Arthur Smith is obviously a fan of Marcus Mariota. The former top Titans pick was benched during Smith’s tenure in Tennessee, but the Falcons immediately scooped up Mariota after trading Matt Ryan, and Smith has had nothing but good things to say about him since.
In an interview with SiriusXM, Smith talked about the change he’s seen in Mariota since he last knew him, and the strength of the opportunity in front of him. While the team drafted Desmond Ridder in the third round and the rookie seems fated to make 2022 starts, Mariota has the early leg up on a starting job and will be working in an offense that will be suited to his strengths if things work as intended.
“It’s a great opportunity for Marcus. He’s in a completely different spot than when we were together in 2019,” Smith said, who noted the quarterback went through a lot of transition and change in Tennessee. “He has a completely different perspective of that position and seeing it from a bunch of different lenses. And so, I think he’s in a good place now.”
This will be music to the ears of a small but vocal contingent of Falcons fans who seem convinced Mariota is going to flourish in Atlanta. When he signed I was a fan of bringing Mariota aboard because he’s obviously good enough to be a bridge starter for a rookie quarterback and seems to be a terrific person, but I have been surprised at the number of fans who think he might keep Desmond Ridder parked on the bench in 2022 or even be the team’s long-term answer at quarterback. Fans thinking that way are likely banking on Mariota’s draft pedigree being a true reflection of his upside, his relative youth at age 28, and the idea that Smith will be able to bring out his best in Atlanta.
Mariota achieving success at his third stop with a different team would not be an unprecedented situation, but it is indeed a pretty rare one. Ryan Tannehill is the most recent example of a player who blossomed at his second stop after falling out of favor at his first one, and is a funny one given that Tannehill was the player who replaced Mariota in Tennessee. Tannehill went from solid-but-frustrating starter in Miami to one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL with the Titans, with two stellar seasons under Arthur Smith and a solid one last year.
Who else? Steve Young went from forgettable Tampa Bay backup to (eventually) one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history with the 49ers. Rich Gannon with the Raiders is perhaps the best example of a late bloomer, given that he went from mediocre at three stops to an MVP in Oakland. Chris Chandler went from so-so journeyman to above average starting quarterback for several years in Atlanta, including that great 1998 Super Bowl season. Michael Vick had a couple of terrific years in Philadelphia, though that obviously happened in odd circumstances. You can pull a half dozen other examples that are a little further away from Mariota’s, but the point is it’s not unprecedented for a quarterback to truly hit his stride at a second, third, or even fourth stop. It is rare.
The chances of Mariota following in these footsteps is probably slim, to be clear, given that Ridder is in town and will be pushing hard to start in the near future. At his very best in Tennessee, Mariota was a good quarterback with very real flaws, and the fact that his draft pedigree and best seasons in Tennessee couldn’t land him a starting job the past couple of years suggests banking on him to blossom is probably something to do cautiously.
Given that he’s landed with a coach who’s familiar with him and seems truly excited to work with him, and that he has a pretty clear path to a starting job in 2022, it’s still not a chance to dismiss out of hand. If Mariota has a great second act in him, we’ll find out soon enough.