#SuckForTheDuck is sunk.
#MissionMariota has been aborted.
#QuitForTheQuackQB is no longer.
The 2013 season for the Minnesota Vikings has been a wash for quite a while now, despite the team's recent two-game unbeaten streak. With hope for the playoffs all but lost several weeks ago, many Vikings fans have turned to the loaded quarterback class of the 2014 NFL draft for comfort. It's no secret that the terrible triumvirate of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, and Josh Freeman is not the answer for the franchise going forward. Therefore people have been drooling over the prospect of Rick Spielman and company using their high first round draft pick on a quarterback next year.
The general consensus among amateur and expert draftniks alike is that there were three college signal callers a cut above the rest: Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota. As of Tuesday evening, that list has been reduced by one: Mariota has announced that he plans to return to Oregon in 2014.
Before we go any further, let's clarify one important fact: the QB class of 2014 is definitely better than the crop that came out last year. It has the potential to be one of the deeper classes in recent memory. But there is not a can't-miss prospect like Andrew Luck out there. All of the quarterbacks bring their own intriguing traits to the table but none of them are an absolute lock to succeed at the next level.
That said, Mariota in Vikings purple sure was a lot of fun to ponder (pun intended). Despite battling nagging injuries in recent weeks, the Ducks quarterback has put up ridiculous numbers this year. He has 3,412 yards passing, 582 yards rushing, and a 30:4 touchdown to interception ratio. Mariota was considered a heavy Heisman favorite until his team dropped two games last month.
"Running quarterback" can be a derogatory term in the NFL but Mariota's game seems like it should fit pretty well at the next level. The guy can certainly run--his 7.2 yards per carry speaks for itself--but he also has the size and arm to be an effective pocket passer. His accuracy was a big question mark heading into the season but he has made significant strides at improving that part of his game this year.
Despite my selfish desire for my favorite NFL team to get a chance at drafting him next year, it's pretty obvious that Mariota made the right call here. Injuries are always a concern for someone that turns down the opportunity to be a high draft pick but Mariota could definitely use an extra year to hone his skills. The past month has exposed a few facets of Mariota's game that could still get better. Young quarterbacks in today's NFL don't have the luxury of sitting out a couple seasons and learning the ropes anymore. They're expected to produce right away. Sometimes it works (Luck, Russell Wilson), but we know all too well that it can be a disaster when the quarterback isn't ready (or in Minnesota's case, probably never will be).
There are still plenty of interesting options if the Vikings decide to draft a quarterback with their top 10 pick next year. Unfortunately, Bridgewater may be gone since many of the five teams currently ahead of the Vikings in the draft order will probably want a quarterback. But names like Manziel, Brett Hundley, Zach Mettenberger, A.J. McCarron, Derek Carr, and even Tajh Boyd just got one draft slot better thanks to Mariota staying in school.
I'll spare you the details of debating the respective merits of each of those quarterbacks for now--after all, we still have over five months to discuss them until we're blue in the face. Chris' post earlier today about "tanking" is even more relevant with Mariota's decision. On one hand, it shows us that tanking is stupid because you never know what can happen with draft picks between now and May. On the other hand, tanking advocates will say that the Vikings should have "sucked worse" to guarantee a crack at Bridgewater. I'm firmly in the former camp but I'll let the debate rage on in the comments.
What is certain is that with Mariota out of the equation, things became more uncertain as it pertains to the Vikings first round draft pick next year. Will they still get their guy near the top of the first round? Will they trade down and try to snag someone later on?
Or will we just be dreaming about Mariota and Jameis Winston in 2015?