Last season wasn’t exactly what fans and fantasy drafters were hoping for from Marcus Mariota. He didn’t play a full season. He only threw 13 touchdowns. And Mariota finished with the lowest passer rating (79.3) of his career. That wasn’t ideal, especially since analysts hyped him as a potential top 12 quarterback (QB1) in 2017. However, all of the aforementioned issues led to him finishing as the QB18 (standard) and the QB21 (six point passing touchdown leagues). So it should be no surprise to see that his average draft position (ADP) is currently QB19. Last year, his ADP was QB12 or QB8 in some places, so the drop in price makes him an intriguing late-round option in 2018.
Most people recognize the name J.J. Zachariason–the man who popularized the “Late Round Quarterback” draft strategy. Essentially, the strategy boils down to the fact most leagues only start one quarterback, which affects the demand for the position in comparison to running backs and wide receivers. There is also an increasing supply of usable quarterbacks, which affects the supply at the position. In short, you should focus your early picks on both running backs and wide receiver.
Yes, this strategy would mean you would most likely be waving goodbye to the likes of Aaron Rodgers. And that’s ok. There are multiple ways to win in fantasy football, so if you choose the late-round quarterback route, consider Mariota.
Late Round Fantasy Draft Option: Marcus Mariota
The first reason you should consider Mariota is that last season wasn’t as bad as it looked. There’s no getting around the fact that 13 passing touchdowns are the opposite of good (which is street for bad). However, his play at quarterback was better than his numbers would indicate. Scott Barrett, of PFF fame, charted the passer rating and the adjusted passer rating for 25 quarterbacks. Of the 25 quarterbacks that Barrett charted, Mariota had the seventh-best adjusted passer rating. While adjusted passer rating doesn’t directly feed your team delicious fantasy points, it does help to redefine his season.
For instance, take a look at where Mariota finished after the first three games (QB11). Throw week four and five out (injury and missed game due to injury). Now compare his early season finish to what he did for the rest of the fantasy season (QB19) and you’ll see that there is potential going forward for Mariota.
Another reason you should consider him is touchdown regression. Or, more to the point, positive touchdown regression. In 2017, Mariota had the worst touchdown percentage of his young career (2.9 percent). His typical season hovers above 5 percent for him. In other words, he should have had 10 more passing touchdowns last season.
Also supporting the case for positive regression is the fact that the Tennessee Titans scoring ratio was out of line with the NFL average. In 2017, passing touchdowns accounted for nearly 66 percent of the offensive scoring. The Titans passing touchdowns, on the other hand, only accounted for 44 percent. In short, there is definite room for growth in the offense.
The new offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur, will hope to make that growth a reality. While LaFleur didn’t call plays as the offensive coordinator for Sean McVay last season, his addition can be looked at as a positive. And that’s because LaFleur has spent some time with some bright offensive minds. There’s the aforementioned McVay, who he worked with last year. There are also the years that LaFleur spent working with Kyle Shanahan. While these connections aren’t a guarantee for success, it certainly doesn’t hurt that LaFleur has spent some time with bright offensive minds.
Mariota’s 2018 Season
While there are reasons to like Mariota in 2018, his upcoming season isn’t without blemishes. Specifically, his upcoming schedule. Sure, things such as injuries, poor performances, benchings, etc. could change, but based on the information we have now, it doesn’t look great. According to Warren Sharp, the Titans have the seventh easiest schedule according to Las Vegas sportsbooks. The easier the schedule, the greater amount of positive game scripts, which wouldn’t be the best thing for their passing game.
Sharp’s strength of schedule has another hit for the Titans passing game. In terms of defensive passing efficiency, the Titans rank as the 24th toughest schedule next season. The stretch between week three and seven seems to be the main culprit of that ranking. In those weeks, Mariota will face off against the Jacksonville Jaguars (away), Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills (away), Baltimore Ravens, and the Los Angeles Chargers (away). There’s no way around it; that’s a really tough stretch. Still, it’s important to remember that Mariota’s rushing ability certainly helps to raise his weekly floor.
So if you’re interested in Mariota this season, there are a few routes you can take. First, you can draft only him and roll the dice. Who knows. It’s quite possible the Eagles score a decent amount of points, which leads to more Mariota that game. Second, you could hold off on drafting Mariota and hope to acquire him after he comes back from his bye (week eight). Third, you can draft more than one quarterback. This is not everyone’s favorite strategy. Although, some home leagues out there almost force managers into it. If you’re looking for another cheap quarterback to pair with Mariota, look towards Blake Bortles, who has a good run of opponents during Mariota’s downturn.
Either way, whatever you choose to do, Marcus Mariota remains a value at QB19 in fantasy drafts.