Marcus Mariota Has Boom-or-Bust Potential With the Tennessee Titans

Mariota has elite potential as an NFL quarterback, but can he reach that potential and help Tennessee in 2015?

Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will be forever intertwined no matter where their NFL paths lead.

Thankfully for analysts and talking heads, the former Heisman Trophy winners were first and second overall, as Winston, of course, was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Which isn't pretty, by the way.)

With Mariota selected second overall by the Tennessee Titans, the stage is set for a career-long rivalry between the two.

Oh, and the Bucs and Titans play in Week 1 this year.

Mariota, at 6'4" and 222 pounds, owned the NFL Combine, posting top marks among quarterbacks in the 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds), the vertical leap (36"), the broad jump (121"), the three-cone drill (6.87 seconds), and the 20-yard shuttle (4.11 seconds).

His athleticism and measurables make him comparable him to Colin Kaepernick (according to and other athletic passers such as Jake Locker and Tim Tebow (according to

In addition to his physical potential, Mariota put it together on the field in college. His Total Quarterback Rating was tops in the nation in 2014, and his Total Expected Points Added of 122.4 was more than 20 points better than Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty (102.3) and nearly 40 points better than third-place quarterback J.T. Barrett of Ohio State (84.5). Winston's mark (51.7) ranked 27th in the country.

Playing above expectation -- like Mariota did at Oregon -- is something that the Titans desperately need at the quarterback position.

Can he do it?

Mariota in Tennessee

Last year, the quarterbacks in Tennessee were than ideal to say the least. Their Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play as a team (-0.06) ranked 30th in the league. NEP is numberFire's signature football metric and gauges how far above or below a player or team performs compared to expectation. Think of it this way: a 10-yard pass is more beneficial on 3rd-and-5 than on 3rd-and-15.

Among the 43 quarterbacks who dropped back to pass at least 100 times in 2014, Zach Mettenberger ranked 36th with a Passing NEP of -8.99. Jake Locker (-20.55) ranked 38th. Charlie Whitehurst (2.15) ranked 32nd.

Clearly, help was necessary at quarterback, and regardless of what the team thought, Mettenberger was far from a sure thing.

As for Mariota's new targets, they are far from stellar. Kendall Wright posted a Reception NEP of 51.94, which ranked 57th among receivers in 2014. Justin Hunter (43.54) ranked just 67th.

Delanie Walker (63.69) finished 10th among tight ends, but his Reception NEP per target (0.61) ranked just 23rd among 43 tight ends with at least 20 receptions in 2014.

Projecting Mariota

One thing that Mariota backers might suggest he has over Winston is his safety. Our READ algorithm, which accounts for both the player's measurables and team situation -- a crucial component in projecting a player's early success -- has some very different suggestions for how Mariota's first season in Tennessee could go.

As far as the ceiling goes, Mariota projects quite well to some of the most successful rookie campaigns in recent history. Three of his top five comparisons by READ are Andrew Luck in 2012, Cam Newton in 2011, and Russell Wilson in 2012.

That's some pretty stellar company.

Again, though, Mariota is far from a lock.

Our READ algorithm also finds hints of some not-so-great rookies based on Mariota's new situation. In fact, his top overall comparison is, ironically, Jake Locker, whose similarity to Mariota (94.87 percent) tops the Luck (94.18 percent) comparison.

Who else is on the short list?

Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Tim Tebow, Charlie Frye, and Kyle Boller. Yikes.

Mariota clearly has immense upside if he plays like Luck, Newton, or Wilson. However, because of the situation he's in, don't be surprised if he plays like Ponder, Gabbert, or even Locker himself in 2015.