ESPN's Mel Kiper talked to national media yesterday, and said that any team that drafts Marcus Mariota is going to have to have a 'bridge' quarterback -- someone to hold down the fort while Mariota learns the ropes. Pat Yasinskas has the quotes:
"I don't think it would preclude you from taking him if you're one of those teams, but you have to develop him," Kiper said. "If you want him to play right away and be an impactful rookie and second-year guy, that would probably be asking too much."
"He's a runner. You've got to take that running aspect out and just call it mobility. He's got the arm, the size, the work ethic, the intelligence - all the things you need to fit into pretty much any offense down the road. But if you want to force-feed him, he's not going to be ready."
That's not going to happen, though. No one drafts a quarterback with the first overall pick to sit him as a rookie. That just doesn't happen. Especially not when the alternative is either Josh McCown or Mike Glennon. But more than that, Kiper is just flat out wrong: there's no reason to believe that you need to sit a quarterback from a spread offense early in his career. Because spread quarterbacks have been plenty successful as rookies.
Robert Griffin III didn't just have a good rookie season, he had a spectacular rookie season. His production was ridiculous, putting up 27 total touchdowns to just five interceptions, leading the NFL in yards per attempt and yards per carry and basically kicking butt despite playing on a pretty terrible team. And then he tore his ACL and everything went to hell.
Cam Newton's story has a better ending, but he didn't exactly have a tough rookie season, either. Not that he was great, but putting up 7.8 yards per attempt, 31 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions is pretty damn good. Compare those numbers to those of the best pro-style quarterback to come out in recent memory in Andrew Luck: 28 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 7.0 yards per attempt.
The reason those players succeeded as rookies is fairly simple: a little bit of luck, and an offense that adjusted to their strengths. Cam Newton has continued to get better every year since then, while Robert Griffin III collapsed -- but it's not clear how much of that is due to his disastrous knee injury and other issues. And there's no reason why the Bucs couldn't adjust to Mariota's strengths -- in fact, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has a history of adjusting to his player's strengths.
Adjusting to Mariota doesn't mean implementing a read-option running game. The key to adjusting to players isn't what kind of running game you give them, it's to give them throws and situations they're familiar with. Griffin and Newton were given packaged plays, wide receiver screens, quick throws and some deep passes off play-action. That and their ability to improvise once plays break down were key plays to their success as rookies. And the Bucs could do exactly that with Mariota.
That is not to say that there isn't some truth to the idea that Marcus Mariota is going to have to learn more new things once he gets to the NFL than Jameis Winston would. It's just that that won't stop him from being a productive quarterback as a rookie.