Extra Points: Handicapping Mariota

(SportsNetwork.com) – There is a crucial pick in every NFL Draft where things
pivot dramatically and that selection is going to come very early in the 2015
version, Tennessee’s spot at No. 2 overall.

If things fall as expected and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Florida State
quarterback Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick, the Titans will have a
difficult decision to make, either pull the trigger and take Oregon signal
caller Marcus Mariota or trade out to an organization that wants the Heisman
Trophy winner.

Mariota is a polarizing prospect, a smart kid with all the intangibles you
need to play the game’s most important position but little training in a pro-
style offense. In fact some scouts believe Mariota was never really tested in
Eugene in what is, at least in the NFL’s eyes, a dumbed-down offense.

The spread system that Chip Kelly ran with the Ducks and Mark Helfrich has
continued is based on tempo and doesn’t require the QB to make NFL-level
progressions from receiver to receiver. It’s often been described as
quarterback-proof, in which the pilot is told what to do pre-snap and expected
to make his one read and go.

Over recent years I’ve compared the spread-offense phenomenon to baseball
where there was once a strong belief that college programs did more harm than
good when it came to getting pitchers ready for the major leagues. And that
thought process was probably correct, at least in the days before anyone cared
about things like pitch counts. Most college coaches weren’t about to try to
serve two masters — winning while at the same time getting their prospects
ready for the next step.

The similar dynamic in college football right now is the spread offenses that
are all the rage on campus. Although there is more read-option than ever in
the professional ranks, most organizations just aren’t all that comfortable
with signal callers who have spent their entire college experience in the
pistol or shotgun.

In fact, if anything the pendulum is swinging back and most teams are more
enamored with the old-school, pocket-style passer who is comfortable with a
three-, five- or seven-step drop, and capable of planting his foot in the
ground before letting it rip.

All that said, a quarterback with mobility who can throw it from the pocket is
now the prototype (think Aaron Rodgers) and Mariota has the skill set to join
a rather exclusive group. But, as far as plug-and-play in ’15, he probably
fits exactly one team — Kelly and his Eagles.

And that doesn’t seem like a top-10 pick.

Which brings us back to Nashville where for weeks the conventional wisdom was
that Tennessee, which finished 2-14 under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt last
season, wanted out of the No. 2 slot because the team obviously needs multiple
assets in order to get better and Mariota seems nothing like a Whisenhunt-type
quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers).

Moreover this is not the old NFL where five-year plans are acceptable. After
2-14 Whisenhunt is already on the clock and he probably can’t afford another
disastrous win-loss season while waiting for a young QB to develop.

The Titans, though, have done a brilliant job dispelling all of that and an
early draft-week column by Peter King of Sports Illustrated claimed Tennessee
will be “comfortable” taking Mariota “unless they trade the pick.”

The subterfuge seems to have worked with most observers shifting toward the
narrative of Tennessee taking Mariota. Of course if you really think about
King’s thesis, it’s dubious and comes across as a leak from someone in

After all, if the Titans really liked Mariota that much and were comfortable
with him, their path is a rather easy one in a quarterback-driven league,
draft the Hawaii native and build from there.

The “unless they trade the pick” is the key part of the deception, though.
Simply put, Tennessee remains intent on dealing the selection and is trying to
make a leverage play. The Titans have yet to get an offer they like and
probably won’t until they are on the clock in Chicago.

So the question becomes whether anyone has real interest in trading up and
overdrafting a solid but far from spectacular quarterback prospect.

The most likely candidates remain the Jets and Chicago, simply because those
are teams that don’t have to move that far. That said, the Jets understand
Mariota may drop to them anyway if the Titans are bluffing, and the Bears will
have issues trying to move the poster- child for bad-body language, Jay

Cleveland, Philadelphia, and to a lesser extent New Orleans and San Diego,
remain the wild cards.

The Browns have two No. 1 picks, Nos. 12 and 19, and a GM, Ray Farmer, who not
only struck out badly in the first round of the draft last year, he also is in
hot water for the embarrassing text-gate scandal, facts that mean Farmer is
looking to make a splash to save his job. Kelly, meanwhile, is erratic, at
least from a personnel standpoint, and certainly capable of shock and awe even
if makes little sense and mortgages his organization’s future.

The Chargers are the one team that could make a deal rather easily if they
agree to part ways with Rivers, a Whisenhunt favorite who sees no future with
his current organization if they plan on uprooting and heading toward Los

And if the Titans never get an offer they deem acceptable?

Sometimes you make the right decision and sometimes you make the decision

Tennessee can either bite the bullet, tell Whisenhunt to update the resume and
proceed to pound the square peg in the round hole or take the best pure
football player in this draft, Southern Cal defensive lineman Leonard