Oregon QB Marcus Mariota has work to do next season


Let the second-guessing begin.

Now that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has announced he will return for his redshirt junior season, the process of over-analyzing him can begin in earnest.

It happened to Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel this season. It will happen to Jamies Winston next season. There were even a handful of individuals questioning Andrew Luck's abilities in his final season at Stanford.

So what is there to dissect in Mariota's game? He has thrown for 6,089 yards and 62 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and rushed for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns in 25 career starts with the Ducks, completing 65.6 percent of his passes. He has a 22-3 record, including a Fiesta Bowl win last season.

NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah points to Mariota's need to improve his movement inside the pocket and placement on intermediate and deep passes, issues that were exacerbated after injuring his left knee and having to wear a brace for the final four games of the regular season.

In that span, Mariota was 83 of 135 for 1,131 yards and 10 touchdowns with all four interceptions he has thrown this season. Mariota also took six sacks and rushed for just 71 yards on 25 carries.

Without the threat of zone-read runs or scrambles or even the improvisation to give his wide receivers time to get free, Mariota's productivity as a passer dropped by two yards per attempt compared to the first eight games of the season.

But after Mariota's knee heals up, he will have to become much more effective diagnosing pressure and operating against it. Stanford's elite defensive front seven has flustered Mariota for two consecutive seasons.

In the loss to the Cardinal last month, Mariota missed a walk-in 48-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Josh Huff on the opening possession, failing to set his feet and deliver the ball with enough arc and power. Instead, Huff was left having to dive back to the ball, trying and failing to pull it up off the turf.

Mariota has missed several of those throws this season, opportunities that present themselves far less frequently against NFL defensive backs. Those are the plays Mariota has to make against an aggressive defense like Stanford. Those are the plays a franchise quarterback has to make every time, especially with NFL defenses catching up to the read-option.

Don't get me wrong, Mariota has all the attributes to be a sensation on Sundays. But these are the issues that are going to be raised until Mariota is taken in (presumably) the 2015 NFL Draft.

It happens to every prominent player that decides to return to school. It will happen to Mariota.

It already has.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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