Mariota’s wait almost over; second spot still seems most likely

One day. Just one more day until Marcus Mariota knows for sure where he’ll be searching for a new house. One more day until he becomes the state of Hawaii’s most celebrated NFL player. One day until an NFL franchise decides to make the ex-Oregon Duck its new face.

I say one more day because I feel fairly confident that there won’t be a Geno Smith situation in Mariota’s case and he will indeed be selected during Thursday’s first round. The question isn’t if, but when?

I’m sticking to my assertion that Mariota goes second overall. Which team winds up owning that pick is still an uncertainty. If the Tennessee Titans decide to hold on to the pick, I think they’ll be viewing Mariota as a sizable upgrade over second-year player Zach Mettenberger. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt mentioned last month that if Mariota were in Titans camp, he’d consider him the starter.

But the Titans may elect to stick with Mettenberger and see who’s willing to pay the highest price for that number two pick. A few teams that have been rumored as potentially interested have been the Jets, Eagles and Chargers. To me, the Jets are the team that makes the most sense and could put together the best package.

Right now, Gang Green holds the sixth overall pick, which they could probably send along with a third rounder and another future selection. Tennessee could view that as enough to slide down four spots and grab either a playmaking wide receiver or a defensive standout. The Jets, who still have Smith and newly acquired Ryan Fitzpatrick, could give Mariota a chance to start right away. Having also picked up Brandon Marshall this offseason, the Jets’ offense would be greatly improved with some star power come Week 1.

Speculation persists that Chip Kelly would deal up to re-acquire his college quarterback for Philadelphia, but I don’t see it happening. The Eagles hold the 20th pick, which is a long way down the totem pole. They’re also expected to be pretty good for a while, so future first rounders have limited value. Philly has three fairly high-profile quarterbacks on the roster already – Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow – but none would seem to be enticing enough for the Titans to want in a trade that forfeits Mariota.

San Diego is the interesting wild card. Philip Rivers has made his uneasiness at the Chargers’ potential relocation a well-known fact, so San Diego would be wise to view alternative options. Whether the Titans think that Rivers can give them enough immediate help for a quick turnaround is the bigger issue. He’s 33 and Tennessee would have to be certain they’d be getting him for more than just the one year remaining on his current deal.

Other teams making a legitimate move for Mariota seems like a long shot, though it wouldn’t be the first surprising deal we’ve seen in the first round.

It pains me to say it, but the Jets may be the best option for Mariota. It’s been a circus for New York at the quarterback position for a few years, but they may get in Mariota what they expected to be getting first in Sanchez and more recently in Smith. New head coach Todd Bowles has no allegiances to sustain and could start fresh with a new arm. Mariota’s maturity has been well documented and though it’s impossible to predict beforehand, he appears to be as poised as any rookie to handle the New York media.

It seems like a very long time since Mariota’s less than stellar performance in the College Football Playoff Championship. He was quickly labeled overrated but has worked his way back up to a bona fide top selection. I don’t see him passing Jameis Winston, but I think his cellphone will be the second one dialed Thursday night. Who’s on the other line is still very much up in the air.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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