Three Reasons Marcus Mariota is NFL’s LeBron James

Jordan Ingram FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

Every so often, an athlete emerges whose abilities exceed the boundaries of convention and provide a new bright-line of distinction. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and LeBron James are among the special few whose personal contributions, sportsmanship, and competitive drive forever altered the landscape of professional sports.

They became legends who brought hope and championships to their loyal fans. And they were fun to watch, too.

So, who will be this generation’s King James, exceeding expectations and pumping fresh blood into a stale franchise?

It is becoming clear that former Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is the frontrunner for membership into this exclusive club of game changers. And while no professional career is certain, the humble yet explosive Heisman Trophy winner has shown the same athletic brio and record breaking brilliance of our nation’s past masters.

Finally, after months of enduring the endless barrage of fuzzy chop logic and analyst hand-wringing in anticipation of the 2015 NFL Draft, the St. Louis High School star will begin his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans as the No. 2 overall pick in the first round. The circumstances are ripe in Tennessee with a new coach in Ken Whisenhunt. And Mariota could be an important piece for a less than exemplary Titans organization turn to its franchise around.

Here are three reasons why Mariota is this generation’s next superstar.

Performance Under Pressure As seen before with athletes such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James, Nike’s latest advertising campaign is once again trumpeting the arrival of the next great American athlete: Marcus Mariota. Certainly, the advertising execs for the world’s preeminent sports apparel company are hardly incapable of gaffe, but the company’s track record for identifying and endorsing burgeoning talent is impressive. Nike’s first commercial featuring a young James in his first year with Cleveland Cavaliers poked fun at the absurd amount of pressure placed on the 18-year-old’s shoulders. After freezing on the court, James laughs it off. A decade later, the two-time NBA champion ring recipient and four-time MVP has blossomed into arguably the finest active NBA basketball player today.

Mariota possesses that same gene: an ability to transform pressure into high-performance fuel. The best athletes shrug off mistakes, maintaining focus with steely resolve as they confront inevitable moments of adversity. In fact, how often do you see quarterbacks congratulate their opponents after they get sacked and then follow it up with a game breaking pass or a 40-yard scamper to the endzone? That is what sets Mariota apart from the field. Former St. Louis High School teammate and friend, Colorado defensive end Juda Parker summed up Mariota’s unshakeable demeanor on the football field. “The stage is never too big for him. He never gets too big headed about things, and I guess that’s how he can do great things and still have a smile on his face,” Parker told Aaron Fentress of CSNNW. Believe the Hype, Nike’s ringing endorsement of Mariota, is a convincing pitch, but Mariota is more than just a sleek commercial from a billion dollar corporation. When Mariota announced he would enter the 2015 NFL Draft, one could almost hear the collective sigh of relief among Pac-12 coaches as Mariota’s reign would finally come to an end.

A true sportsman, Mariota is gracious in defeat.

A true sportsman, Mariota is gracious in defeat.

The Pac-12 conference has seen tremendous growth in the last decade, attracting some of the best football minds and players in the country to the West Coast. But even the most seasoned and successful coaches stood baffled on the sideline as their top recruits failed to derail the driver of Oregon’s high octane offense. Beneath the current media hype is Mariota’s eye popping offensive production. Coaches who faced Mariota know he is more than a Nike commercial or a flashy one-trick pony. The admiration and respect for Mariota from coaches and players around the country resonates much louder than any advertising campaign. Here some comments from coaches around the Pac-12 regarding Mariota’s upcoming transition to the NFL: University of Washington head coach Chris Peterson interview on NFL Network’s Path to the Draft: “He’s the best player that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Petersen said. “I’ve watched him on tape for a long time. I’ve faced him in person. I’m not sure what there’s any debate about. The guy is spectacular. There is no doubt he is going to crush it in the NFL.” Stanford head coach David Shaw is one of only a few coaches to have successfully defeated Oregon with Mariota at the helm. One of Mariota’s biggest criticisms is that he is a system quarterback in an offense that, while effective in college, won’t translate to the NFL. In 2013 on the Dan Patrick Show, Shaw, a former NFL coach who currently runs a pro-style offense at Stanford, stated Mariota can thrive in any system (found at 10:20 in video below):

I’m not just saying this because we’re playing him in a week and a half, I said it last year that I thought he’s the best quarterback in the nation. I’ll say it again this year: He’s the best quarterback in the nation. Personally, especially looking at our style of offense, Marcus Mariota can play in any style of offense. He can play in our offense. He can play in that offense. He could play in any kind of offense because he can run, he can be dynamic as a runner, but he can also stay in the pocket and throw it everywhere, on time.

Tennessee Titans: Mariota is NFL Ready Former USC head coach Ted Tollner, who spent 15 season in the NFL in various stints as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, sees Mariota as a “can’t miss prospect.” Tollner, whose son represents Mariota, made the following statement in an interview with after looking at his entire body of work:

I just don’t know how he’s going to miss. There will be a transition period, but I don’t see how he can miss. If I was still in the league coaching, and ownership or the head coach wanted an opinion from me, I’d be on the table standing and saying this guy has a tremendous future in the NFL. … He’ll get better at everything. He doesn’t have a shortcoming at anything, I don’t think. I think he can do all the things you want in the pocket.

Prior to draft day, Mariota received praise from Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Just as James was an immediate addition to Cleveland’s starting five, Whisenhunt told USA TODAY Sports that he viewed Mariota as more than capable of starting in his first year based on his resume:

If we pick him at No. 2, you definitely think he can be the Day 1 starter. He was impressive. I’m not sure where that came from that I have a certain quarterback type. Marcus has the qualities I think are important to the position in the NFL. He’s got good leadership. His team really gravitates to him. He doesn’t turn the ball over. … He’s accurate. He can extend the play. He processes things well. That’s really what you’re looking for.


So, at long last, the greatest quarterback in Oregon history will continue his career in the NFL. Now, it’s the Hawaiian’s opportunity to jumpstart an eager Tennessee fan base and give Oregon fans a reason to watch football on Sundays. The legacy is just beginning and Mariota’s will be one to remember.

Top photo by John Sperry

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