Who Is The Top QB Prospect In The Pac-12?
The Pac-12 has potentially three quarterbacks that could all end up in the first round or at least in the first three rounds and become franchise players in the NFL.
Leading the way is Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. The redshirt junior has produced mind-boggling numbers his first two years as a starter with 6,342 yards passing along with 63 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Mariota has also rushed for 1,467 yards and an additional 14 touchdowns. The Pac-12’s other front-line signal caller is UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Hundley is another redshirt junior who has made the Bruins a perennial Pac-12 contender during his tenure. Hundley has thrown for 6,816 yards and 53 touchdowns with 20 interceptions. He also has 1,103 yards rushing and 20 TDs on the ground.
The third contender for the best QB in the Pac-12 is Oregon State’s Sean Mannion. The lone senior in the group, Mannion has thrown for 10,436 yards, 68 touchdowns and 46 interceptions. Mannion burst onto the scene with 4,662 yards passing, 37 TDs and 15 picks last season.
Each player has their strengths and weaknesses, but will be the lynch pin for their respective team's success. How each is able to navigate the potent Pac-12 schedule will go a long way in determining their future draft status in the spring of 2015.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
At 6-4’’ and 215 pounds, Mariota has the build that scouts look for in a quarterback. Mariota’s biggest asset is his athletic ability. He is most dangerous outside of the pocket where he can use his speed and acceleration to maneuver past slower defenders. He possesses natural arm talent and can squeeze balls into tight windows. Despite his arm strength, Mariota is not accurate on his intermediate and downfield throws. Many of his long passes are actually shorter plays that his backs and receivers break into longer runs. Mariota’s footwork is the biggest issue in his accuracy woes, as he rarely steps into throws and does not transfer any power through his hips.
Another issue that plagues Mariota is his decision-making. He shows good zip on short throws, but facing good coverage, Mariota will often wait for his receiver to be open rather than throw off a break into open windows. Teams were able to sack Mariota while he waited for receivers in his intermediate progressions to get open. Many of Mariota’s downfield completions were on scrambles and bootlegs where coverage jumped the line of scrimmage, allowing receivers to break free downfield. As a developing quarterback, Mariota will bale out too early on a clean pocket, which has resulted in big plays for Mariota and the offense, but may not translate well for an NFL signal caller.
Mariota is a raw and gifted talent who has upside. His potential and athleticism may get him bumped up draft boards a bit more than deserved. At this point, as a QB, he has first-round athletic ability but has not fully developed into a quality NFL-caliber passer.
Brett Hundley, UCLA
Hundley is an intriguing talent. At 6-3 and 227 pounds. He has average measurables, but uncanny athleticism to go along with his NFL-caliber arm. Though more agile than quick, he has good vision looking downfield. His vision and poise buys him time in the pocket where he shows a willingness to step up while keeping his passing options open. That is a trait that his conference peers have yet to exhibit. If he does break loose in the open field, his long strides make him difficult to catch from behind. Hundley shows good touch on downfield throws and can drop a fade into a tight corner in the red zone. His arms strength allows him to push the ball downfield challenging the deeper zones of the defense.
Some of Hundley's biggest issues are his footwork and mechanics. In that regard, he is still a developing prospect. He has a pronounced wind-up on deeper throws which could buy time for an oncoming rusher in the NFL. It could also make for a painful error if not corrected. His lack of ideal footwork hurts his rhythm and timing at times, but that can be corrected with coaching.
The biggest plus for Hundley is working with a coaching staff that has plenty of NFL experience. He is an athletic quarterback with a strong arm — both highly valued commodities in the NFL. A successful 2014 season will help increase his draft stock. He has risen in his development each season so far as a starter. How he develops going into the 2014 season will go a long way into possibly making Hundley a potential No.1 selection in the 2015 draft.
Sean Mannion, Oregon State
At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Mannion’s frame is ideal for NFL teams. He also has worked in a more pro-style offense compared to the other two prospects. Working from under center, as well as the shotgun, will help his transition to the pro game. Mannion shows good, but not great, arm strength, though has flashed his ability to throw into tight windows. Mannion also has good accuracy on deep- and intermediate throws with good location. He has an understanding of route progressions and knows how to throw on breaks. He is steady in the pocket and will stand in and take a hit to make a throw.
Mannion’s biggest liability is his lack of athletic ability. He is not a runner and takes a pounding in the pocket. When he cannot set his feet, he tends to sail his balls high. This also is an issue when he is unable to transfer any lower-body power into his throws, limiting velocity. Mannion is not as adept at throwing on the run as his counterparts, losing accuracy on the fly.
Mannion has a lot of talent, but his decision-making is the cause for him not being a first-round projection at this time. He has the desirable size and can throw all routes at the next level with good arm strength. His weaknesses can be fixed, giving Mannion the potential to be a starter in the NFL.
Who’s the Best in the Pac-12
Athletically, Mariota has the biggest upside, but may require the most development in the idiosyncrasies of quarterback play. Mannion has developed well during his career in an NFL-style offense, but lacks the athleticism to make plays out of the pocket. Hundley has a more complete package of athleticism and ability to make NFL reads and throws, but still has some mechanics to develop to be a first-round QB. Each player will have a chance to run an NFL team. That is a fairly certain conclusion. However, if I needed to select a quarterback today, I lean towards taking Hundley because he has less of a mental developmental curve to have success in the NFL.