With a five-year contract in his back pocket, the typically impatient and hurried Chip Kelly has a few years to turn the Philadelphia Eagles into an elite NFL team. Entering his first year as the Birds’ headman, the biggest question was who the signal caller would be for his revolutionary offense. When veteran Michael Vick beat out second-year man Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley, it became obvious that the Eagles quarterback of the future was not on their roster.
Knowing that the 2014 NFL Draft will be quarterback-rich allows for Vick to carry the keys to Kelly’s Maserati offense until the driver of the future arrives. The perfect man for the job is Marcus Mariota, sophomore stud signal caller at the University of Oregon. Recruited by Kelly to be a Duck, Mariota is the prototype QB for the high-octane offense. A double threat to run or throw, he is currently one of the leading candidates for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
At 6-foot-4 and over 215 pounds, the Hawaiian-born Samoan-American is tall enough to see over NFL lineman while possessing the speed and athletic ability to escape the rush and turn negative plays into positive yardage. Thus far this year, he has only been sacked three times while rushing for seven TDs. When not using his legs to damage defenses, his arm has proven to be deadly accurate, finishing his first year as a starter completing 69 percent of his passes.
Even more important than athletic ability, the key to running Kelly’s offense is quick decision making. Understanding what the defense is giving you, identifying the mismatch and quickly making the right decision is what separates Mariota from all the other top quarterbacks. An engineering major with over a 3.6 GPA, Mariota made lots of good decisions in 2012, ending his redshirt freshman year with 32 TDS and only six interceptions. Through five games this year the 19 year old, who has greatly improved his arm strength, has thrown 14 TDS without an interception.
Unlike the college game where a coach at a premiere program can pick and choose the players he wants to recruit, the NFL obviously doesn’t afford Kelly that same opportunity. Being able to land Mariota in next year’s draft would be a coup for Kelly, allowing him to reunite with a young man he previously recruited. Starting his rookie year playing in an offense that he has already spent two seasons mastering would help ease Mariota’s transition as well.
Well-spoken, with billboard-worthy good looks, Mariota is the ideal face of the franchise the Eagles have sought since the departure of the controversial Donovan McNabb. With only one win thus far and lacking enough defensive talent to make noise in the postseason, it would be best for the Eagles’ future to treat the rest of the season as an extended evaluation period of the young players they have. Going 2-14 or 3-13 would not be so bad if it meant that they could land Mariota on May 8.