No-22: How Mariota Would Fit With the Eagles
Eight days had already passed, but one sequence still stuck out in Chip Kelly’s head.
In Kelly’s fourth game as an NFL coach, Peyton Manning lit the Eagles up with a 327-yard, four-touchdown performance. Manning threw only six incompletions as the Broncos rolled to a 52-20 victory, but one specific misfire caught Kelly’s attention.
“I still look at the best play he made when he played us was when they were over toward their bench,” Kelly recalled. “We tried to get him on something, and it wasn’t there. They took the ball and threw it in the back of [Wes] Welker’s calf, like he wasn’t going to make the play. He just thought, ‘Alright, get me second down now. It’s not there, ball is on the ground, give me another snap.’ Two plays later, they’re in the end zone for a touchdown.”
Kelly is an admirer of Manning – not so much for his physical ability, but more for the way he’s able to recognize defensive looks, process information and punish opponents with his mental edge.
The 2015 NFL draft is still two months away, but already we’ve heard Marcus Mariota (6-4, 219) compared to a number of different quarterbacks. The highest praise came from Tony Dungy, who mentioned Aaron Rodgers. Others see Colin Kaepernick or maybe Ryan Tannehill. Some have even referenced Alex Smith.
But when Kelly was interviewed on ESPN before the national championship game, he went a different route.
“He might be the fastest guy on the field,” Kelly said. “But his mind is even faster. He thinks like Peyton Manning.”
Kelly has not shied away from heaping praise on Mariota. When he is asked about his former quarterback, the emotion shines through, like a proud father talking about his son.
In December, Kelly remarked that he knew Mariota would eventually win the Heisman even when he was a freshman. He noted that Mariota had “everything you want” out of a quarterback, from the arm to the athleticism to the demeanor to the leadership.
And so it should be no surprise that the most talked-about topic around these parts since the Eagles were officially eliminated from the playoffs in Week 16 has been whether or not Kelly will go all-out to land his former pupil.
Below is a detailed look at Mariota’s skill set, how he’d fit in Philadelphia and thoughts on whether Kelly is about to do something drastic in the months ahead.
The top two traits Kelly looks for in his quarterbacks are accuracy and decision-making. Mariota completed 68.3 percent of his passes last season, the fifth-best mark in the nation.
In the games I watched, his accuracy was excellent on the short and intermediate throws. Aside from the completion percentage number, Mariota did an excellent job of putting the ball in places where receivers could make plays after the catch:
You’ll also notice that Mariota went through multiple progressions on that play. Does Oregon have a QB-friendly system? Sure. But the idea that he ran a “one-read offense” is not accurate.
It’s tough to find a lot of “drop it in the bucket” throws from Mariota because often when he fired downfield, receivers did not have defenders nearby. There were some examples, however, where he showed good touch on downfield throws.
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Mariota is not perfect, and the ball does sail at times, specifically on throws over the middle.
All quarterbacks (and especially 21-year-olds) are going to miss some throws. But there’s nothing in Mariota’s body of work that suggests he can’t be an accurate passer at the NFL level.
In three years as a starter, Mariota threw 14 interceptions on 1,167 attempts. That’s an INT rate of 1.2 percent. As a point of reference, only one starting quarterback in the NFL had an INT percentage that low last year: Rodgers.
But again, that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product here. He often made poor decisions throwing across his body into traffic last season. Defenders, however, didn’t always hold on to the football.
Mariota also had issues with ball security. He fumbled 27 times in 41 college games.
It seemed to me part of this was him trying to do too much and always fighting to keep plays alive. That should come as no surprise, considering how gifted Mariota is athletically.
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So again, there are things to work on. But given his interception rate over a three-year span, it’s tough to argue that Mariota was anything but a very good decision-maker at the college level.
One knock I’ve heard on Mariota is that he too often looks to run when there’s pressure around him. The games that I watched do not support this argument. There are plenty of examples of Mariota productively using his athleticism, keeping his eyes downfield and finding open receivers.
Here, the receiver drops the ball, but still:
A must for NFL quarterbacks is to feel edge pressure and climb the pocket. Mariota did that here:
And then there’s the flat-out athleticism/escapability that you just can’t teach:
Very rarely in the games I watched did Mariota “see ghosts” and take off running when he didn’t need to.