Jameis Winston Vs. Marcus Mariota: 15 Experts Tell Us Which QB They’d Draft No. 1

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.

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Stephen White, Retired NFL Defensive End and SB Nation contributor – 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.

RELATED: The best QBs in the draft not named Mariota or Winston.

PFT Commenter, Purveyor of Takes – Mariota

This is the exact opposite of Sophies choice. If Im the Tampa Bay Buccaneers I would honestly rather find a recently dead professonal wrestler off my cities streets instead of either one of these joker’s. Youve got a guy in Mariota who is 100% a byproduct of a gimmicky offense and on the other hand Jameis Winston knows a thing or two about being “in the system” himself.

My only queston is if you tell Winston you dont want to draft him, will he just show up to traning camp and claim you guys wanted him all along? Could be a case of he said-we said IMO. Just something to think about. As far as Mariota goes- it still remains to be seen how he’ll adapt to playing in a league where they dont let you change uniforms every other offensive series.

But if your asking me if I had a gun to my head-  Id probably ask Jameis to put the gun down and then Id take Mariota.

Michael Felder, Bleacher Report – Winston

The answer for me is pretty simple: Jameis Winston. I know that he can do everything that an NFL quarterback will be asked to do, from day one. Mariota’s got a high ceiling because of the athleticism, but honestly, if I’m spending on a franchise quarterback, I just want a guy who can sit in the pocket, escape just a little bit, make every throw and not try to use his legs as a weapon.

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Chip Patterson, CBSSports.com – Mariota

Watching Winston light the sport on fire in 2013 will always be one of my favorite memories from college football, and both his size and arm strength fit all of the “traditional” requirements of the No. 1 QB taken in the draft. But Jameis is not my pick if I’m calling the shots in the war room. I think Winston and Marcus Mariota will both be successful in the NFL, but as a matter of personal preference I’m taking Mariota.

Mariota was not a system quarterback. Sure, the Ducks tempo-based attack led to some absurd offensive statistics, but if you look closely Mariota was so good that Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost had the system adapt to him. It did not take long to realize that Mariota, even as a freshman, was a much better passer — from arm talent to pocket presence and beyond — than Darron Thomas or Jeremiah Masoli. The downfield passing attack slowly ramped up during Mariota’s three years in Eugene, culminating with the absurd 2014 that included nearly 4,500 passing yards with 42 touchdowns and just four interceptions along with the nation’s best passer rating.

A system quarterback carries the suggestion that said player won’t be as successful in another system. I think all you have to do is look at the evolution of Oregon’s offense to see that the player made the system, not the other way around.

Mike Tunison, Kissing Suzy Kolber – Mariota

It’s a hard pick to make in a vacuum and, truth be told, I’m not wild about either quarterback at No. 1, though gun-to-head, I’m taking Mariota over Winston, both because Jameis has had problems limiting turnovers and because I’m not convinced Winston isn’t going to do something off-the-field to land him in trouble once his NFL career begins. Ideally, Mariota would land somewhere like Philly, with a coach that can utilize a mobile quarterback without exposing him to way too much contact, though absent a huge trade-up, that isn’t going to happen. Still, whatever reservations I have about Mariota’s game translating to the NFL, it’s nowhere near as bad as the concerns I have about Winston on and off the field.

Dan Kadar, Mocking The Draft – Winston

Although the decision between the two would be closer than what every mock draft would lead you to believe, I would draft Winston over Mariota. On the field, there are considerably fewer questions about Winston than Mariota. Winston is more ready for the NFL game right now, has a stronger arm and more often goes through his progressions. Even though he’s nowhere near Mariota athletically, Winston is athletic enough and physically more prepared for the pro game. Most importantly, Winston throws with better anticipation than Mariota, who had that issue masked in Oregon’s offense. Winston is a quarterback who should be able to work in any NFL system straight away. Whatever team drafts Mariota will have to be open to catering their offense to his ability.

I’m fully aware of, and slightly concerned by, Winston’s 18 interceptions last season. Almost everyone agrees, though, that all 18 aren’t purely on Winston. Even if we’re conservative in an interception readjustment and say Winston was responsible for 14, that’s close to the 10 Andrew Luck threw in 2011. That’s a long way of saying Winston’s interception numbers should be an issue, but maybe not a huge one. It should be just as concerning, if not more so, that Mariota has 27 career fumbles. Those weren’t all lost fumbles, but that number is alarming.

Both should be good pros – as long as they’re put in the right situation – but the edge for me is Winston.

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Bill Barnwell, Grantland.com – Mariota

I would draft Marcus Mariota, mostly based upon off-field concerns about Winston. I also have no idea what the right answer should be. I also think that it would probably be better for an NFL team to draft Winston, if only because he’s a more conventional quarterback and I think teams are more likely to handle a conventional quarterback better than they are someone with a less conventional skill set like Mariota’s. But if it were just up to me, I’d take Mariota.

Zac Ellis, SI.com – Mariota

Sure, Winston’s game has “No. 1 pick” written all over it. But his off-field behavior remains a major red flag. Throwing millions of dollars in Winston’s lap won’t suddenly improve his maturity. Does he have the tools to become a Pro Bowler? Absolutely. But he’s also shown a penchant for repeating mistakes, and the No. 1 overall pick doesn’t lend itself to high-risk, high-reward situations.

Mariota, meanwhile, is a sound investment. The primary question is whether his experience in Oregon’s offense can translate to the NFL. Still, Mariota’s football IQ and ability to avoid mistakes — on and off the field — is enough to quell those concerns in my mind. I’d draft the former Duck.

Ralph Russo, AP College Football Writer – Winston

I always preface this stuff with I’m no scout, but here goes:

I would take Jameis Winston over Marcus Mariota, and I make the judgment based almost solely on what I have seen of them on the field. Winston’s off-field issues range from slightly concerning to downright troubling. However, I don’t have enough information and personal interaction with him to make a fair and comprehensive evaluation of his character. Without that, I have to make this call mostly on performance, and when I watch Jameis Winston, I see a player who plays like a successful NFL quarterback.

He makes throws into tight spaces and under duress. He seems to throw with good anticipation and timing. He seems to understand how to get into a good play or out of a bad one. His size and athleticism are perfect for the NFL. A Ben Roethlisberger-type body. Big and burly, and maybe even a little doughy as he gets older, but still nimble enough and very strong. From the first game I saw Winston play I thought, ‘this is what a big-time NFL quarterback looks like.’

Whereas with Mariota, I love his athleticism, and his arm is good, and I see him do things that make me think he can be successful. But the running part of his game becomes secondary in the NFL, and the play from the pocket becomes emphasized. If you took away Mariota’s legs, he’s not one of the greatest college quarterbacks of the last 20 years.

I think Mariota can be great. I’m much more confident that Winston, at the very least, will be very good. I will pause for a moment, think about the off the field stuff, but based on the information I have, I’ll scoop up Winston pretty fast if it’s one or the other.

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Ashley Burns, Uproxx – Mariota

Putting aside the personal stuff and looking strictly at football as if I was a soulless NFL scout, I would probably take Marcus Mariota over Jameis Winston. I’m not gonna judge some college kid because he stole crab legs from Publix or stood on a bench and shouted a stupid phrase, because I helped myself to some stuff in college and also said some very idiotic things, even though I should have known better. Instead, I’m going to judge him based on the guys who came before him – Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel. The jury is obviously still out of Manuel, what with his new and improved offense, but Ponder’s as dudtastic as duds come.

Additionally, if I’m an NFL scout looking to make a big splash with an early pick, there’s a chance I stink at my job. So I’m gonna look at what the successful teams have done and try to copy them so I’ll keep my job and get more money from my team’s owner, who clearly has no clue what he’s doing. Therefore, give me Mariota and the hope that he’s the next Russell Wilson. And when you try to tell me that Wilson also had an elite RB and out-of-this-world defense on his side, I’ll laugh in your face. That’s because even if this plan fails, I’ll be fine. Why? Because I learned everything I know from Jeff Ireland.

Tom Fornelli, CBSSports.com – Winston

If not for the off-field issues it would be a no-brainer, I’d take Winston. He’s built for success in the NFL. He played in an pro-style offense at Florida State with NFL-style terminology and all that fun stuff. While Mariota ran Oregon’s offense to damn near perfection, there aren’t any NFL offenses like Oregon’s save for maybe the Eagles. And I don’t mean schematically. While a lot of old school NFL dudes write off all these SPREAD QBS, the truth is there are a lot of spread principles in NFL offenses these days. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers have been at the head of modified Air Raid offenses for a few years now.

The difference for a guy like Mariota will be going from a hurry-up, no-huddle to a traditional NFL offense where you make all the reads at the line, etc. There’s no reason to believe he can’t do it, but he’s going to need time to adjust to the NFL game. Winston won’t. Winston could step in that first week and basically know what he’s supposed to do, the only question would be can he.

And if I’m in the position where I have to take a quarterback, I want the one with the fewest performance-based questions surrounding him. So even with Jameis’ off-field stuff, I’d still take him over Mariota because I think the odds I’ll win football games with Winston are better than the odds I will under Mariota, and at the end of the day, that’s what my job performance is based on.

But, you know, if the Bears wanna draft Mariota I won’t be ticked off about it.

Peter Bukowski, SI.com – Mariota

In a vacuum, I’m riding with Mariota, which means when you add in the off-the-field questions, this is a no-brainer for me. Winston is clearly the stronger armed player with mental faculties already more accustomed to making NFL reads. The concept of throwing guys open makes sense to him and he has the arm talent to make anticipatory throws to all fields. But his decision making on and off the field worries me. It’s not just the interceptions, but the trust in his arm to take risks that just won’t fly at the next level.

Mariota, on the other hand, is conservative almost to a fault, more likely to take a sack than force a throw into coverage in the same way you see from Aaron Rodgers. Mariota’s obvious athletic ability could help ease his learning curve the way it did for Colin Kaepernick, and his quick decision making tells me he can grow into an NFL offense. Remember the discussion about if Russell Wilson were 6’3, he’d be a first-round pick? Well, Mariota is 6’4. SI’s Doug Farrar compared him to a baby Rodgers. To me, he’s a mix of the two.

Final Tally: Mariota – 9, Winston – 6