NFL Prospect Focus: Oregon Offense
Oregon has one of the highest scoring and quickest paced offenses in the country. You would think they would have a number of senior prospects on their roster. That’s not the case. The bad news for the Pac-12, and the rest of the country, is that there is only one senior NFL prospect on offense, wide receiver Josh Huff. He will probably be a premium pick. There are two underclassmen who the draftniks feel will declare for this draft. They are quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas. The best way to find out which underclassmen may be coming out is to check with the agent community because they are actively recruiting these kids. According to agents I know, Thomas is definitely considering coming out. Mariota, on the other hand, will probably stay in school. I will write up Mariota in this post because there is a chance he will enter the draft but the best move for him would be to stay in school. His overall game is not as good as his stats would say it is. Being a redshirt sophomore, he still has two years of eligibility and a lot of developing to do.
Marcus Mariota – Quarterback
Mariota is a third year sophomore and a two year starter. He is a former 3-star recruit and red shirted in 2011, his true freshman year. He started every game in 2012, throwing for 2600 yards, and rushing for 752 yards. This year, he has picked up where he left off, completing 144 of 225 passes for 2281 yards and 20 TDs. He has not thrown an interception. He has also rushed for 511 yards and 9 TDs. As good as his numbers are, I don’t believe he is ready to jump to the NFL.
Mariota has excellent size at about 6’4 – 215 and runs a sub 4.5. He is an excellent athlete with rare speed, quickness, and body control for a QB. While he might not be quite as fast as RGIII, he may be a better all- around athlete. He always plays from a fast-paced, spread formation and is surrounded by a cast of very impressive athletes at the skill positions. Oregon runs a read option offense, and Mariota is a perfect fit to run that style. As a runner, he is second to none. He has great speed and change of direction. He shows excellent run instincts and is both elusive and strong as a runner. He is a threat to go the distance any time he runs with the ball. He needs improvement in the passing game. While his stats are excellent, when you watch the tape, you can see the flaws. He has a compact, overhand delivery, but at times, looks like he is pushing or aiming the ball. He has good arm strength and throws a tight ball. What concerns me is in that offense, his receivers are ALWAYS wide open. In all the tape I watched, he only had to make one throw into a tight space. Most of his throws are short throws. (short outs and slants, bubble screens, screens. swing passes, short crossing and comeback routes) While he has very good accuracy, when you look at his completion percentage, his ball placement is often off. Even on short throws, when his target is wide open, he throws a pass that the receiver has to adjust to. While he can get away with that at the college level, he won’t be able to get away with that in the NFL. His deep ball accuracy and ball placement is average at best. He is off target by a wide margin on many of these types of throws. Because of that, they don’t throw deep that often, and when they do, more often than not, he throws to a wide open target. The good news is he doesn’t force throws and try to throw into coverage. He shows good ability to see the field, find an open receiver, and he is patient.
I believe he is a very talented player and he will improve his passing as he gains experience. Both ESPN Draft analysts say he is a top five player. In another year, that may be true, but he isn’t now. He has too many flaws as a passer. He will be much better off going back to Oregon for another year.
Can he get drafted in the 1st round if he comes out? Yes, but that doesn’t mean he should come out. Except for last year, the NFL has over drafted at the QB position for about the last five years. Too many players who didn’t have the talent to be first round picks got drafted there because clubs forced the picks with the lack of quality players at the position. Players like Gabbert, Tebow, Ponder, and Weeden have all been first round mistakes. Many scouts in the league do a poor job of evaluating that position. Too often, they just look at the physical traits and not the mental. On top of that, they have to realize that the pro game is so much more difficult than the college game. There are any number of things a QB can do in college that he will never be able to do in the NFL. Mariota is supposed to be very smart and a great kid. I’d hate to see him end up like some of the players I just mentioned because he succumbed to pressure and came out too early.
Josh Huff – Receiver
Huff is a fourth year senior and a three year starter at wide receiver. He also is used to return kickoffs. Even though he didn’t start as a true freshman, he got significant play time and accumulated over 1000 yards in total offense. This year, he is the Ducks leading receiver to date with 38 catches for 703 yards and six TDs. He has returned eight kickoffs for a 26 yard average.
Huff has good size at 5’11- 205. He looks and plays taller because of his long arms. He has very good play speed to go along with excellent athleticism and body control. His play speed is in the 4.45 – 4.48 area. In the Oregon offense, he is not asked to run a number of different types of routes. He will run outs, slants, comebacks, and bubble screens with an occasional deep route thrown in. I would not say he is a precise route runner, but with his body control and quickness, he can get in and out of cuts very quickly to gain separation. Often, he is wide open. Opponents usually play a soft zone against Oregon, and they give up a lot of short throws. I don’t remember seeing Huff have to uncover versus man coverage.
Huff has very good hands, showing the ability to snatch the ball. He always catches the ball away from his body. After the catch he is a very good runner, showing a burst, elusiveness, and strength. Many of his longer gains are short passes that he turned into a big gain with his run skills. On the tape viewed, I did not have an opportunity to see Huff have to compete for the ball in traffic. He was always open. He is a willing blocker and will look for a downfield block to help a back or receiver.
This is a talented player. He has speed, hands, run after skills, and toughness. He can and will double as a returner, as his return skills are very good. He needs to develop his route running, but he will play early as a rookie and eventually be a starter in the league. I see him as becoming a solid number two receiver.
De’Anthony Thomas – Running back
Thomas is a third year junior. While he has started many games, he plays in a rotation. He is a former 5-star recruit who was offered by many of the top programs in the country. He is not a very big guy. He stands about 5’9 – 173, but he is very fast (4.38 est) with great cutting ability, body control, and run instincts. He lines up as a running back, a slot receiver, and used to return kicks.
As a RB, he has excellent initial quickness but is also patient. He does a very good job setting up blocks and cutting off those blocks. He has very good vision and can make the quick cut in the hole. He has a great burst and top end speed to turn the corner on outside plays, and once in the open field, it often becomes a foot race that he easily wins. As an inside runner, he can make the quick cut to daylight and produce a big run, but he is not a good after-contact runner. While he runs hard and is strong, he lacks the bulk and power to break tackles inside. As a receiver, he has good hands, can get open, and again, once the ball is in his hands, he becomes a nightmare for the defense. He is extremely dangerous as a return man. His open field run skills are rare.
Thomas will never be a full-time player at the next level. He will be used as a rotational RB and used some as a slot receiver. When you add his ability to return kicks, he can probably touch the ball 15 – 18 times a game and have a direct influence on the outcome of the game. When we see players like Tavon Austin go in the first round, it’s easy to see that Thomas will get drafted that high. Whenever he is on the field, he has to be accounted for.