Will Marcus Mariota be the next Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley? Will he move up the ranks of his peers or will any potential warts shine brighter? While this is all filed under To Be Determined, we can say with the utmost certainty that the 6-foot-4-inch former Heisman hopeful who blends size with quickness and the panache needed to be on the cover of national magazines will not be a member of the Cleveland Browns. At least when it comes to 2014, anyway.
You see, Mariota, likely staring down the barrel of the woeful teams who would be looking to make him their franchise savior (coupled with the fact that his résumé has taken a bit of a hit as of late), has decided to return to Eugene, Oregon for his senior season. Not only would this provide the 20-year-old with the fortunes that come complimentary with another year as the Big Man on Campus, it allows him to get his name back into the Heisman ranks, a place his name was almost engraved before a knee injury has forced his otherwise spectacular statistical output to take a bit of a dip. In his last four games — including losses to the BCS-busting Stanford Cardinal and Gildan New Mexico Bowl-bound Arizona Wildcats — Mariota has completed less than 60% of his attempts twice, tossed his only four interceptions on the year and accounted for only 71 rushing yards on 25 carries. Forced into a roll as a pocket passer, Mariota has shown that he—despite likely having been the first quarterback taken in this spring’s draft—has plenty of work to in order to improve areas of his game that do not involve his legs. He has gone from being the object of desire of draft analyzing Browns fans and radio talk show hosts to simply unattainable, all without the awkward moments of contrition.
“It is an honor to be a student at the University of Oregon and to have the opportunity to represent our institution on the football field alongside my teammates,” Mariota said of his decision through a university news release. “I look forward to earning my degree next year and to the rest of my career at this great University.”
Mariota’s move may soon be replicated by fellow left-coaster Brett Hundley, who is considering returning to UCLA after the university made a six-year commitment to head coach Jim Mora. As these decisions loom large, the Cleveland Browns, one of the handful of teams looking to find their quarterback of the future, will continue to see a dwindling list of would-be heroes. For what seemed like an eternity, the decision had boiled down to Teddy or Tajh1, the Louisville quarterback who provides the prototypical blend of height, weight and top-end speed (the adult film star name is just a bonus), or the fearless kid from Clemson who spurned Ohio State at the last minute, using his arm strength and bulk to make up for what he lacks in ideal height. But as the season has unfolded and fans have realized that they are, in fact, not draft analysts, we’ve seen Boyd’s name slide down the ranks, leapfrogged by such laureates as Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, and Fresno State’s Derek Carr, the last of which is the brother of former No. 1 draft selection David.
To lend some insight as to how these football hurlers compare to other positions, Bridgewater, presently the top name on most lists, is slotted in as the eighth-best player overall. Mettenberger, presently ranked fifth among quarterbacks by draftnik Todd McShay, is ranked 49th overall, well outside of the first round of the NFL Draft. Everyone’s favorite reigning Heisman winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, is ranked third among quarterbacks, but 20th when it comes to the entire slate of draftable players.
The Cleveland Browns have a glaring need. It is to a point where fans would be thrilled with a year that produces a record of 8-8, the most mediocre of outcomes. A half-dozen regimes have attempted to find the key piece to get the Browns to that level and beyond, some via free agency, others via the draft. The current regime has made it evident that they will be obtaining their savior through the latter of the two options, preferring a young player whom they feel can best fit the system that is currently in place. We’re told that, after several moves which have netted draft selections for the coming spring, it will be at this moment, this very weekend, when the franchise finally has a quarterback to lead them into prominence, if not mere relevance among peers. Thoughts are that the first-round selection acquired from the Indianapolis Colts (for running back Trent Richardson) will be utilized as means to move up from their given draft selection2 to select the player who will finally change the franchise.
But as Mariota returns to the plush confines of Oregon’s training facility, preferring to duke it out with Florida State’s Jameis Winston for the top spot in 2015, it is becoming more and more evident that the Browns simply have a gift certificate that can only be used on a question mark, a mystery bag of athletic prowess which may or may not translate at the next level. Not that Mariota was a no-doubt selection the way Luck was two seasons ago, but his shear availability ensured that at least one more quarterback would be there for the having.
With the 2013 Draft Class being listed among the worst for quarterbacks in recent history, it appears that the NFL is entering a bizarre, NBA-like run where the top-end quality simply isn’t there at the most integral of positions. It also just so happens to be during a period where the perennially poor Browns are looking to resurrect a once-proud franchise.
Sure, there is an undeniable potential for one of the quarterbacks who will be selected in May’s draft to far surpass any expectations. After watching this past Monday night’s contest between the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints and the near-perfect Seattle Seahawks, both teams led by quarterbacks who were not selected in the first round of their respective drafts who are now among the best in the entire NFL, it is wholly possible that there is value to be had. But as more and more teams gamble on finding the most important piece to their billion-dollar puzzle, first-round pick after first-round pick will be used on what amounts to hope. Sure, analysis will be involved, Pro Days will be attended. But in a year where the 49th-best prospect could sneak his way into the first round simply due to the position he plays, it’s tough to have any modicum of faith that all of the Browns’ questions will be answered in what is shaping up to be an offseason of epic importance3.
- Yes, there’s an H in his name, and it comes after the J. Just so we’re clear. [↩]
- Presently, the Browns are drafting eighth…behind sure-fire quarterback selectors like Houston, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. [↩]
- For what it’s worth, I’m all about Manziel. Polarizing and what not, but the kid has incredible levels of competitiveness and leadership and can extend plays with his legs. Short? Sure. Also worth noting: I’m not a scout nor a member of a personnel department. [↩]