The most important position in football is, and always will be, quarterback. If you don't have a quality QB in the NFL, your entire focus becomes finding one. Teams will spend draft picks and boatloads of money trying to find the right guy.
The next wave of quarterback talent in college is very good, with Jameis Winston, Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty and others showing NFL-level talent.
However, the player who does it best comes from an offense many still consider to be a gimmick. How will the NFL view Oregon's Marcus Mariota, and just how good is he?
The Tale of the Tape
Weight: 220 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.48 seconds (according to GoDucks.com)
2013 stats: 245-of-386, 63.5 PCT, 3,665 YDS, 31 TD, 4 INT, 9 rush TD
A common critique of Mariota is that the big passing windows he gets in college won't exist in the NFL.
That's partially true, but Mariota does make more contested throws than the narrative would suggest:
Take a look at Mariota against Tennessee. He reads man coverage and, with a defensive lineman in his face, delivers a strike down the sideline.
With no pressure, you'd like to see this ball thrown further up the field, allowing the receiver to run and catch in stride, but things happen in the pocket you can't control.
The goal of any quarterback here is to give his man a chance downfield—personally, I'd rather have the quarterback put this on the back shoulder and limit the chance of an interception instead of throwing it up with a ton of air and giving the defense time to run under the ball.
Not every pass thrown under pressure has to be beautiful, but Mariota displays downfield accuracy here and on his game film that proves his ability to push the deep ball and threaten a defense.
For those who think he's running a dink-and-dunk offense with no reads or tough throws, this proves that theory wrong.
Mariota's downfield accuracy grades out better than any quarterback scouted for the 2014 draft and is on par with the elite quarterback prospects of the last decade.
Playing against Stanford in 2013, Mariota got a good look at what an NFL defense will do to try and contain him. He also played on a strained MCL that limited his mobility and plant foot.
Still yet, Mariota displayed the pocket presence of a veteran in this matchup:
In the clip above, we see Mariota flushed from the pocket, but he doesn't tuck and look to run. Instead he keeps the ball at a passing height, rolls to the right and keeps his shoulders square and eyes downfield.
Keeping eye discipline on the move is incredibly important, and Mariota doesn't need to be schooled in this area. He rolls, fires with velocity and makes a tough throw off a jump. The resulting pass is slightly underthrown, but throwing on a strained MCL from this position speaks to his arm strength and athleticism.
You would like to see Mariota start to recognize back-side pressure better—Tennessee sacked him in the red zone because he didn't feel the blitz—but in a pro-style blocking scheme he should be better suited to feel and see that pressure pre-snap.
As a quarterback who has only played in a shotgun, Mariota could require an adjustment period when he's asked to come under center.
It's not as important today as it was five years ago, but there are times that still put heavy emphasis on a quarterback's under-center ability, and that will hurt Mariota.
Tall, strong and balanced. That's how you can best describe Mariota in the pocket.
His passing mechanics are ideal, from the way he points his lead (left) shoulder to the way his feet are balanced and light when he's preparing to throw.
Eyes are a big part of a quarterback's mechanics, and Mariota never drops his. Even when pressured, he keeps his head up and focuses on coverage and routes instead of letting his eyes fall to the pass rush. This is a pro-level quality from the Oregon redshirt junior.
From the standpoint of passing mechanics, Mariota is a finished product.
He has a very quick release with a compact motion. There is no windup. He doesn't drop the ball below his chest and doesn't lose his base when throwing. Mariota flicks the ball with strength, showing good velocity fueled by his precise follow-through and weight transfer.
The ball comes out high and fast when he makes the read.
Football Intelligence (FBI)
Mariota may play in a system some don't yet appreciate, but the rumor that he doesn't make reads pre- and post-snap is false. He does—it's just subtler than Peyton Manning screaming at the offensive line on every play.
The Chip Kelly offense being run at Oregon asks Mariota to read one side of the field on the majority of this throws. This is a common occurrence in college football—especially in today's spread offense era—and is no more of a knock on Mariota than it was on Cam Newton and others.
This is one area where Mariota can improve in 2014, and it is the part of his game where the biggest jump can be seen on the field.
Can he manipulate a defense with his eyes like he does his legs? Will Pac-12 defenses adjust to Oregon's scheme and give him fits like they did in 2013?
Mariota's grade as a prospect is based on his skill set to date and potential—and a big jump is expected from the 20-year-old in his third season as a starter.
Mariota is an accomplished pocket passer, but part of what makes him so appealing to the NFL is his ability to pull the ball down and pick up positive yards when all hell breaks loose in the pocket.
Of course, every NFL general manager would love to have Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but today's game is also about the quarterback being able to pick up yards on 3rd-and-short if the defense does its job in coverage.
Mariota has that Newton- or Colin Kaepernick-like ability to run with power and pick up short yards. He's not a brute like Ben Roethlisberger or as nimble as Johnny Manziel, but he runs with long, strong strides and can be a dangerous mover:
Mariota, like most mobile quarterbacks, presents a problem for defenses.
Do you pull a linebacker out of coverage to pursue him as a runner or stay true to the pass? Tennessee couldn't figure out that decision, and many NFL defenders will struggle with the same question in the moment.
Mariota uses his athleticism to set up throws—and we saw that above in his pocket presence clip. He'll use his legs to set up the pass, and that's what has NFL scouts so excited about his potential.
Largely due to their similar stature and running styles, many are quick to compare Mariota to Kaepernick. I've fallen into that trap as well, but Mariota is light-years ahead of where Kaepernick was at Nevada as a passer and has a much cleaner passing motion.
The Kaepernick comparison in terms of style is fitting, but Mariota's mechanics and pocket vision are more similar to those of Roethlisberger.
Mariota may be a hybrid of the two, as he's a special player with undeniable double-threat tools. For this day and age of the NFL, he's the ideal quarterback prospect.
Special thanks to Draft Breakdown for the use of its videos.