EARTH CITY, Mo. -- We've spent plenty of time in this space exploring the possibility of the St. Louis Rams landing Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Rams are known to have interest in Mariota and it has been reported that he'll be working out and visiting with the team before the draft.
But let's put aside the question of whether he could slip to the Rams at No. 10 or if they might trade up to land him (for what it's worth, I believe the latter is more likely than the former). Instead, let's consider how Mariota might fit in St. Louis from a scheme perspective.
Looking at it from the outside, Mariota seems like he might not be the right guy for the Rams. His athleticism and playmaking ability automatically calls into question whether the Rams' ground-and-pound approach would best utilize his skills. But that might not be fair to either Mariota or the Rams.
The Rams don't ask their quarterbacks to do a ton when it comes to the passing game. In fact, one of Mariota's greatest skills fits right in with the first thing the Rams look for in a quarterback: play-action passes.
Mariota not only threw plenty of play-action passes for the Ducks, he excelled at them. According to Pro Football Focus, Mariota led the nation in play-action pass attempts, faking the handoff and throwing on 51 percent of his dropbacks. By way of comparison, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith had the highest percentage in the NFL last year at 31 percent.
When using play-action, Mariota was 133-of-195 for 2,361 yards with 24 touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Rams didn't use play-action as much as they'd like last year, opting for such calls on 97 dropbacks for the season (tied with the Jets and Falcons for 22nd in the NFL). But that easily could be a product of not having an offensive line that was capable of protecting the quarterback or a running game operating at a high level on a consistent basis.
In play-action, Rams quarterbacks were 63-of-90 for 732 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions for a passer rating of 108.7, which ranked seventh best in the league on such plays. Given that success, it's something they'd like to do more of in 2015.
"I don't think it’s any different than anybody else," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of his offense at February's NFL combine. "It’s a run game. Need to run the football. And you need to complement your play-action game to the run game, and you know, play good defense and play good special teams. That’s the very basic theory."
Of course, a big part of Mariota's appeal is that he can make things happen when on the move. He made a big leap in that regard in 2014, when he completed 61 percent of his passes with an average of 8.2 yards per attempt and six touchdowns against only one interception while on the move.
The numbers are even more impressive when Mariota had time to set his feet, which apparently was a regular occurrence. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he completed 70 percent of his passes with an average of 10.4 yards per attempt with 36 touchdowns and three interceptions with his feet set in 2014.
In other words, Mariota might be able to transition to the NFL better than many (yours truly included) initially thought. It also doesn't hurt that Fisher once worked with a mobile quarterback with big college production and watched him develop into one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
That was Steve McNair, who is a different player than Mariota but came with some similar traits. Maybe the thought of bringing Mariota along in St. Louis isn't as big of a project as it might seem on the surface.
"I still think it’s an individual thing," Fisher said at last month's NFL owners meetings. "The progression is related to the individual player. Some players come in and should and will play sooner than others. We stuck to our plan with Steve. We got him experience the first couple of years. He started his third year and fourth, but I think it’s on the player. So much of it has to do with the individual player and philosophy."