INDIANAPOLIS -- Let's make it easy for New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan: If Marcus Mariota is available with the sixth pick, take him. There's no need to overthink this. The Jets are desperate for a quarterback, and Mariota is a top quarterback prospect. Simple.
Don't look a gift Duck in the mouth.
"If he falls to the Jets, I'd be sending the card up to the commissioner in two seconds," said ESPN analyst Mark Dominik, former general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There is a lot of chatter here at the NFL scouting combine about Mariota's background with Oregon's up-tempo spread offense and whether that will somehow prevent him from thriving in a pro-style system. Obviously, it's not an ideal situation. But guess what? Neither is the Jets' current quarterback depth chart. In case you haven't noticed, Geno Smith isn't the long-term answer. If they pass on Mariota, they could be staring into the quarterback abyss for another few years.
Mariota might not be a plug-and-play prospect, a la Andrew Luck, but he has the arm, the legs and the brain to succeed in the NFL. With a new regime, the Jets can afford to be patient, allowing Mariota the time to learn the nuances of Chan Gailey's offense.
Maccagnan admitted there's an element of uncertainty with a player like Mariota because they haven't seen him perform certain functions that will be required in the NFL: taking a snap under center, executing routine dropbacks and reading progressions. In cases like this, Maccagnan studies the prospect's intangibles -- his intelligence and work ethic -- trying to determine if he has the goods to make the transition.
"It's dangerous to start putting Marcus in a box as a spread quarterback who won't be able to make the jump and project to a pro-style offense," said former Philadelphia Eagles personnel director Louis Riddick, an ESPN analyst. "You have to watch him very closely and watch some of the things they asked him to do, especially as the year went on in Oregon."
Riddick gave an insightful explanation of how Mariota evolved last season, displaying NFL-type traits within the structure of the Ducks' offense.
"If you watch the national championship game, even though they're always in the gun, it wasn't catch the ball, take a step and throw it," he said. "It was catch the ball, and he would actually do an abbreviated three-step drop.
"Watch him scan the field. Watch how he's going through progressions -- one, two, three, sometimes even four. The route concepts even started becoming much more complicated as the year went on. They weren't just typical spread route concepts. There were things you see on Sundays in the NFL.
"The easy way out is to say, 'It's an easy spread offense that Bryce Petty runs down at Baylor.' It's nothing like what Baylor does. Nothing. Marcus would be a better third-down passer than RG III ever was -- ever. They're totally different in my view. He's going to need some time. It's not going to be like Jameis [Winston], who is running a pro-style offense. Marcus is going to need a good coach who will teach it to him in an orderly fashion, but he's more than capable of handling it."
Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who coached Mariota at Oregon, has said his former pupil has Peyton Manning-like intelligence on the field. This explains why he reportedly wants to trade up for Mariota. He has the power to shop for the Eagles' groceries, thanks to a recent shake-up in the organization, so you can't rule out the possibility that the Eagles will try to trade up from 20th to sixth. Unless they offer a ridiculous package -- it would have to be Philadelphia's first-round pick this year and next year, plus Nick Foles, just to get the conversation started -- the Jets should say Thanks, but no thanks.
You take Mariota and build a potential franchise quarterback.
"He's that good," Dominik said.
Because of supply and demand at quarterback, there's always a chance Mariota could be picked in the top five. If Winston goes first to Tampa Bay, don't be surprised if the Tennessee Titans hold an auction for the second pick, trying to attract Mariota-seeking teams. If that happens, the Jets would have to take their commitment to a different level, and that could be prohibitive. But if he's there at 6, it's a no-brainer.