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Fantasy Football: Is Marcus Mariota a League Winner?

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Last season we saw the best and worst that Marcus Mariota has to offer for fantasy football. In an eight-week stretch, the Titans’ quarterback averaged 22.08 fantasy points per game. The remaining games he averaged just 10.46 fantasy points per game. The first number made him a weekly fantasy football must-start, the second number made him waiver wire fodder in even the deepest of leagues. It was a tale of two seasons for Mariota, but will it be the best of times or the worst of times in 2017?

Mariota’s draft stock tells us that fantasy football drafters think that 2017 will be less-than-stellar for Mariota as he enters his third season. He’s pick #118 off the board and the #14 quarterback, which undoubtedly stems from questions surrounding his recovery from a broken leg. He’s being drafted as a backup, despite already showing that he has the talent to finish well within the top-eight at the position, and now has the opportunity to be within the top-five. He’s being criminally under-drafted in the ninth round, and if you snag him there, you may be getting the pick that caps off a strong roster that wins you your league.

To see the heights that Mariota can reach, let’s first look at the weapons he had at his disposal in 2016. In descending order by targets, he threw to: Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker, Tajae Sharpe, DeMarco Murray and Kendall Wright. Not exactly a murderer’s row of receiving threats there and Mariota still cobbled together something from nothing. Now the Titans have added Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor through the draft and now have signed up for Eric Decker’s services. The additions of Davis and Decker give Mariota will have all the weapons at his disposal to succeed.

Let’s look at Mariota’s production overall in 2016. He was the #12 overall quarterback last season, averaging under one point below the #7 QB, Tyrod Taylor. Let’s look at how he ranked overall last year in some top-level stats, however. His TD%-INT% (measuring throwing touchdowns vs picks) was #6 last year, just behind Derek Carr (who is going 40 picks ahead of Mariota). He was amazingly efficient last year, helped by the Exotic Smash Mouth offense, throwing or running for a touchdown for every 135 yards he gained. This was seventh, just behind Drew Brees.

What held back Mariota last year? Pass attempts. Marcus Mariota threw just over thirty passes last year, which puts him twenty-fourth among guys who started at least ten games last year on a per-game rate. Even Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Alex Smith attempted more passes per game than Mariota. If he gets that up into the 35 range (the Tom Brady/Jameis Winston tier), and doesn’t improve anything more, he would be a top-ten quarterback.

Marcus Mariota was an incredibly efficient passer last season, throwing touchdowns frequently and rarely throwing interceptions. He did this with an extremely weak receiving corps that has been bolstered by Corey Davis in the draft. He also turned in a QB1 season while passing the ball less than nearly every other full-time starter. He’s currently available outside of the QB1 ranks and is the perfect QB to pair with another upside play, like Jameis Winston or Philip Rivers. If he has the breakout he should, his value could vault you into championship glory.

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