It’s the great debate that will likely last long after the two quarterbacks are drafted – who is the better prospect, Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. The two Heisman Trophy winners represent the two true “top tier” quarterbacks who will be available in the 2015 NFL Draft (assuming Winston does indeed decide to leave Florida State, as many believe he will).
So how do the two compare against one another? We break down the two quarterbacks and narrow down their likely city or residence following next Spring’s draft.
NFL Transition (On Field)
For the past few years, Mariota and Winston have been two of the top quarterbacks around all of college football. Their athleticism and skill have made the two of them electric on the field.
Mariota, at no fault of his own, will be coming into the league a step behind Winston in terms of knowledge when it comes to a pro-style system. At Oregon, Mariota’s strengths are showcased in a system that allows the quarterback to use his legs to make plays happen. Seldom is Mariota asked to stand in the pocket, read defenses and deliver passes to his receivers. By no means is that to say he isn’t capable of doing so, we just have yet to see display this ability on a consistent basis.
In the NFL, Mariota will be asked to stand tall in the pocket. His three years with Oregon have shown increased confidence in this area, but Mariota still looks unsettled when it comes down to reading defenses and going through his reads from the pocket. Before making his reads, Mariota often chooses to escape the pocket in order to make plays happen on the run. As Johnny Manziel can attest to this season, that type of play is easier said than done in the NFL.
For Winston, transitioning to the NFL will be more of a seamless transition thanks in large part to his time leading the Seminole’s pro-style offensive scheme. Coach Jimbo Fisher often asked his leading man to do what the Ducks avoided with Mariota – stand in the pocket and read defenses. Winston has not only shown that he is capable of doing so, but he also has excelled in making tough throws while successfully going through his progressions from the pocket.
While Winston’s style of play will be more adaptable to the NFL than that of Mariota, Winston’s competition was often far inferior during his career than that of his counterpart. While Winston squeaked by the likes of Florida, Boston College, Miami and Notre Dame, Mariota led the Ducks to dominating victories over Michigan State, UCLA, Standford and Winston’s own Florida State. There is no denying Winston’s experience gives him the edge in this category, but his lack of stiff competition could hold him back at times.
NFL Transition (Off Field)
The struggles of Winston off the field have been well-documented during his time leading the Seminoles. From rape allegations, to theft and obscene behavior, Winston’s college career has been as eventful off the field as it has been on the gridiron. At a time when the NFL’s reputation has never been more fragile, teams are taking off-field behaviors into great consideration. As teams observe the headache Manziel has caused the Cleveland Browns during his rookie campaign, the drafting of Winston could easily be considered too much of a gamble for some teams in need of a young signal-caller.
While Winston draws attention to himself in every way possible, very little has been seen or heard from Marcus Mariota off the field during his collegiate career at Oregon. The reserved quarterback often keeps to himself, preferring to let his production on the field speak for itself. Well respected by coaches, teammates and fans alike, Mariota is the dream leader for many scouts – leading his team by example on and off the field.
During his collegiate career, Mariota has shown the ability to make all of the throws on a football field. From deep balls to crossing routes and sideline throws, Mariota has the arm strength to be successful. While he has the capability to make those throws, his accuracy is not as consistent as one would prefer on throws 20 yards and beyond. With the NFL boasting bigger and faster cornerbacks than Mariota has faced in college, he will need to ensure his accuracy improves before he can take the next step towards becoming a successful starter in the league.
Winston arguably has one of the strongest in football. And while that title isn’t always a blessing (we’re looking at you JaMarcus Russell), Winston possesses impressive accuracy to propel become even more lethal in the passing game. Where Mariota lacks in deep-play accuracy, Winston excels. The Seminole quarterback has the unique ability to throw darts across the field that are, at times, reminiscent of those thrown by one Aaron Rodgers. While Winston has quite a ways to go to come close to Rodgers and his abilities, the similarities between the two in terms of arm strength are definitely visible.
The best way to describe Mariota’s athletic ability would be to use the word “enjoyable”. There are very few guys who make escaping 350-pound monsters look cool, but Mariota finds a way to do it. Much like Russell Wilson, Mariota is shifty and elusive with the way in which he runs. Perhaps most impressive is Mariota’s loose hips, which allow him to change direction and maneuver throughout the field abruptly and smoothly. With many quarterbacks, simply being forced out of the pocket creates panic and poor decision-making – that is not the case with Mariota who excels when on the run.
Not only is Mariota an impressive escape artist, but he is always a candidate for a big play on designed quarterback runs. Much like Wilson, Mariota is wise in the ways in which he runs as he avoids the shots often taken by Robert Griffin III. Mariota’s speed and surprising strength allow him to out-run lineman and linebackers while overpowering members of opposing secondaries. When he relies on his feet, Mariota is incredibly dangerous.
Winston is athletic, but not nearly on the same level of Mariota. While Mariota’s moves are fluid and natural, Winston often moves like a productive machine in need of some fine-tuning. His moves are heavy and harsh, often relying more on power than elusiveness. While not the threat to bust a long run like Mariota, Winston is incredibly difficult to bring down. Like Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger, Winston can stand tall in the pocket because of his ability to break would-be-tacklers.
Both of these quarterbacks have yet to see very much adversity in their collegiate careers – Mariota has compiled a collegiate record of 36-4, Winston 27-1. Mariota had four opportunities throughout his career to bounce back from losses, and he has done so with ease. Like quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Mariota has a short memory. He is able to forget the last poor play or loss, regroup and continue leading his team going forward.
For Winston, he has faced just one loss in his career at Florida State – and it came on New Year’s Day 2015 in an embarrassing 59-20 loss to Mariota’s Oregon Duck in the Rose Bowl. Facing arguably the best team so far in his career, Winston struggled mightily as the game progressed in the second half – not only in terms of production, but also mentally. Cameras often caught Winston losing his composure on the field and among coaches/teammates on the sideline. At one point, coach Jimbo Fisher appeared to tell Winston to calm down or he would be benched.
Not only did Winston struggle during the game facing adversity, but he seems to be still struggling the day after as he tweeted that his Seminoles still had the same amount of losses as the champion. It is that immaturity and lack of mental fortitude that could make Winston an enigma for teams and coaches.
In terms of who is the better prospect at this moment in terms of talent, the answer is clearly Jameis Winston. He possesses all of the tools to translate into a successful NFL quarterback.
With that being said, it will take the absolute right situation for Winston to succeed. Much like Geno Smith with the New York Yets, failing to immediately put Winston in a position to succeed will derail his career before it ever gets off the ground. Jimbo Fisher allowed Winston to run free and dictate Florida State football, that can not be the case with whomever selects the 2013 Heisman winner. For Winston to succeed, he will need to be faced with discipline and a locker room full of players willing to hold him accountable while helping him mature along the way.
Mariota: Now that Chip Kelly is completely running the show for the Philadelphia Eagles, it seems too perfect that he could find some way to trade up to number two with the Tennessee Titans to grab Mariota. Kelly’s type of offense was specifically created for a quarterback like Mariota. This would be the one situation in which Mariota would only need to “tweak” his game instead of re-defining it to become a successful NFL quarterback. If the asking price is too high (aka Philadelphia ownership is unwilling to sign off on the move), then it is likely the Titans walk away with Mariota.
If that is the case, we will see just how important it is to draft quarterbacks that fit your scheme instead of just the “best player available”. With Kelly’s scheme, Mariota could flourish and become a star. With the Titans, Ken Wisenhunt runs the risk of trying to develop Jake Locker-part two. That’s not a knock on Mariota or Wisenhunt, it’s just all about playing to his strengths. Mariota isn’t like the quarterbacks Wisenhunt excelled with (Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers), he is the complete opposite.
Winston: Despite their putrid 2014 season, Winston could absolutely flourish under Lovie Smith leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His big arm would not only elevate the play of big-time receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, but Winston would immediately be surrounded with playmakers – something he would be void of in places like Tennessee, Jackonsville and Oakland.
By surrounding Winston with such talent, Tampa Bay can play to Winston’s need to succeed .With Smith leading the way, Winston once again would be given that “father figure” he had with Fisher at Florida State. However, unlike Fisher, Lovie Smith would be unwilling to put up with Winston’s antics. While Fisher’s success was directly tied to Winston, Smith has the track-record to show that he was successful long before Winston came along. Smith is loved and respected by his players, but he is also fierce and stern – exactly what Jameis Winston needs in order to succeed.
Cover Photo: Ryan Kang/Daily Emerald
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