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What Happened to Marcus Mariota?

Title Photo: Sports Gossip

Here is the scene. Imagine that you are at the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago, Illinois. The draft is mere seconds away from starting. The two teams picking at the top of the draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Tennessee Titans both need quarterbacks. There are two great signal-callers in this draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the last two Heisman Trophy winners. The Bucs have the first pick, and have the luxury of hand-picking their franchise guy, while Tennessee will get the other player. Tampa Bay chooses Winston. When the Titans are on the clock, Chip Kelly, the Eagles coach calls. He is willing to trade four future first-round picks to trade up to draft Marcus Mariota, his former Oregon QB.

Photo: CBS Sports

Tennessee refuses. They select Mariota to be their quarterback of the future.

Mariota had the chance to one-up Winston, as he and the Titans played the Buccaneers in week one of their rookie year. Tennessee beat Tampa, 42-14, and Mariota threw only two incompletions, and had 209 yards passing, along with four TD’s. This was not a sign of things to come, however. He only played in 12 games his rookie year, and the Titans played horribly, clinching the number one overall draft choice.

2016 was a turnaround for him and the Titans. Mariota threw for 3,426 yards, with 26 touchdowns, and only nine picks. Additionally, the Titans finished 9-7, barely missing out on a playoff spot. Sadly, in week 16, vs. the rival Jaguars, Mariota broke his leg, ending a brilliant season.

Photo: Rob Foldy / Getty Images

2017 was a regression for Marcus, as he threw for only 3,232 yards, 13 scores, and 15 INT’s. But the Titans made it to the playoffs, and were set to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild-Card round. Down 21-3 at the half, Mariota led a ferocious comeback, winning 22-21. He also had a memorable play, where he threw the ball to the goal-line, but it was batted down. Before the ball hit the ground, Mariota caught it, and dove in for 6! Though the Titans season was ended the next week by the New England Patriots, there was some much-needed hope for the future.

Video: RSHighlights / YouTube

During the offseason, Tennessee hired Mike Vrabel to be their coach, and Matt LaFleur to be their offensive coordinator. LaFleur helped build the Rams’ comeback season the year prior, so he could definitely help Mariota become a Pro-Bowler. But that never happened. Mariota was hampered by injuries, and never really played that well when he was healthy. He hurt his right elbow during week one vs. the Dolphins. Then he re-injured his throwing elbow in week 16, vs. the Washington Football Team, and missed the week 17 must-win contest against the Colts.

Photo: Oregon Live

Tennessee lost it without him, and missed the postseason again. LaFleur left to be the Packers head coach after the season ended.

During the 2019 offseason, Jon Robinson decided to trade for Ryan Tannehill to back up Mariota, as Marcus needed a quality backup. After going 2-3, Mariota was benched during an awful 16-0 loss to the Broncos, which made the Titans record 2-4. He never started a game again for Tennessee. Tannehill led them to a 9-7 record, and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Mariota was used as a gadget weapon after his benching, and did complete a 24 yard pass to AJ Brown during week 17, which set Brown over 1,000 receiving yards on the season.

So what happened? He was a near-All-Pro, but suddenly vanished the next three seasons. I place the blame on these reasons.

  • He couldn’t stay healthy.

He was never capable of playing a full season, as the only time he never missed a game due to injury was 2019.

  • He had to learn a new system every year, as he had a new offensive coordinator every year.

This really stunted his development. He had to learn new offenses on both ends of the spectrum, and every year.

Photo: Mark Zaleski / Associated Press

  • In college he ran the spread offense, which is nowhere near like an NFL offense, so he had a steep learning curve. Not to mention that he had to learn a whole new playbook every year.

The spread offense is where there are 3 or 4 receivers spread out on the line of scrimmage. In college, Mariota ran this along with no-huddle read options, which is nowhere near the complexity of an NFL playbook.

  • When he was healthy, he was inconstant.

He was never a consistent QB, and was a wild-card every week on whether he’d play well or not, even vs. horrible teams.

  • Most seasons, he had many mediocre receivers, outside of tight end Delanie Walker.

Besides Delanie Walker, for most of his Titans career, he had awful receivers. By the end of his stint with Tennessee, though, the corps got better.

While Mariota provided sparks and glimmers of hope of Titans fans, like me, he just never panned out the way Tennessee would have liked. I will always remember what he brought to the table. The highlights, comebacks, and dazzling plays, but I’ll still have to remember the slow painful decline of his career, and how much of a headache he was to watch. I will still continue to root for him, though. Set The Edge, on YouTube, made a great video at the time of his benching, on what happened with him. I recommend watching it if you want to go deeper about Maritota’s career.

(This is me wearing my first ever piece of Tennessee Titans gear… A Marcus Mariota jersey!)


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