Following an injury-filled season, QB Marcus Mariota will have to prove his worth in the final year of his contract next season.
As the Tennessee Titans move into the offseason after a disappointing finish, the questions on twitter seem to pile up. But there’s one that I see the most: Is Marcus Mariota a franchise QB? Quite honestly, nobody knows the answer to that question. Mariota has shown glimpses of greatness and superb throwing ability. On the other hand, he has made untimely mistakes and strange decisions on some passes.
In his sophomore season in 2016, he threw for 26 TDs and nine INTs in a season where the Titans finished 9-7 and barely missed the playoffs; the best year of his career so far. In 2017 and 2018 combined, Mariota threw for 24 TDs and 23 INTs. The contrast between the two is drastic, but there are many factors that I think have impacted Mariota’s performance.
Since he was drafted in 2015, the Titans have never had an exceptional WR group. 2017 first-round pick Corey Davis emerged as the Titans’ best threat this year, but prior to that, Mariota’s best weapons came in the form of Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker. This season, Matthews requested to be released after having his playing time cut early in the season, and Pro Bowl TE Walker was injured in the first game of the season and missed the rest of the year. This put the Titans at a disadvantage and forced young guys to step up, but Taywan Taylor missed time with an injury and Tajae Sharpe never broke out as a real threat.
The running game is also important to Mariota’s success. The Titans inked former Patriots RB Dion Lewis to a four-year deal before the season began, but he struggled to ever find his footing in the running game, finishing the season with 517 yards on the ground and one rushing TD. Derrick Henry broke out during the second half of the season, finishing with 1,059 yards and 12 TDs, but he only rushed for 300 yards and two TDs in the team’s first eight games. It is important for Henry to maintain the power and speed he showed during the latter half of the 2018 season going into 2019 so that teams must adjust to him and give receivers more opportunities to get open for Mariota.
Mariota also struggled to stay healthy in 2018, largely in part to a struggling offensive line. The Titans allowed 47 sacks this year, and Jack Conklin failed to look like his former self after getting injured in the playoffs last year. The offensive line needs to be a main focal point for the Titans going into the draft and free agency so that they can keep him healthy and allow him to be an effective pocket passer.
Along with these, it is important to realize that Mariota will be working with his fifth different OC in 2019. It takes time for a coordinator’s scheme and system to click with a team, and changing this frequently can be very harmful to a young QB’s development. It is important that the Titans get someone who is willing to stay and give the offense a sense of stability.
Ultimately, I truly think Mariota has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback; he just needs the tools to help him become it. There is a lot of work to be done, and hopefully the team can address a lot of those issues during the offseason. The Titans have a lot of talent and the capability to be contenders with the addition of a few key pieces. If Mariota cannot stay healthy and find his 2016 form, however, they may be forced to look elsewhere for a franchise QB.