Two hundred and nine passing yards and four touchdowns. A perfect 158.3 passer rating. Only three incompletions. Offensive Player of the Week.
That looks like a stat line from Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. But those impressive stats were posted by a rookie, Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota. And they don't even include the most impressive number he put up in his first NFL start.
In Week 1, Mariota shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leading the Titans to a 42-14 victory. He demonstrated a quick release, precise throws and the poise in the pocket of a seasoned veteran. And he showed flashes of speed that helped make him a Heisman Trophy winner and the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Speaking of speed, that's the category of Mariota's most head-turning number in his debut game. According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Mariota was the fastest quarterback in Week 1, hitting a speed of 21.42 miles per hour. Only four other players attained higher speeds, so Mariota was among the fastest wide receivers and running backs in the league.
When STACK spent time with Mariota during an off-season workout at Prolific Athletes (Carlsbad, California), he explained that speed was an asset but it won't define him as a quarterback.
"As a QB, you don't really play with that [speed] in mind. You play in the pocket and throwing the ball," he said. He planned to use his speed to evade defenders in the pocket and put pressure on the defense by extending plays. "Speed has really benefited me outside of the pocket," Mariota added. "When times get a little hectic inside the pocket and I'm able to get outside, speed allows me to put pressure on the defense and force them to come up and tackle me, which opens up receivers downfield or stay back and allow me to run downfield."
Mariota's commitment to moving the ball with his arm rather than his feet garnered the attention of analysts and silenced critics who were skeptical about running quarterbacks. On the NFL Network's Aftermath, former receiver Nate Burleson said, "When he's in the pocket, his helmet remains downfield. He never dips his helmet, which means he's constantly looking for his receivers. And for a guy that athletic, that's very special. Because he can run if he wants to; he can probably go for 115 yards every game. But he wants to get the ball out of his hand, which is so good to see for a young quarterback."
This approach is what Mariota envisioned all along. Click here to learn how the self-described "tall lean kid," who didn't start for his high school until his senior year, made it to the NFL.
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