NFL Draft 2014 Risers/Fallers: Marcus Mariota and the impact of Oregon's offense
The MMQB's Peter King added to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's burgeoning stardom this week, writing in his Monday Morning Quarterback column:
"Mariota will be draft-eligible next May (as will many other attractive quarterbacks, including Johnny Manziel) because he’s in his third college season out of high school. And at least two teams love Mariota to the point that I believe if he comes out those teams would have him higher on their board than [Louisville's Teddy] Bridgewater."
There are others on board with that idea, too, spurred on by the sensational start to 2013 that the dual-threat Mariota has uncorked. As part of Oregon's dominant 6-0 start, Mariota has thrown 17 touchdown passes and no interceptions, while rushing for 416 yards and seven touchdowns. Bridgewater, long considered the top QB in this draft and the potential No. 1 overall pick, has continued to do his thing as well. The closing gap between him and Mariota has more to do with Mariota raising his game and continuing to show the arm and decision-making to win in the NFL.
One wild card to consider in the Bridgewater-Mariota debate: Oregon's offense. The wide-open attack has yet to produce a true NFL prospect -- Dennis Dixon has bounced around on practice squads; Darron Thomas went undrafted in 2012 and is in the Arena Football League.
Mariota's package of skills far exceeds anything either of those quarterbacks brought to the table (and Bridgewater's Louisville offense is pretty custom fit to help its QB succeed), but the NFL is still trying to wrap its head around the Ducks' offensive system, a Chip Kelly brainchild that has taken root with him in Philadelphia.
The Oregon offense has been a brilliant one for the college ranks, but it rarely asks its quarterback to run through long progressions. The passes often are predetermined, meant to get the ball out quickly to players in space.
That's not to say that Mariota is incapable of reading defenses or picking apart secondaries downfield (he has proven at least the latter to be false). But there will be a lot of attention paid to those rather robotic QB drills at Oregon's Pro Day, the combine and any individual team workouts. Even then, because most of those drills happen against air (i.e. no defense on the field), teams -- especially those running more pro-style offenses -- will have to determine how well Mariota's Oregon experience prepared him for aggressive NFL secondaries.
And with that said, a look at how some draft prospects performed this past weekend ...
• Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: The jury remains out on Shaw's potential as an NFL prospect -- the safe bet is that he's a Day 3 project pick by some team able to spend a little time guiding a rookie quarterback. Shaw simply continues to produce this season, though, and gets those SEC-competition bonus points. He had three TD passes in a win over Arkansas on Saturday, giving him 10 touchdowns and no interceptions this season.
Two more pluses for teams that may consider the Gamecock: Shaw can beat defenses with his feet (53.1 yards rushing per game in 2013) and he's tough as nails.
• Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: There is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get element at play with Borland. He's undersized, at a listed 5-foot-11, and probably will not wow anyone with speed or athleticism at the combine. But it is impossible to watch a Wisconsin game and not notice him making plays in the middle of the field.
He did so again Saturday, racking up 10 tackles and leading the charge to keep a complex, talented Northwestern offense in check. Borland will be a second- or third-day pick come draft time, and he might be a massive steal there if he lands on a team willing to give him a shot.
• Jimmy Garappolo, QB, Eastern Illinois: This has more to do with the buzz growing around Garappolo than anything. The small-school senior entered the season as a draft sleeper, but he's going to be plenty known by the time we reach the pre-draft "bowl" games and the combine. He fired five TDs to no interceptions last Thursday, in a 63-7 rout of Austin Peay. The level of competition Garappolo is facing will be a concern for some front offices, but his quick-footed pass release and ability to roll through progressions will keep him on a lot of draft boards.
• Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: I mentioned Donald as Pitt's Player to Watch back in Audibles' preseason ACC Draft Primer, and he has not disappointed. As with Borland, the issue here will be Donald's atypical size for his position -- 6-0 and 285 doesn't really fit the mold for an NFL defensive tackle.
That said, all he does is produce. Donald was easily Pitt's best defensive player in a loss to Virginia Tech Saturday, with six tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks of mobile QB Logan Thomas. He accomplished all that, as per usual, despite receiving tons of attention on the interior of the line.
• Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State: Reynolds had two interceptions this week against Washington State, and now has three picks over the Beavers' past two games. He's been much stronger in those past two outings than in the early stretches of the season, too. In Oregon State's previous game, he helped rein in Colorado's Paul Richardson, a rising prospect in his own right.
• Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: Tough afternoon for Oklahoma's versatile defensive back, who left with a shoulder injury after initially struggling to stick with Texas' receivers. Colvin clearly has ability -- he's almost a lock to come off the board before Day 2 of the draft is over. However, the struggles of past Oklahoma DBs at the next level make tough outings like the one Colvin endured Saturday stand out a bit more than he would like.
• Kain Colter, QB/WR, Northwestern: Colter is going to find his way onto an NFL roster in one capacity or another -- he's too talented to fall through the cracks. But his constant injury issues are going to be problematic for his status, especially considering his stature (6-0, 195) and Denard Robinson-like need to land on a team that can use him creatively. He left Saturday's Northwestern loss to Wisconsin with an ankle issue and finished with just 44 total yards despite later returning to the game.Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford: