The Marcus Mariota Question: Who Will Draft the Oregon QB?

Pac-12 Championship - Arizona v Oregon

With the 2015 NFL Draft just a couple of hours away, there’s one player whose fate could shape the entire three-day long process. Former Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota ran away with the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation’s outstanding player, in the 2014 college football season, and although Florida State product Jameis Winston is expected to go first overall to Tampa Bay Mariota is still in high demand. But which teams are in the hunt for the decorated passer? And which team offers to best fit for the mobile QB? We break down four teams who could be interested in making Mariota the face of their franchise, and in the case of three of them what they’d have to do move into position to draft him.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans hold the number two overall pick in the draft, and logic would dictate that they should select Mariota with it. They’re not exactly talent rich at the Quarterback position; Zach Mettenberger is the incumbent starter, but as just a sixth round pick in 2014 Mettenberger lacks the pedigree teams ideally seek from  their franchise QB. Tennessee are desperate to appease a frustrated fan base after years of losing, and Mariota’s squeaky clean image could make him the ideal fit. One stumbling block could be the system from which Mariota comes and his existing skill set; Titans coach Ken Wisenhunt runs a pro-style offense which would ideally suit a pocket QB, while Mariota operated the spread offense almost exclusively from  the shotgun during his three years at Oregon. Nonetheless, scouts are impressed with Mariota’s arm strength and work ethic, which should help him adjust to playing under centre and operating a more traditional offense than the one he did in college.

Cleveland Browns

Cleveland have been searching for a franchise QB ever since they re-entered the league in 1999; unfortunately they’ve had very little luck with their draft selections at the position in the past 16 years, from Tim Couch at number one overall the previous millennium to Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick last year. Manziel is fresh out of rehab and he may have already blown his chance to ever lead an NFL franchise, while Josh McCown was signed to provide competition at the position after he was released by Tampa Bay following a terrible year in Florida. The Browns hold the 12th and 19th picks in the draft, but it’s unlikely that they could make a trade with Tennessee without sweetening the pot in addition to those two choices. For Cleveland, it all comes down to how much they’re willing to bet that Mariota can be the face of the franchise for the next decade. Miss, and they might not recover for as long as that – if not longer.

Philadelphia Eagles

Can Chip Kelly wheel and deal his way to being reunited with his Oregon protegé? It certainly would take a king’s ransom for Philadelphia to maneuver their way all the way to the second overall pick from number 20, but they do have a valuable trading chip (despite Kelly’s protestations to the contrary) in recently acquired QB Sam Bradford. Bradford was picked up via trade with St. Louis, and it’s been widely reported that both Tennessee and the Browns were in on Bradford before he was sent to Philly. Could the Eagles package picks and Bradford to make the move to number two? It’s doubtful, but should they pull it off Mariota will have fallen on his feet, as he’s already familiar with Kelly’s offense from his time at Oregon. Growing pains would be minimal – but is it worth the risk for Kelly and the Eagles?

St. Louis Rams

Could the Rams, fresh off acquiring Nick Foles, a fourth round pick in 2015 and a 2016 second round pick for Sam Bradford, have enough capital to move up from 10th overall to number two? It’s certainly possible, but would head coach Jeff Fisher give up so much for a Quarterback who wouldn’t be an ideal scheme fit? While Tennessee face the same problem they could probably justify sitting still at number two and picking Mariota; however it’s a different ball game when additional picks are involved. St. Louis are probably the outsiders in the race for Mariota, but it would be unwise to rule anything out with so much fogginess still surrounding the situation.

So where will Mariota end up once the first round of the draft is in the books? No one knows, but in a few hours time Mariota will have his name read out in Chicago by commissioner Roger Godell, putting both him and NFL pundits across the globe out of their misery. The only certainty? You can’t rule anything out.

Who will draft Marcus Mariota in tonight’s NFL Draft? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

Should He Stay or Should He Go: West Ham and Sam Allardyce’s Inconvinient Marriage

Sam Allardyce joined West Ham in 2011

Sam Allardyce joined West Ham in 2011

When West Ham appointed former Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce as their new manager in the summer of 2011, both parties were at their lowest ebb. The Hammers had been relegated from the Premier League the previous season, having finished bottom of the table under the less than stellar stewardship of Avram Grant (who was promptly dismissed by the club’s co-owners, David Gold and David Sullivan), while Allardyce had been removed from his last job as Blackburn by the club’s less than impressed Indian owners, the Venky’s.

At the time West Ham needed a manager with a proven track record to guide them back to the top flight, with the East London side’s impending move to the Olympic Stadium just around the corner in 2016. Allardyce, who had narrowly missed out on the England job in 2006, fit the bill perfectly with his results-driven style and impressive record of having never been relegated from the Premier League as a manager. He also needed a route back into football; following his time in charge of Bolton (where he achieved both promotion from the Championship and a top-five finish in the Premier League) he had underwhelmed in his roles at both Newcastle and Blackburn. Where he had chosen to walk away from his position at Bolton, he had been unceremoniously dumped in his two most recent managerial stints.

On the face of it, the marriage was a match made in heaven. However over the past four years it is safe to say that ‘Big Sam’ has never been fully accepted by the West Ham faithful, and with his second two-year pact with the club due to end in the summer it looks increasingly doubtful that the Dudley-born boss will be awarded a third contract by Messrs Sullivan and Gold. All of this begs the question – where did it all go wrong?

Originally, West Ham supporters had reservations about Allardyce’s reputation as a long ball merchant. The club had traditionally attempted to play football at all times, moving the ball on the floor and striving to entertain the fans with an exciting brand of play. While this approach didn’t always pay off in terms of results, it became known as the ‘West Ham way’, and came to be defined by icons of the English game including Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking and most of all Bobby Moore. Has Allardyce abandoned these principals during his four years at Upton Park? Yes and no. At times, the Hammers have taken the attack to the opposition and played highly entertaining football, including during notable home wins against Chelsea (3-1 in 2012), Brighton (6-0 the same year) and a pair of 2-2 draws against Manchester United in the 2012/13 campaign. On the other side of the ledger, Allardyce saw his side booed off after a dire 2-1 victory over Hull City in 2014 was decided by an unfortunate Hull own goal, and his decision to play no recognised striker for much of the 2013/14 season produced poor results and even poorer football. That campaign also produced a pair of humiliating cup exits; Nottingham Forest triumphed 5-0 over a second string side in the third round of the F.A Cup, while just a few days earlier Manchester City tore West Ham apart to the tune of a 9-0 aggregate score line in the League Cup Semi-Final.

Another point of frustration many West Ham fans have with Allardyce is his refusal to blood youngsters from the famed ‘Academy of Football’ into the first team. Just this past weekend Allardyce handed 18-year old centre back Reece Burke a first team debut – Burke responded with an accomplished performance as part of a clean sheet effort by the back four – but instances like this have been few and far between. Promising young striker Robert Hall was flogged to Bolton a year ago despite an impressive goal scoring record in the youth and reserve teams, while young midfielder Diego Poyet has been constantly overlooked this season in favour of an ageing an ineffective Kevin Nolan. There are in fact many occasions when Allardyce has plumped for a known mediocrity over an unproven youngster; in the 2012/13 season he signed Emmanuel Pogatetz on loan to fill in at centre back (which he did, terribly) for two months, as opposed to risking a product from the youth team. The same scenario unfolded again a year later, when Roger Johnson was obtained from Wolves despite being unable to crack the League One side’s starting eleven.

While the previous two complaints will have negatively affected Allardyce’s standing with supporters, the final nail in his claret and blue tinted coffin could well have been hammered in by the dual owners following a pair of disastrous big money acquisitions. Andy Carroll joined from Liverpool on a permanent basis on a rumoured £100,000 a week for a fee of £18 million in 2013 – all of this despite missing the majority of the previous season through injury, when he was on loan at the Boleyn Ground. Carroll has continued to be plagued by injuries in the past two seasons, and his injury (and a lack of depth in his position) nearly saw the club relegated again in the 2013/14 season. Meanwhile, the man who Allardyce had the option to sign in place of Carroll, Wilfried Bony, scored enough goals to keep Swansea City in the top flight before he secured a £30 million move to league champions Manchester City. Allardyce’s second high priced flop was World Cup wonder Enner Valencia, who signed for the princely sum of £15 million following a three goal showing in Brazil. Valencia has struggled all season, scoring just one goal at home, and looks lightweight and ill-suited to the physical style of the English game. With the much touted move to the Olympic Stadium on the horizon, the West Ham owners will surely be asking themselves if they can afford any more multi-million pound busts in the transfer market.

It’s been well documented that Allardyce and the West Ham supporters have never seen eye to eye. The board, however, have steadfastly backed him during h

is reign and have cited the fact that he has done everything asked of him while he’s been in charge. And they are right. He was asked to get the club promoted, which he did, and he was then instructed to keep them in the Premier League, which he has. Unfortunately, following a bright start to the current campaign Allardyce has failed to negotiate the next task, which is to establish the club as a presence in the top half of the table. Fourth place at Christmas has become 11th place at the end of April, and with just two wins in that period Allardyce may well have dug his own grave.

Sam Allardyce and West Ham never were a match made in heaven; they were a marriage of convenience, a couple who were ill suited but crossed paths at their darkest moments. They’ve stayed together this long out of necessity, and because better opportunities have been scarce. Yet with the Olympic Stadium forcing the club’s hand, Allardyce’s West Ham career looks all but certain to have reached a rather messy conclusion. Is the grass always greener on the other side? That’s something that West Ham look hell bent on finding out.