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Marcus Mariota earns a little dark horse buzz for Comeback Player of the Year

The former top pick is hoping Atlanta can be a fruitful new home.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Minicamp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Mariota sort of embodies the spirit of the Falcons in the best way. A touted player back in the mid-2010s, he’s fallen off the map and been written off, and is now looking for redemption and greatness in the face of substantial skepticism. The franchise and the quarterback are sort of aligned in those areas.

Just how good either one can be is, of course, up for debate. Mariota has drawn praise from coaches and teammates for his leadership and, in Arthur Smith’s case, for his growth compared to the time the duo shared in Tennessee. A good athlete with a live arm who has a lot of experience under his belt at this stage of his career, Mariota should at least be a capable short-term caretaker for the quarterback position and has just enough talent to allow you to talk yourself into more.

Among the analysts who have talked themselves into more is Peter Schrager on Good Morning Football. A longtime league insider, Schrager expresses admiration for the Falcons’ coaching staff—that’s kinda nice to hear—and says Mariota’s a good fit for what this team wants to do on offense in terms of his mobility.

“They do really like how creative they can be (with Mariota),” he says, as part of the clip below.

If the coaching staff is worth their salt—and with a team more built to purpose and a year of lumps under their belts, we’ll hope it is—they ought to be able to get the best out of Mariota. The quarterback, meanwhile, should be able to give Atlanta enough to keep them in games alongside an improved defense, and the plays he can make with his legs are going to stress defenses.

Does that make him a strong candidate for the award? I think Mariota is who he is at this stage of his career, which is a capable starter who lacks elite upside, so it would take a much better offense and a borderline career year from the veteran to earn serious consideration unless it’s a very weak crop of potential comeback players in 2022. It’s a mark of the respect the league has for Mariota and the fact that he hasn’t gotten a real shake at a sustained starting job in a quality offense that he’s being mentioned here, but I’ll (happily, to be clear) believe it when I see it.

Mariota figures to be a longshot for this award, but if he merits any kind of consideration for it, things will have gone extremely well in 2022. Let’s hope both quarterback and franchise can surprise this year.