Translation: I'm bored, let me remind you how awesome my favorite player is.
Fact: everybody loves Marc Mariani. While he was the lightly-regarded seventh round draft choice of a draft class renowned for it's initial success, he may have had the most successful season out of any of our fantastic rookies in 2011. No disrespect to Alterraun Verner who established himself early as a competent starter, and certainly nothing against Derrick Morgan who had an impressive start derailed by injury, but Mariani came out swinging hard and ended up making quite a name for himself.
After an eyebrow-raising performance in the return game in year one, Mariani has worked hard in the offseason to earn a spot on the starting offense. An obvious parallel of a guy who worked his way up from relative obscurity by means of special teams performance and possesses a similar skill set would be Wes Welker. Their workout measurables are similar, though Mariani seems to be bigger, faster, and stronger, but only marginally so. Citing Consensus Draft Services for this one:
"Decent punt returner and possession guy who gets open and uses his hands. Really competes and stretches for the ball. Decent quickness. Good routes and footwork. Knows how to get open. Quick feet and dekes the DB well...FCS's answer to UT's Jordan Shipley. Probably a 4.6 guy, but has some upside and intangibles. Breaks more tackles after the catch than he should for a guy of his dimensions."
Remind you of anyone? This is Wes Welker coming out of college to the T. Now, I'm not going to hype him up endlessly claiming that Mariani has the tools to be the next Welker, he'd need Tom Brady to do that, but he is without a doubt cut from the same mold. Yes, unfortunately, this one falls into the old adage that "all white receivers = Wes Welker", but can you honestly tell me you don't see the similarities? I see it in Jordan Shipley, I see it in Mariani as well.
Chris Palmer would would do well to create a solid relationship between this guy and Jake Locker. His presence in the slot could be invaluable in developing short, timing routes that were virtually non-existent in the game plan last year because the team simply didn't have the personnel to execute it. A popular idea that I've seen flying around a lot is to put Nate Washington in the slot, but I don't think that it helps us maximize his skill set enough. He's a two-true outcome player; his big play ability is something that needs to be celebrated by splitting him out wide. It's not that he can't make plays from the slot, Lord knows there aren't many linebackers you can line up on the guy, but he has rare speed that would serve him well on the outside.
So let's set ourselves some realistic expectations for Mariani in 2011. Assuming that his offseason workouts have paid off and he shows up to camp healthy, wealthy, and ready to go, I don't see a breakout season as something that can't be achieved. His quality return skills aren't going anywhere for awhile and his production in college was off the charts. A year or two of experience to adjust to the NFL could be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to Marc's career. I truly believe that we're witnessing the maturation of a legitimate slot receiver right before our eyes. Can he dethrone Welker as the game's top threat from the slot? Very, very unlikely. I'd be surprised if he sustained top five status at any point in his career, but can he outperform his draft stock by light years and work his way into the starting offense? I don't see why not.