The Tennessee Titans took Oregon QB & Heisman winner Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. So why isn't Mariota the second-favorite on sportsbook odds for the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award?
NCAA Stats Largely Irrelevant
There's no question that Mariota had one of the greatest college careers of any quarterback in NCAA history. He is No. 2 all-time to former Oklahoma star and Heisman winner Sam Bradford in career efficiency rating at 171.75 (Bradford 175.62). But there are dozens and dozens of star college QBs who flopped in the NFL or never made it at all. For example, Tim Tebow is No. 3 in all-time efficiency. Kellen Moore is No. 4. Ryan Dinwiddie No. 5. The all-time yardage leaders in college are Case Keenum, Timmy Chang and Landry Jones. So NCAA stats mean very little, especially with the proliferation of spread and pass-happy offenses.
Why did Tampa Bay choose Florida State's Jameis Winston at No. 1 overall over Mariota even though Mariota is considered as high character a guy as possible and Winston has had major off-field issues? Because Winston played in a pro-style offense, meaning he took snaps under center and actually called some plays. I literally can't remember Mariota under center unless it was a short-yardage/goal-line situation. Mariota also never called plays; he just made reads at the line of scrimmage or after the snap.
Mariota Has Much To Learn
At every online sportsbook you can find, Winston is the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite: +500 at Bovada and 5Dimes and +450 at BetOnline. I can understand that. Quarterbacks usually win the award and Winston has some nice offensive talent around him, mainly receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. But Mariota isn't second at any of those books. He's fifth at +800 at Bovada and BetOnline, and tied for fifth at 5Dimes at +1200 (so clearly if you like Mariota to win, take those longer odds). The guys ahead of Mariota at each book are Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), Raiders receiver Amari Cooper (Alabama) and Rams running back Todd Gurley (Rams). I can sort of understand Gordon and Cooper because they should start from Day 1 and get the ball plenty. But Gurley? He's coming off major knee surgery that cut his final NCAA season short and probably begins the season on the PUP list.
So what do the NFL odds makers know that we don't? Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said before drafting Mariota that if the team did take him, he would be the Day 1 starter. I'm not sold on that. Zach Mettenberger wasn't too bad last season as a sixth-round rookie. Mettenberger is a prototypical quarterback in terms of size, arm strength and the fact he's played in the huddle at LSU. Mariota has a lot to learn. One thing that should help Mariota compared to college is that NFL quarterbacks get plays called into their helmets from a coach on the other end of the radio. Mariota can also do something that Mettenberger can't: escape trouble with his feet.
But really working against Mariota is perhaps the least-talented roster in the NFL. While Winston has Jackson, Evans and once-was-good Doug Martin at running back, Mariota has Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter as his top two receivers and second-year Bishop Sankey as his running back. Wright is OK and caught 57 passes for 715 yards and six scores last year. Hunter caught only 28 passes and is still a bit of a project. Sankey was a disappointment as a rookie, rushing 152 times for 569 yards and two scores. The offensive line also isn't great. In 2014, Pro Football Focus ranked it as the 28th overall in the NFL (29th pass blocking, 16th run blocking and 31st in penalties). The Titans might start third-round rookie Jeremiah Poutasi at one tackle spot this season after dumping Michael Oher (who was terrible).
Offensive Rookies of the Year don't come from three-win teams and that's probably what we are looking at from the Titans here. They are given a wins total of 5, but with the 'under' a -115 favorite. Tennessee might only be favored twice, both at home: Week 12 vs. Oakland and Week 13 vs. Jacksonville.
NFL Free Pick: I don't recommend taking Mariota on this prop. I think he has the type of season Blake Bortles did in Jacksonville in 2014.