Had he not opted to return to Oregon, Marcus Mariota may very well have been the first quarterback selected in last week's NFL draft. Thus, it's no wonder Mariota tops numerous, early 2015 big boards.
Mariota passed on the 2014 draft to continue pursuing goals at Oregon and hone his skills as a quarterback. He appeared on the April 23 edition of Pac-12 Networks' Football Weekly and addressed his decision to return.
The redshirt junior scintillated audiences in his first two years commanding the Ducks' high-powered offense. With another year of refinement, the sky—and the No. 1 overall pick—is the limit for Mariota.
Quarterbacks are often the first players selected. Since 2004, seven quarterbacks were taken first overall. The odds of Mariota going with that first selection are high, given that he tops many a list of draft projections for 2015 quarterbacks.
One such big board belongs to B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller, who labels Mariota both the best runner and best potential quarterback of the 2015 class.
Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com takes it one step further, writing: "[I]f Mariota had declared [this year], I think he would have been their [Houston Texans] No. 1 selection over Jadeveon Clowney."
Mariota may not go No. 1 overall—after all, the last two top selections were an offensive tackle and defensive end, and team oftentimes takes precedent.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated tabs Mariota as the No. 3 overall pick, behind Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley.
Mariota may not even be the first quarterback drafted. However, his place as a first-rounder appears to be as close to solidified as one can be a full year out from the draft.
Why Scouts Are High on Mariota
At 6'4", Mariota has prototypical NFL quarterback size. He came to Oregon spring practices last month at 218 pounds, with a goal weight of 220 pounds, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.
The near-universal praise of Mariota points to the philosophical shift in the NFL. Playing in a no-huddle, spread offense was once a negative against NFL-aspiring quarterbacks. However, the success of dual-threat quarterbacks Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson has forced some scouts to rethink the parameters of what makes a great quarterback.
Mariota fits the new mold. He is arguably the most dynamic, multifaceted quarterback in college football, able to extend plays and create opportunities where others might not.
"He's really mobile and a heck of an athlete," one NFL scout told Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated. "He can make all the throws and is a good leader."
Statistics only tell a part of the story, but what they do detail about Mariota speaks volumes.
His passing improvement from 2012 to 2013 only scratches the surface. Mariota showed off his delivery and field-reading ability in this month's spring game, completing 6-of-7 attempts, including two touchdowns of 22 and 45 yards.
Mariota also connected with a variety of receivers in his limited appearance. An ability to spread the ball among numerous receivers will be a driving force in Oregon's offensive strategy this season, and Mariota's resulting production should only improve his draft standing.
Where Mariota Can Improve
"The most exciting dual-threat quarterback in the country must become more consistent," Frank Cooney of CBSSports.com writes.
Indeed, Mariota's consistency is the likely to be the one recurring critique of his NFL stock during the 2014 season—particularly, his consistency with the deep ball.
And while NFL offenses are more accommodating to dual-threat playmakers, proving his ability to run a pro style behooves Mariota.
To that end, he took some snaps from directly under center during spring practices.
"Stuff that will help me get prepared for the future," is how Mariota described it to Aaron Fentress of CSNNW.com. "Just little things that can help."