There likely isn't anything that has been more hotly debated this draft season than the potential NFL futures of the top two quarterbacks -- Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. While signs point to Winston landing in Tampa, the jury is still out on who selects Mariota. As we await the answer to that burning question, I took a look at some of his game tape to see how the former Ducks quarterback's skills translate for fantasy football.
» Excellent mechanics
» Good mobility and speed
» Gets rid of the football quickly
» Makes good decision on throws
Watching Mariota run the Oregon offense is a thing of beauty. He's fluid out of the shotgun, delivering the ball quickly and making the correct call on seemingly every zone-read run. There aren't many times you see him throw the ball into heavy traffic, which is a large part of the reason Mariota had a high completion percentage (66.8% career) and few interceptions (14 in 41 career games).
Yet it's Mariota's mobility that is one of his marquee traits. That same mobility not only allowed him to extend plays when the pocket broke down, but made him a major threat on designed quarterback runs. However it's not fair to call Mariota a running quarterback. Rather, he's a quarterback who can run. It's a weapon that NFL coaches would be foolish not to take advantage of and one that fantasy enthusiasts will drool over.
» Worked primarily in shotgun
» Struggles with downfield accuracy
» Ball security issues
» Average pocket awareness
Mariota was extremely adept at running Oregon's offense. But because it was an attack that ran almost exclusively out of the shotgun (just five snaps under center in 2014), it's hard to project how he will perform in a pro-style offense. This doesn't mean Mariota can't succeed, it's just a big unknown. The other protection the Ducks scheme afforded Mariota was the ability to make short, quick throws. In that way, watching Mariota's tape reminded me of Alex Smith. His accuracy dropped measurably when he was asked to deliver the ball more than 15 yards down the field with a lot of throws sailing high. If he can't solve that, he'll have a lot of receivers with sore ribs.
For all of his mobility, Mariota didn't have the greatest awareness in the pocket. Frequently he didn't sense pressure coming and even ran into a few sacks. While Mariota wasn't one to throw a lot of interceptions, he did have an alarming propensity to put the football on the ground. During his career in Eugene, Mariota fumbled 27 times. That's bad news for a quarterback who isn't always skilled at feeling backside pressure.
Ideal NFL fantasy fits
Why wouldn't we start by reuniting Mariota with his former college coach playing in the system that made him successful at Oregon? It doesn't matter that the Eagles quarterback depth chart looks like the 405 freeway at rush hour. It's just too perfect. Mariota will need a strong running game and playmaking receivers to excel in the NFL. The Jets aren't great in those categories, but they're better than they have been in recent seasons. Mariota's natural talent might be enough to make up the difference. Without a first-round pick, the chances of Mariota landing in Buffalo fall somewhere between slim and none. But it would be incredible to see him in the shotgun with LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin by his side while Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Charles Clay run pass patterns.
Early fantasy draft projection
Like plenty of quarterbacks who came from spread offenses in college, Mariota will face a learning curve in the NFL. The good news is that he appears coachable and willing to take on a new challenge. Overall his ceiling is that of a good-but-not-great signal-caller and his longterm fantasy value will reflect that. Still, Mariota is likely to be a starter in Week 1 and is certainly worth a look in the late rounds of standard drafts. In dynasty leagues, Mariota will be a no-brainer pick early in rookie drafts.