Whether Heisman Winner Is Real Deal Or Just Product Of Oregon's System Is The Issue

By Jason Keidel
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CBSSports.com and ESPN just released mock drafts, in which Marcus Mariota nestles nicely into Gang Green’s greedy hands.

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So, should the Jets draft him?

Granted, it’s gratuitous backseat driving, but when pondering the failed Geno Smith experiment, it’s hard not to recall the quarterback out of West Virginia scowling when he wasn’t plucked in the first round, and even threatened to boycott the second round.

It’s not the first time a player pouted at Radio City. Aaron Rodgers, whom many figured was a top five pick, if not the first overall pick, was appalled while plunging down the rungs of the first round. Of course, he landed at Lambeau Field, where he toiled behind Brett Favre and then morphed into the best quarterback on the planet. (Not a trendy assertion with Tom Brady riding duck floats on Wednesday, but Rodgers, in my opinion, is the passer nonpareil in the NFL.)

But clearly it spoke to Smith’s character. Later on, we found out he was hardly the hardest working man in the sport. The most public evidence was his trip to the movies before a game against San Diego. While most quarterbacks are buried under a cone of light in some dark film room, Smith got his Roger Ebert on.

Mike Francesa, among others who are hardwired into pro football, tells us that whiffing on a QB in the first round sets a team back about a decade. If that’s true, then the Jets have about 15 years of bad karma at their backs.

Mark Sanchez wasn’t a bust, per se, because he led the Jets to consecutive AFC title games, but between the butt fumble and a dearth of decent talent around him, his legacy is at the very least mottled.

We don’t have much doubt about Smith. His time as a high-end prospect is over. And with our flawless hindsight, we saw this coming. Indeed, the entire league saw something they didn’t like, since no one took a flyer on him.

Not one person has a bad thing to say about Mariota, the man. As a player, some compare him to Colin Kaepernick — a glorious comparison two years ago, though not so much now — while some see him as a glorified option quarterback who hasn’t had to wriggle free from the pocket and make NFL throws.

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While the Jets are in their honeymoon phase, with a shiny new head coach/general manager tandem, two local guys come home hoping to make their Jets relevant again, the newness smell will wear off each instantly if they blow this draft, particularly the first round.

The Jets have the sixth pick. No doubt there will be a stud sitting in a cheap suit, flanked by family and friends and agents. It’s Gang Green’s job to find out which one can actually graduate from Saturday to Sunday.

The allure of a glistening quarterback like Mariota, with a fresh Heisman Trophy tucked under his arm and who came within one game of the national title, must be strong. If Mariota is the real item the Jets can turn this tanker around the North Jersey swamp in a year or two.

But the questions persist. Are Oregon players great or gimmicks? Chip Kelly left for the NFL and the Ducks were no less dominant. They were rolling teams before Mariota, and will probably do so after his departure.

Is it the program, the wind-tunnel attack that snaps the ball every 20 seconds and leaves defenses gasping? Or is Mariota a future NFL savant who merely rode the slick algorithm of Oregon offense? No program can rely solely on slick play-calling, so clearly the Ducks have talent.

It’s refreshing that there are no character issues with Mariota, as there are with Smith and with the projected No. 1 pick, Jameis Winston. (I can write a 10-page treatise on Winston’s issues.)

Between the ears, Mariota is way more Peyton Manning than Ryan Leaf. But he needs more than Manning’s epic work ethic. He needs to throw those 30-yard outs, let it fly 50 yards while J.J. Watt is about to pancake him to the turf. A great NFL quarterback is an amalgam of physical and metaphysical jewels.

So while Marcus Mariota has character, does he have the characteristics? If he can’t trade Oregon green for Gang Green, then the Jets should pass, no matter how bad their passing game is.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel