How Marcus Mariota's Season Compares to Recent Rookies
Marcus Mariota, the number two overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, has been a beacon of light as the quarterback for a terrible 3-10 Tennessee Titans team.
In his first game as a professional, he threw four touchdowns with only two incompletions. He has an 87-yard touchdown run and even caught a touchdown pass for 41 yards this year.
The kid can truly do it all.
In fact, Mariota became the first player since Walter Payton to throw, run, and catch a 40-yard touchdown in the same season.
Not all has been rosy, though. He's missed two games due to injury, thrown for fewer than 250 yards in six games, and been sacked 35 times. Let's remember that he is still a rookie, so inconsistency and growing pains are to be expected.
These ups and downs beg the question: how does Mariota's rookie season compare to some of his contemporaries?
I will use 2004 as the starting point to compare the quarterbacks. That is the year the NFL "re-emphasized" pass interference rules, which opened up the passing game and defines the current offensive environment.
Since 2004 and including Mariota and Jameis Winston in 2015, 30 rookie quarterbacks have started at least seven games.
On what basis should I compare the rookie seasons? The number of touchdowns thrown? Completion percentage? There are so many categories from which to choose. Luckily, here at numberFire we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP factors in variables, such as down and distance, to quantify the value that each play contributes to a team's ability to score.
Because we are in the age of the forward pass, let's begin the comparisons in the passing game.
On a per-play basis, Mariota has a 0.09 Passing NEP. That figure places him seventh among his contemporaries.
Upon closer inspection, though, there is a huge hole in this aspect of his game. He is the only one that has not completed a pass that has traveled over 30 yards in the air. That's pretty remarkable considering some of the names on the above list: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
Much of Mariota's early success came from quick hitters to the tight end, with slants and crossing routes to the wide receivers. It didn't take long for defenses to adjust though, as they started jumping those quick hitters, resulting in interceptions.
After avoiding interceptions in his first two contests, Mariota was picked off five times in his next three games. In fact, Since Week 3, Mariota has more multi-interception games (three) than games without a pick (two).
To Mariota's credit, he recognized the change and adapted by being a little more patient. While his intermediate game has improved, he has still not shown the ability to take the top off the defense. On 34 passes thrown 21 or more yards from the line of scrimmage, Mariota has just 7 completions (a 20.59 percent completion percentage). When given the opportunity, he has often underthrown the ball resulting in an incompletion.
For some context, Alex Smith posted a -0.46 Passing NEP per play figure on 194 drop backs during his rookie year, so Mariota (400 drop backs) undoubtedly needs to be given credit for his 0.09 mark. With that said, his inability to push the ball down the field could prove problematic for the Titans.
Mariota was expected to do significant damage on the ground as well, but the opportunities have not been robust. In fact, the 33 rushes are behind the 35 of Jameis Winston. Per play, Mariota has a Rushing NEP of 0.49, which places him sixth on the list. The most explosive runner was 2012 Robert Griffin III, who had a Rushing NEP of 0.52.
By all accounts, Mariota has had a successful rookie campaign. Has he been great? No, but he's a rookie on a terrible team and has already had a positive NEP impact for his team. Only 10 of his contemporaries can make that claim.