A quarterback can transform an NFL team. Look no further than the teams without a decent one to see evidence of how important it is to have a franchise guy under center. You can spend picks upon picks upgrading your offensive talent, putting together a solid offensive line, investing in stopping the run or bolstering a stable of defensive backs, but unless there’s someone on your roster capable of throwing the ball, it’s likely all a waste.
That’s what’s made the lead-up to the 2015 Draft so intriguing (and infuriating to some extent). It’s all but guaranteed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owners of the No. 1 overall pick, are going to take a quarterback. And there are two quarterbacks above the rest – Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
What has everyone talked about for months since the end of the college football season? Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Two Heisman winners. Two very different on and off field personas. Neither without their risks as a signal caller at the next level.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said on his media conference call last week that he still hadn’t made up his mind whether he’d have Winston or Mariota as his number one quarterback. He later said without the off the field issues, Winston would be the clear number one, but with them, it’s just hard to say whether or not Tampa Bay will take him.
The Draft is just a few days away, so I turned to a bunch of people much smarter than me to answer a simple question: If given the chance, would you draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, and why? Here are their responses.
Andrew Sharp, Grantland.com – Winston
You gotta play the odds here. There have been three drafts in my sports life in which quarterbacks have been in the mix at No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft. In each case, one of those picks worked out great (Peyton, McNabb, Luck), and the other turned into a disaster (Leaf, Couch, RG3). This is a small sample size, but I think the lesson here is clear. One of these quarterbacks is going to suck.
Maybe it will be because of injuries, or institutional failure, or maybe he just isn’t very good. But it will get ugly for one of these guys. So for me, rather than trying to gauge who might be better, I think it comes down to who’s more likely to struggle, recede to mediocrity, and slowly drive a fanbase insane.
As far as that question: My feelings on Jameis are too tortured to parse here, but he is definitely big and strong, and he’s probably the smartest player in the entire first round. Moreover, he’s got a track record of coming up big when it matters, and his teammates adored him. Mariota? He thrived in a murderous Oregon system that doesn’t really translate to the pros, he’s a running quarterback with a frame that looks awfully slight, and where James has come up big over and over again in big moments, most of the close games we saw Mariota play were Oregon losses. There are definitely some signs that could look like pretty obvious red flags when we look back at this in 10 years.
Is all of this unscientific nonsense? Absolutely. But that’s what the draft is all about! So yeah, no shots at Mariota, but give me Jameis.
Stewart Mandel, Fox Sports – Mariota
I’ve long ago given up on projecting which college players will translate to the NFL, and in this case, obviously both Winston and Mariota are extremely talented. Given that, I would take Mariota solely because I don’t trust Winston off the field. His track record speaks for itself. He had a team of enablers at FSU. You’re on your own in the pros. And given that a No. 1 QB instantly becomes the face of your franchise, it seems too big a risk no matter how talented, especially given there’s a perfectly good Option B available in Mariota.
Bomani Jones, ESPN – Winston
I go with Winston on this one. Part of it is that, over the last few years, I’ve come to see the value of a quarterback who’s prepared to run a pro offense from the jump. I’ve also seen the danger of a quarterback whose value is largely derived from his legs, as legs have a way of getting hurt and never coming back around. Winston’s floor — on the field, at least — seems higher than Mariota’s, and his ceiling is the same, if not higher.
Of course, there’s off-the-field stuff with Jameis. To me, the question is simple — do you think Jameis Winston will be accused of a felony while he’s in the NFL? The petty stuff doesn’t matter now. Only the sexual assault allegation does, and teams will have to determine whether that incident will forces trouble for Winston and the franchise. Forced to guess, I don’t think Winston will wind up in legal trouble. Therefore, he’d wind up on my team if I were choosing between he and Mariota.
Being a former Buccaneers player and still living here in the Tampa Bay area, I get to see them play each and every week. Let me tell you, their offensive line was gawd awful last season. They ended up cutting the left tackle they signed to a multi-year contract last offseason, Anthony Collins, and they have yet to replace him. Even if the Bucs move Demar Dotson, their incumbent right tackle, to left tackle there is still one tackle missing. For that matter, their right guard and center positions left a lot to be desired last year also, and the same guys are penciled in to start as of right now.
As far as their skill positions, the Bucs have acquired wide receivers and tight ends that are all tall and can win 50/50 balls. For that reason I would expect them to push the ball down the field a lot rather than incorporate a lot of dink and dunk passes like a West Coast offense. I also remember last preseason that the Bucs practiced some read option plays. Unfortunately they never really got around to running them during the season after their OC Jeff Tedford went out with a health issue. Those plays were definitely in the playbook, however.
Put all that together and for me my choice would clearly be Marcus Mariota. I don’t really care how much better Jameis Winston is at anticipatory throws because I would not anticipate the Bucs running that kind of an offense. What I am going to need out of my quarterback are three things: (1) Be able to avoid a pass rush because the OL is not likely to be all the way fixed this season, and even going forward a mobile quarterback is pretty much a necessity in this day and age. (2) I am going to need him to be able to push the ball down the field to his big receivers. (3) Because Lovie is a defensive-minded head coach, the quarterback will have to avoid the disaster. Ball security is going to be at a premium.
Mariota is the much better athlete who can make things happen with his legs. He also has very good touch on his deep balls and he threw a ton of on-target back shoulder fades at Oregon. Mariota also was careful when he threw the football all three years he was a starter in college. Yes, he fumbled quite a bit, but he also ran the ball a helluva lot too and didn’t have much of an offensive line this year either. I am not all that concerned about the fumbles actually, that’s something I’m confident he can improve on. I do love the fact that he knows when to pull the trigger and when not to, however.
That doesn’t mean I think Mariota is overall the “better” quarterback of the two, but I do think he is the better fit here when you consider what this Bucs offense will and won’t need. As someone who is also defensive minded and has reviewed 17 of Winston’s 18 interceptions from last year, I just would be too nervous about him throwing into coverage to make that pick. Not when I have a very viable alternative. One that should excel with the big targets he will have at his disposal.
And that’s why Marcus Mariota would be my guy hands down.