Things have changed in Atlanta and they have changed rapidly. Barely 12 months back, it looked like the Falcons had the right coach for quarterback Matt Ryan, who was flush with weapons like Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Kyle Pitts, and Russell Gage. Would we see flashes of Ryan’s 2016 MVP season?
A whole lot has changed. Julio has since been traded and cut. Ryan was traded. Ridley suspended for 2022. Gas is a whole lot more expensive than last year, too. Everything has been terrible. Fans are now faced with a drastically different team led by free agent signing Marcus Mariota.
Mariota, perhaps most notable for being a highly-drafted Heisman winner, has not done much in the NFL. He’s been most effective in spot duty and had a pretty great year in 2016, but has been frequently hampered by injuries. While age 28 is young for a quarterback, we are still wondering if Mariota can be effective in the pros after seven seasons under his belt.
Few around the NFL believe Mariota will be effective based on league polling from The Athletic’s Mike Sando. According to 50 coaches and executives who spoke to Sando, Mariota is comfortably among the worst passers in the league.
“He is a change-of-pace guy, and if he does have to replace your starter, you hope you don’t have to play more than three or four games with him. There are only so many things you can do with him. It can be good in the short term because the opponent has not prepared for him, but after he has been a starter for three or four games, the field definitely tilts to the defense.”
This unnamed head coach doesn’t see much more room for potential growth from Mariota. Arthur Smith kept Mariota as the team’s starter when he took over the Titans offense back in 2018 (during which, of course, Mariota carved up Dan Quinn’s Falcons defense). A few games later, Mariota was benched for Ryan Tannehill. That was the end for Mariota in Tennessee, who later played sparingly for the Las Vegas Raiders. As our Kevin Knight noted, he did look pretty good in spot duty.
Smith must be hoping that Mariota makes a Tannehill-esque bounceback in another opportunity. However, while an evaluator liked Mariota’s soft skills, he did not expect much from the passer considering Atlanta’s...less than ideal depth chart. The most positive evaluation was one quote that Mariota was better than some of the other bottom-of-the-league passers, and that Mariota can be productive in a balanced offense.
That’s not a stunning endorsement of Mariota, who is in Atlanta hoping to prove his time away from starting has made him a better passer. Quarterbacks hoping to stick in around in this league have to be able to at least effectively manage an offense, which seems to be the most optimistic expectation for league evaluators. Few expect Mariota to be able to be able to elevate this offense himself, meaning Arthur Smith will need to work some magic or Mariota may be giving way to Desmond Ridder fairly quickly. Either way, Mariota’s going to hope to prove that this ranking is dumb by the time the end of the season rolls around.