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Is Marcus Mariota set to plummet in the NFL Draft?

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Marcus Mariota was the consensus best player in college football for the entire 2014 season. He is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. The safest quarterback prospect in the draft.

And yet, as the league prepares to welcome its newest batch of recruits, his stock is sinking like a stone.

Just like Teddy Bridgewater last year, and Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Despite all the on-field evidence, his remarkable winning record, the TD-INT ratio that's practically perfect, the College Football Championship berth, in fact as soon as the actual football stopped, his draft reputation seemed to plummet.

The latest reports claim the Tennessee Titans will pass on Mariota with the second pick and stick with Zach Mettenberger as their QB.

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set to pick a quarterback at number one having released Josh McCown, and as Jameis Winston is parked at the top of most NFL mock drafts, it looks like Mariota could be in for a long night on April 30.

Mettenberger, the LSU product, enjoyed a mixed first season in the NFL after becoming the starter in Week 8.

He ended the year with 1,412 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, but lost all six of his starts. Still, the sixth round pick is likely to get his shot as leader of the team in 2015 according to 'early indications' from The Tennessean.

Where does that leave Mariota?

Well, with the Bucs closing in on Winston, much could depend on what the New York Jets do at six.

A new GM and coach tandem will evaluate Geno Smith quickly. The young QB thinks he's the perfect fit for Todd Bowles, who pointedly referred to Smith as a 'great college quarterback' in January.

If Mariota does slip past the Jets, then the Heisman winner faces a big fall. His next possible landing spot would be the Browns at 12 or 19, but they selected Johnny Manziel in 2014, or the Texans at 16, although they took Tom Savage as a development project last year too.

Both could easily pass.

After that, you're looking at the Eagles at 20, but if Chip Kelly really does back Nick Foles then Mariota is falling to the bottom of the first round. NFL's first mock draft had him at 18 to the Chiefs.

How does this happen? How does someone go from sure-fire, can't miss prospect to mid-rounder?

Well, just ask Bridgewater.

From the beginning of the 2013 college football season until the end, the Louisville quarterback was the best in his class. Then the season finished, he measured 'just' 6ft 2in at the combine, had an 'iffy' pro-day and suddenly fell from number one/two all the way down to 32nd.

Mariota is this year's Bridgewater.

Trent Dilfer wondered if he would fall to the end of the first round in January. All of a sudden he wasn't 'pro-ready', despite most people agreeing his entire body of college work proves he is ready.

All he'd done in the meantime was beat Winston in the college playoff before posting a good stat line in a losing performance against Ohio State.

He was college football's outstanding player, the consensus top pick through the year. Even if the country still rates him, those 'in the know' are trending the opposite way.

Questions now crop up regarding his ability to play in an NFL system, after all, the Oregon playbook is a simple as Heisman + Cam Newton + Godzilla and a stadium equals a zone option read behind left guard, right?

Rumours that he isn't a 'leader' were allowed to gather their own momentum, regardless of the fact there's no evidence to support the theory and that it's a phoney evaluation tool anyway.

The process

The NFL draft scouting process is nothing but white noise and conflicting reports. With so many 'experts', both employed and armchair, there is a constant battle to provide the freshest take.

All it needs is one retweet to turn a half-baked opinion into the latest piece of insider draft gossip.

Months of on-field evidence during the season is cast aside when a scout reveals Bridgewater can't make one highly specific NFL throw, or isn't quite tall enough to see past a defensive lineman on one play.

Extrapolated to an entire NFL campaign, these scouts believe they've discovered a flaw that should send a prospect tumbling. Twitter, and it's constant appetite for draft news, does the rest.

It's works the other way too.

When the draft Twitterati gets behind a prospect, the tidal wave can carry him to the upper reaches. Bortles's combine measurables put him into third spot, same with Dion Jordan in 2013.

Getting caught up in what a young player "might" become is most of the fun. It's why the draft has gone from a dingy conference room in New York to a country-wide four-day event.

But ignoring the tape for a prospect's combine performance or pro-day, t-shirts and shorts snoozefest is a recipe for disaster.

It's also the main reason why players like Mariota fall. The Oregon star hasn't even had the chance to work out at the Combine or at his pro-day, and yet he's still on the slide.

Draft day

If the Hawaii native does tumble in April then it will cause him short term embarrassment but little more than that. Rather than going second to the Titans, he'll land with a much healthier franchise, without the pressure to start straight away.

If he's good enough, he will anyway - like Bridgewater.

The draft is an unforgiving process, but is basically educated guesswork and should be taken as such.

Since walking off the field against Ohio State, Mariota has done nothing to alter his stock positively or negatively. And that shouldn't be forgotten.

What do you think NFL fans? Will Mariota fall in the NFL Draft? And where should he go?

Have your say by joining the conversation below...

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