Around the NFL

Next Gen Stats: Marcus Mariota is NFL's fastest QB

The Around The NFL Podcast wondered last week if the Tennessee Titans had slow-played the rest of the league in preseason action, preparing to spring a Chip Kelly-style offense on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once they began playing for keeps.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt promptly rolled out a pro football version of Oregon's run-action attack, mixing in rollouts and quick reads as Marcus Mariota became the first quarterback since 1960 to generate a perfect passer rating in his NFL debut.

The Titans actually scored more points in the first half of Mariota's debut (35) than they did in any full game (28) last season.

Although the Bucs' defense allowed Mariota to get away with a few mistakes, the AFC Offensive Player of the Week impressed with pinpoint accuracy, a lightning-quick release and high-end speed.

On Monday's edition of NFL Network's Aftermath, NFL Media analyst Nate Burleson outlined the difference between Mariota's skill set and that of Robert Griffin III in a magical 2012 rookie season.

"When he's in the pocket, his helmet remains downfield. He never dips his helmet, which means he's constantly looking for his receivers," Burleson explained. "And for a guy that athletic, that's very special. Because he can run if he wants to; he can probably go for 115 yards every game. But he wants to get the ball out of his hand, which is so good to see for a young quarterback."

Next Gen Stats bolster Burleson's contention that Mariota could give defenses fits with his running ability if he was so inclined.

Mariota recorded the two fastest speeds by a quarterback in Week 1, blazing across the gridiron at 21.42 mph on a scramble and 20.35 mph on a designed run.

For perspective, Cardinals running back David Johnson (22.05 mph on 55-yard touchdown), Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin (21.74 mph on 54-yard touchdown) and Steelers wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey (21.43 mph on a 43-yard reception) were the only ball carriers to clock faster times than Mariota.

Prior to the draft, one scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Heisman Trophy winner throws on the move as well as any quarterback he had ever seen. That smooth, Joe Montana-like footwork has been in evidence since the start of the preseason.

"The team is really excited about him; he picks things up so quickly, football-wise, which I think we saw Sunday," NFL Media's Gil Brandt wrote, after speaking with Titans director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield. "He might not be as good as Andrew Luck, but I think he'll have Luck-esque success going forward."

Here's what else we learned from Next Gen Stats in Week 1:

  1. Although Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce's nickname is "Zeus," he has also been labeled "Baby Gronk" due to physical gifts resembling those of Rob Gronkowski.

Whereas the Patriots' All Pro is a better blocker and a more powerful player, Kelce has the edge in speed and elusiveness in the open field. Kelce had four catch-and-runs over 16.5 mph to just one for Gronkowski. Kelce also drew uncanny separation on his routes. The closest linebacker at the point of the catch on each of his six receptions was 8.5, 9.0, 10.6, 11.1, 10.4 and 4.0 yards.

  1. Released by two teams in the past four months, James Jones was Aaron Rodgers' most productive receiver in Week 1, scoring twice and having another touchdown nullified by penalty. Jones bounced around the league because he no longer has the wheels to separate from coverage, as he created no more than 3.9 yards between himself and Bears cornerback Alan Ball last Sunday. His maximum speeds of 15.98, 12.58, 17.63 and 11.72 mph are on the slow end of the wide-receiver spectrum.

Jones succeeds with Rodgers because of their chemistry, Rodgers' uncanny ball placement in tight windows and the quarterback's trust that his physical receiver will win contested catches.

  1. Now we know why the Jets selected Ohio State wideout Devin Smith in the second round even with proven veterans Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley on the roster. Despite playing with a comfortable lead for much of the game, new play-caller Chan Gailey ran 19 of 60 offensive plays (31.7 percent) in four-wide receiver sets. No team in the entire league came close to double digits with four-wide receiver personnel.
  1. When La'el Collins landed in Dallas after the draft, he proclaimed the Cowboys' offensive line the best in NFL history. Next Gen Stats suggest those blockers gave Joseph Randle precious little space to exploit versus the Giants. With only one attempt longer than seven yards, Randle topped 16 mph on just six of 16 carries.
  1. Most of the football-loving world has seen Carlos Hyde's beautiful spin move for a touchdown by now. What we found most interesting about the play is that Hyde showed an impressive display of burst, climbing from 3.5 mph on the spin to a top-end speed of 18.9 mph as he jetted across the field to the left pylon. Hyde covered 47 yards for a 10-yard gain.
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