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The Marcus Mariota Comparables

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, evaluating QB prospects is a very difficult task. Maybe a fool’s errand is a better description.

I don’t think NFL teams have a good sense of what makes a good NFL quarterback – even after they’ve had ample time to evaluate them – so I don’t know why projecting players from college to the NFL would be any easier. As evidence of my point feel free to check out the contracts of the world’s questionable QBs. Does Matthew Stafford deserve to be a $100 million QB? I don’t even want to take the time to look up Jay Cutler’s contract, but I do know that the Bears have a good amount of buyer’s remorse over it. I’m not cherry picking here either. NFL teams are governed by a paralyzing fear that they might not have a QB, so they address that fear by signing all manner of questionable QBs to big contracts. See Smith, Alex. And Joe Flacco..

Maybe the above paragraph is accurate as to the difficulty of evaluating QBs, or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about how little I understand of the position. I’m not sure. But for fantasy purposes you still have to come to an opinion, so even if I’m pessimistic that I might be able to outpick the QB market, I still kind of have to try. In this year’s draft I think at some point we’ll be confronted with a decision as to how early Marcus Mariota should be picked in rookie and re-draft leagues. So let’s take a look at some Mariota comparables.


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The table above assumes that Mariota will be picked second overall in this year’s draft. You can actually change that assumption when running comparables in the Box Score Scout. When you do that and include some college career and final year production numbers, you get what I think is a pretty decent comp group. These are all QBs who compiled a lot of college games, were generally efficient on a per attempt basis in those games, and also limited turnovers. This cohort was picked on average with the 26th pick in the draft.

Of the group there are two legitimate successes in Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. There is one more promising player in Teddy Bridgewater, and then there’s an interesting “What could have been?” in Robert Griffin. The jury is still out on Blake Bortles although I think it might be accurate to say that there’s a fair amount of skepticism that he’ll develop into an elite QB. Then the rest of the list is comprised of mostly misses.

I think it’s worth noting that if you want to think about how many hits should be on any QB comparables list, just think about the small number of elite QBs in the NFL today and how much they had in common as prospects (not a lot). Would Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, or Drew Brees appear as comparables for each other in a prospect list? Doubtful, and if you disagree or think that my limited box score scouting methods can’t capture the ways they’re similar, I would direct you to look up where they were picked in the actual NFL draft.

Also, even though the list above includes a variable to return similarly drafted QBs, you could also just whittle it down to players taken in the top 10ish of the draft. In that case you would get RGIII, Leinart, Andrew Luck, Roethlisberger, and Bortles.

I’m typically inclined to like a QB that I think could roll up a decent number of rushing yards. I actually liked Johnny Manziel last year for that reason. But it might also be true that we overlooked a pretty important factor in assuming that Manziel could be effective running in the NFL. He’s not particularly big or fast. That became evident any time he made his way onto the field. Here’s a graph that shows speed scores for some recent QBs.

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You can see that Marcus Mariota is just above Andrew Luck in terms of speeed score, while Manziel is just above Jay Cutler.

But it’s not just that Mariota is a good bet to compile rushing yards. It’s that I also expect his running to help his passing numbers. Consider that RGIII and Colin Kaepernick are both top 10 in AYA for the time they’ve been in the league even though neither is considered a good passer. Russell Wilson is third, and Cam Newton is 14th (these all assume minimum 800 attempts). Even Tim Tebow has an AYA of 6.5 for his career (despite being being barely able to throw the ball).  So I tend to think that Mariota’s passing numbers will be somewhat correlated to his rushing numbers.  Running QBs have a third option to consider beyond whether to throw the ball or take a sack. Running can thus lead to reduced turnover numbers as well as extended drives.

I expect to target Mariota in dynasty and re-draft leagues this year provided that his ADP doesn’t get out of control. In rookie drafts I think that means end of the first round. In re-draft I expect Mariota’s ADP to rise as he’s “de-risked” so I don’t want to give an absolute target. But because I think he has Cam Newton type upside as a runner, I’ll probably get pretty aggressive even as he gets more expensive.


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