Marcus Mariota wise to return for another year at Oregon

Marcus Mariota wise to return for another year at Oregon
December 3, 2013, 6:30 pm
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Marcus Mariota talks NFL

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns against Utah but did not run much on his bad left knee.

(Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

In the end, the promise of NFL riches didn’t trump Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s desire to remain with his teammates, stay in school and graduate.

So he’s returning for the 2014 season.

His NFL career will thank him later.

Mariota wasn’t ready for the NFL, at least not as ready as he will be after another year of grooming.

Playing NFL quarterback is by far the toughest job in team sports and despite Mariota’s immense skills he has a lot of room for improvement in areas not always exposed by the college game.

This is not to say that Mariota would have failed had he declared for the 2014 NFL Draft. But his chances for success could be greatly enhanced by another season at Oregon.

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For starters, he’s young. Mariota turned 20 on Oct. 30. To ask a 20-year-old to lead what would likely be a horrible team that drafted him is asking a lot.

Mariota has leadership qualities but leading fellow 20-year-olds as college quarterback is much different than leading grown millionaires against the Baltimore Ravens when your biggest victory came against Kansas State.

Physically, Mariota (listed at 6-foot-4, 211-pounds) still has room to grow. He’s noticeably thicker now than he was last year. It’s obvious in his legs, arms and shoulders.

Still, another year of physical maturity will better prepare him for the pounding he will take in the NFL.

People often compare Mariota to San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Both have similar skills and body types. However, Kaepernick is listed at 6-4, 230.

There’s every reason to believe Mariota could become as successful as Kaepernick who led the 49ers to last season’s Super Bowl.

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But projecting spread-option quarterbacks in the NFL can be tricky.

The success of Kaepernick, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Washington’s Robert Griffin III helps Mariota’s cause.

But all three have struggled at times when they couldn’t rely on their athleticism to make plays.

Making plays from the pocket is imperative in the NFL and Mariota has played in few games where he faced extreme duress while being kept in the pocket.

The two most NFL-like games he’s played where coverage was routinely tight and pressure fierce came against Stanford last year and this season. The Ducks lost both with the offense scoring a combined 27 points. Mariota didn’t play particularly poorly in either game but they were two of his worst showings in a career that has included mostly blowout wins.

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Certainly, Mariota deserves credit for helping create those runaway victories but that doesn’t change the fact that he is seeing a completely different game in college than he will in the NFL.

The spread offense with a dominant running game like Oregon’s leads to many advantageous passing situations and the creation of great separation between receives and defensive backs. It’s why the offense is so prolific.

Despite the feeling by many that Mariota could have become a top-five pick there’s a good chance that once NFL scouts and general managers begin extensively evaluating him his stock could drop a bit based on some inconsistencies with accuracy when facing adversity.

It’s nitpicking to an extent but it is there and it can be fixed.

Passing windows won’t be as large in the NFL and Mariota could use another year of fine-tuning his game to be better prepared to face NFL defenses.

Oregon still figures to play the same style and Mariota will probably help engineer more lopsided victories but the added experience could lead to a much more polished product by this time next year.

Certainly Oregon benefits greatly. Mariota’s return gives the Ducks a realistic chance of making another run at a national title and doing so in the first year of a four-team playoff.

Should Oregon win the Pac-12 with a no more than one loss the Ducks would almost assuredly be in the mix for a playoff berth.

It’s a win-win decision for Oregon and Mariota and one that should pay off long-term for the still developing quarterback.