Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Marcus Mariota the Next Blaine Gabbert?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 22, 2015

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1. Lessons from Maurice Jones-Drew

One day, during his rookie season, Maurice Jones-Drew was sleeping on a couch in the Jaguars locker room. Someone tapped him on the shoulder, waking him. "They're coming to get you," the person said. 

"Then the two biggest human beings I've ever seen came in," Jones-Drew remembers.

One was teammate John Henderson, who is 6'7" and played at 300-plus pounds.

The other was Marcus Stroud, at 6'6" and about the same weight.

It was hazing time. Henderson and Stroud told Jones-Drew he could keep his dreads, because a lot of players on the team at that time had them, but the eyebrows had to go. And so they went—shaved off.

"I looked pretty funny for a while," Jones-Drew says.

Jones-Drew would go from eyebrow-less to nearly a decade in the NFL that included three Pro Bowls. In 2011, he led the league in rushing. He produced big numbers despite playing in horrific Jacksonville offenses. In that 2011 season, he accounted for almost 50 percent of the team's total yards.

Jones-Drew is one of the best examples of an NFL player who got it. In every way. On the field, off the field, in every way. He was a brilliant player and person, and he did something increasingly difficult to do in the NFL: He left the sport with his mind and wallet intact.

I spoke to Jones-Drew recently about adjusting to the NFL as a rookie and beyond. Our conversation covered numerous football-related topics, but I thought his smartest comments were about Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

In short, Jones-Drew echoes what I've heard more than a few veteran players say: Mariota will find it difficult to adjust to NFL offenses. Winston will be better because he's already familiar with NFL offenses since that is basically what Florida State runs.

"Some first-rounders will end up in horrible situations," Jones-Drew said. "Some scouts will say that a player fits a system when he clearly doesn't. Mariota is a good example of that."

Jones-Drew played with quarterback Blaine Gabbert, one of the more notorious recent draft busts. To Jones-Drew, Mariota faces the same potential problem that Gabbert did. Yes, he used the B-word when talking of Mariota, but what Jones-Drew said made sense.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

"It wasn't that Blaine was bad. It was that he was uncomfortable," said Jones-Drew. "You don't take Mark Zuckerberg and have him run a construction company. Blaine never adapted to the complicated pro offenses.

"The thing with Mariota is that it will take a long time for him to adjust to the NFL. It will take years. He will have to go to the absolute perfect place. It won't take Winston as long."

He also believes the problems Winston had in college will actually help once he enters the NFL.

"He's shown he can play at a high level while under a lot of scrutiny," Jones-Drew said. "People don't get how hard that is once you get in the NFL. I've seen guys crumble under the pressure. He won't be one of those guys.

"I don't know one guy who doesn't have a skeleton in his closet. If you do take Jameis, you put him in a situation like Dez (Bryant) where someone always tails him and watches him."

Oh yeah. That will happen no matter where Winston ends up playing.

Back to Jones-Drew as a rookie. The team was practicing in shells, and he got the football and started running when he saw hard-hitting safety Donovin Darius coming at him. Jones-Drew had heard how hard Darius hit and wanted to test that theory. And he did. Bam.

"Got hit in my right shoulder, and my shoulder went numb," Jones-Drew says. Then he laughs: "Lesson learned."

Jones-Drew now coaches high school football and wants to coach college next. Any college looking for a head coach would be stupid not to hire him. The same way teams should heed his words on Winston and Mariota.

2. Jones-Drew on concussions

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Jones-Drew says that in his 20-plus years of playing football, he had two concussions. One came in high school while picking up a blitz. The other in college; he got hit and momentarily passed out.

"Two or three concussions in a 20-year span?" Jones-Drew said. "I'm OK with that.

"It's a violent sport. If we were out there playing two-hand touch, no one would watch."

Jones-Drew says he will soon allow his seven-year-old son to play football. He was also critical of players, like former quarterback Kurt Warner, who said they wouldn't allow their kids to play football.

"Who would Kurt Warner be if it wasn't for football?" Jones-Drew asked.

3. Buccaneers' phone ringing off hook

Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

A Buccaneers source tells me the team's phone is "ringing off the hook" with teams calling about the possibility of trading up.

Now, I know this leak is self-serving. The Buccaneers want the impression out there that a number of teams want the top pick, thus possibly driving up the market value. But I trust this person wholeheartedly and believe it.

This is also an indicator of something else. Teams are reverting back to the theory that you draft a player who will help you win, no matter the player's baggage.

Maybe nothing ever changed, but we heard so much about how teams would change in the post-Ray Rice world. The league office changed. Teams? Not so much. The interest in Winston from teams—not to mention the Bucs may draft him first—proves that the old NFL is back. If it ever truly left.

4. Rex Ryan is still talking

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

Rex Ryan went after his former player again, taking shots at Jace Amaro on WFAN-AM radio over the weekend (via NJ.com). For no reason really.

I know Ryan is entertaining, and as a journalist, I love talkers. But what Ryan is doing in this instance borders on unprofessional. Do you see Bill Belichick taking multiple swipes at his former players? Belichick says, "We're on to Cincinnati." Ryan continually engages a former player most people have never heard of.

What is Ryan doing? He's doing what he did in New York. He's using rhetoric as a way to rally fans. See, I'm a tough guy. Because I take on my former team. Because I'm tough. Because tough. Did I mention tough?

So I say again: It's time to do what Ryan failed to during the last years of his Jets tenure. Stop yakking and win.

5. Power ranking Wells report release

MANUEL VALDES/Associated Press

Ted Wells is preparing his tome, which—considering that Wells started his investigation in June 1930—must be quite the imposing document by now. The section on football-deflation physics alone must read like a warp core engineering manual. Is there a new testament and an old one?

Anyhoo, the timing of the release of the report might be identifiable by using the process of elimination. Is it possible the report comes out this week? Not impossible by any means, but it's unlikely the NFL would want the release of the report to collide with its release of the schedule. The schedule release generates days of positive publicity for the league. The NFL and PR go together like cornflakes and milk.

How about next week? Let me answer that by first going to the week after next: draft week. The draft is one of the NFL's golden PR moments. The entire week. So my guess is nothing that week.

Next week is a bit of dead space in the league. Week before the draft. This is prime real estate for the release of the report. Otherwise, you are into May before its release.

So power ranking the release dates:

5. This week

4. Spring 2045

3. After the apocalypse

2. May

1. Next week

6. Philip Rivers never leaving?

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

What's been viewed by many as a dispute between Philip Rivers and his team really isn't, and the likelihood remains that Rivers will eventually sign a long-term deal with the Chargers and stay put. This according to several team officials familiar with Rivers' situation.

Now, I want to be careful here. This is still a highly volatile situation that shifts and bends almost daily. But team officials who have been in contact with the Chargers say the team is now cooling on a potential trade. The consensus now among these officials is that Rivers stays, contrary to LaDainian Tomlinson's opinion.

I know this reporting goes against most people's thinking.

Again, none of this is a lock. It could change. But for the moment, the odds are shifting toward Rivers staying in San Diego.

For the moment.

7. How did this not get out?

Steven Senne/Associated Press

The story, reported by ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, of New England's Nate Solder being diagnosed with testicular cancer, treating it, then playing, is amazing on its own. Takes courage to do what he did.

There is also another interesting part of this story: How did it not get out?

The Patriots kept it under wraps for a year. Not saying it should have gotten out. Not saying the Patriots had any obligation to announce it. Just saying the fact that something like that didn't get out is amazing. It says a lot about the culture of that franchise. When they want to keep things in house, they stay in house.

8. Terrible players who get arrested get cut, good ones don't, part 1 billion

Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

If the Lions' Rodney Austin wasn't a benchwarmer, would he still be on the team after these allegations?

It's just a question.

9. Fitzgerald to have huge year

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

I agree with what Larry Fitzgerald told The Arizona Republic's Kent Somers: He can still play at a high level. Last year was an aberration. I think with the return of Carson Palmer, he will be excellent again. My prediction is Fitzgerald finishes in the top three in receiving yards.

Then again, I predicted last year Miles Austin would make the Pro Bowl.

Hey, it could still happen.

10. Free labor for the NFL

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

When you watch the NFL draft, please consider this study. There are all kinds of goodies in it, especially the part about how players spend 50 hours on football per week. That's a pretty remarkable number, considering they're also supposed to be studying.

But…but…they get scholarships! That's a debate for another day. What's most fascinating is that college football—clearly, without question—serves as the NFL's minor league system. The NFL gets players who are polished by three years of football, and the NFL doesn't pay a damn dime until those players get drafted.

It's a neat setup for the league. It doesn't need an official minor league system like baseball or hockey. It has college.

Great deal for the NFL. Not so much for college players.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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