-foot-6 282 pounds) and a few of the scouts from teams running the 3-4 spoke very highly of him as a developmental five-technique (3-4 defensive end). He is very stiff as an athlete but he is a very stout run defender.