32 for 32: Marcus Mariota Could be the Next Hawaiian to Erupt
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
The lava flow from Kīlauea is a hot topic in and outside of the state of Hawaii (for those interested in helping the affected communities, there are several options available). Honolulu’s own Marcus Mariota is a hot topic in the fantasy community in his own right. Where does the second overall pick from the 2015 Draft fit into the fantasy community’s rankings? For most, he’s a mid-range option — a solid QB2 with upside. What if there’s more under the surface, though?
Much like the volcano, Mariota appears primed for an explosion of his own. How big the explosion will be is still a question. An eventful offseason that brought about some improvements offensively in Tennessee has me thinking that in Mariota’s case, this particular eruption will be significantly large.
This might come as a surprise to those who know my previous sentiments on Mariota — he’s a player I’ve avoided in the fantasy circles. “Kapu” in Hawaiian means “keep out.” That has also been Mariota’s relationship with my fantasy teams.
Part of it is inconsistency. Another part is the lack of an elite pass-catcher from 2015-2016 B.C. (Before Corey). Fluidity in the fantasy realm is important, however, and when improvements are made to his surroundings, it’s important to re-assess his ranking.
Mount Mariota Has Laid Dormant Until Now
Expectations have fizzled to a degree. The reason is fairly simple too: Inconsistency. Whether it’s the injuries or the lack of passing yards Mariota simply hasn’t been an elite producer in the fantasy realm. He’s completed nearly 62 percent of his passes as a pro, but has not surpassed 3,500 passing yards in a season. Mariota has had a total of five games where he’s thrown for 300 or more yards and just 16 total where he’s topped 250 yards.
Scoring touchdowns might help, too. In 14 games, Mariota has not thrown a touchdown pass. That is a third of his games played. Consider this: Drew Brees, since 2006, has only 16 regular season games where he failed to throw a touchdown pass.
That’s okay. Mariota is a running quarterback and gets fantasy points in that manner.
Yeah… about that. The problem is Mariota hasn’t gotten that many rushing yards. Seriously. He has rushed for 20 yards or more in a game in just 19 of his 42 games as a pro. Of those 19 games, nine were games where Mariota failed to throw a touchdown pass. Ouch.
Volcanic Offseason Activity Hints to an Offensive Eruption
The Titans signed free agent running back Dion Lewis and also added depth along their offensive line by signing Kevin Pamphile. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, last season, Lewis faced an 8+ man box 28.33 percent of the time with the New England Patriots. Titans running backs weren’t so fortunate. Derrick Henry faced that exact situation 50 percent of the time and DeMarco Murray 35.33 percent of the time.
Lewis’ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield should help adjust some bad play-calling, particularly on early downs. Josh Hermsmeyer recently looked at team rushing tendencies when facing stacked boxes on early downs.
Rush % against 7,8 or 9 in the box on 1st and 10 and 2nd and 6-10 by team, 2017.
Every NFL team still runs more than passes in these situations, despite the fact that *every* team has a higher success rate passing.
I cannot explain this. pic.twitter.com/cYLOG8wmoK
— Josh Hermsmeyer (@friscojosh) June 13, 2018
Needless to say, the Titans ran the ball too much in these situations.
Then there’s Corey Davis. Last offseason, Davis was absent for Organized Team Activities (OTA) and training camp. Davis’ former wide receivers coach with the Titans alluded to his absence in practice as a factor for his slow start. When Davis returned from injury in Week 9, opportunity presented itself. He never saw fewer than 76 percent of the offensive snaps in the Titans’ remaining games. He siphoned snaps away from both Eric Decker and Taywan Taylor immediately. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but that’s all we have at this point.
Perhaps the biggest improvement made to Mariota and the rest of the Titans offense was the hiring of offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara. LaFleur, as most of you know, significantly aided the development of Jared Goff last season. O’Hara was an offensive assistant coach in Houston for the past three seasons, including last year where he got to help groom rookie phenom Deshaun Watson.
2018: Boom or Bust?
I expect to see the Titans loosen the reigns on Mariota this upcoming season. Once again, this is where Lewis can really help Mariota. Passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage were Mariota’s bread and butter last season. Screen passes also worked very well for LaFleur and the Los Angeles Rams last season. According to Pro Football Focus, since 2007, Mariota ranks 47th out of 63 qualifying quarterbacks in deep ball passer rating (62.7).
Anyone else think this bodes well for the Titans’ screen game in 2018?
There was one other aspect of the Rams’ offense in 2017 that also should be replicated. Jared Goff led the NFL in passing yards using play action last season. He had 176 more yards than Tom Brady, who finished second. Where does Mariota come in to play? Well, Scott Barrett and his amazing charts indicate that Mariota needs to be running a lot more play action.
Mariota comes into this season looking to rebound from a somewhat rocky start to his career. The offseason improvements in player and coaching personnel hint that there might be a major eruption looming on the horizon. You’re not going to find many trains in Hawaii, but in case Mariota does erupt in 2018, you’re going to want this particular hype train to lead you to safety.