Of the quarterbacks to play under Chip Kelly at Oregon, only Dennis Dixon has ever started a game in the NFL.
Dixon was a fifth round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers who started three games in relief of Ben Roethlisberger during his four seasons with the team. He then failed to make Kelly's roster in Philadelphia last year, before joining the Buffalo Bills to compete for a roster spot ahead of the 2014 season.
A very low bar has been set for Marcus Mariota.
Mariota is the current starting quarterback at Oregon. He played one season under Kelly in 2012, before Kelly moved on to the NFL and Mariota became one of the most highly-thought-of prospects for the 2014 draft. The lure of winning a National Championship and the disruption caused by a knee injury appeared to motivate Mariota to skip the draft and return to college.
Without a Jadeveon Clowney to steal the attention this year, Mariota appears to be the top prospect entering the 2014 college football season.
One of the first things to look at with a quarterback coming out of what is still considered an unconventional offense at the professional level is pocket presence. Even though the Oregon offense features plenty of screens, quick passes and first-read throws, Mariota showed on a regular basis that he knew how to react to pressure in the pocket while reading the defense.
On this play against UCLA, Mariota lines up in the pocket on Third-and-7. The defense has three players on the defensive line, with pass-rushing specialist Anthony Barr lined up wide of the offense's left tackle.
When Mariota gets the ball from his center, he drops backwards into the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. At the same time, Barr explodes off the edge and gets past the outside shoulder of Oregon's left tackle. The left tackle has completely given up on his technique as he tries to recover positioning with his feet facing his own end zone.
Without dropping his eyes to the pass rush, Mariota steps up in the pocket so that his left tackle is now in a better position to block Barr. Mariota could continue into the red area and attempt to scramble for the first down, but there are three linebackers in line with the first down marker who would be in position to stop him. Instead he settles in the pocket.
Barr immediately begins to push the left tackle backwards into the pocket where Mariota is standing. The left tackle is unable to withstand Barr's power, so Mariota again neutralizes his rush with his movement in the pocket. Mariota steps backwards and resets his feet to throw the ball down the field.
Not once did Mariota take his eyes away from the coverage, but he felt Barr's presence or saw him in his peripheral vision to avoid him. His agility, balance and awareness couldn't have been better, but he still had to complete the throw down the field.
Mariota has to flight the football over multiple defenders and drop it in a spot where his receiver is waiting for the ball as another defender attacks it from behind. On this throw, he needed to show pinpoint accuracy, control of trajectory and arm strength. He couldn't have made a more impressive play on a difficult third down.
Even while playing in Oregon's offense, Mariota was still asked to regularly manipulate the pocket while reading the defense.
As his production and lack of interceptions suggest, Mariota excelled executing the Oregon offense. He was rarely forced to throw the ball into tight windows because he was able to consistently find the open receiver. Notably, Mariota regularly looked through two receivers and threw to his third option rather than being limited to the early options in the offense during the 2013 season.
By using his athleticism and awareness, Mariota was able to remain very poised in the pocket from snap to snap. The main concern with Mariota in the pocket is ball security. He fumbled 11 times in 2013, but those fumbles were more about how he held the ball while in the pocket rather than his throwing mechanics.
Unlike Jameis Winston, the very talented FSU prospect who will likely compete with Mariota to be the first quarterback taken in 2015, Mariota doesn't need to overhaul his mechanics.
As the above image shows, Mariota has a very quick and compact release. He is able to release the ball as fast as receivers work through their breaks and fast enough to negate open rushers. Importantly, he doesn't lean over his front foot or throw off balance unnecessarily because of poor footwork. He releases the ball from a high point and it flies out of his hand with impressive velocity.
Mariota's mechanics are consistent from the pocket, even though he will adjust to throw the ball from a crowd or on the move when he has to.