MINNEAPOLIS -- In no way does Oregon's Marcus Mariota's decision to stay in school mean the Vikings can't -- or won't -- get their quarterback of the future next May in the draft. We're also not going to entertain any notions of them tanking the rest of the season to ensure they get as high of a draft pick as possible; there are too many people with jobs on the line for any NFL team not to try and win. The fact that the Vikings are playing some of their best football with so little at stake, going 2-1-1 in their last four games, proves that.
But Tuesday's news that Mariota won't be available in the 2014 draft does remove a prominent quarterback from next year's pool. Currently, the Vikings would have the sixth pick in the draft, behind as many as three teams that could be looking for a quarterback, so they'd presumably have some interest in the QB class being as deep as possible. Mariota's decision hurts that depth, and if UCLA's Brett Hundley follows suit and returns to school, it would take even more pop out of a quarterback group whose strength is in its underclassmen.
Mariota was ranked fifth on Mel Kiper's most recent Big Board, and was the second-highest draft-eligible quarterback behind Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. The draft could have other options, like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd, but the early review on this group from NFL personnel people is that it lacks a can't-miss prospect like Andrew Luck at the top of the list.
That could inject some uncertainty into the proceedings, since it puts more emphasis on how quarterbacks look in the eye of an individual team, and could potentially create a scenario where several teams get their man. But it also stresses the ability of a personnel department to make the right call on a quarterback. The Vikings took Christian Ponder in a 2011 draft also filled with QB depth and lacking sure things, and in 2006, they took Tarvaris Jackson in the second round. They could potentially be headed back into the draft, using a high pick on a QB for the third time in less than a decade, because they haven't been able to hit on their previous picks. The importance of finding the right man this time, then, would be huge.
There could be enough other intriguing options at the top of the draft that the Vikings won't take a quarterback, but I'm of the firm belief that the organization's decision-makers know they need to keep looking for a franchise-level quarterback, and that they're well aware of the opportunity they'd have to get one with a high pick in the upcoming draft. It's good to have options, particularly when so many other teams have the same need, and Mariota would have given the Vikings an intriguing one.
He won't be there, though, and he might not be the only underclassman to stay in school. That's bad news for teams who could be as keenly interested in finding a quarterback next spring as the Vikings could be.