Many pundits and mock drafts have Florida State QB Jameis Winston being selected #1 in the coming NFL Draft, but is the Seminoles sophomore more valuable than Oregon QB Marcus Mariota? Let’s over-analyze.
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. It’s like the Florida State and Oregon QBs have become mysteriously attached at the hip in the last year. And chances are, the media will continue to compare the two players for years after they have both either succeeded or failed in the NFL. And these two cats are so good they could actually go 1-2 in the coming NFL Draft (April 30-May 2, ESPN) as both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans could really use decent QBs to build around for The Future. So, no better time than Now to compare the two QBs head-to-head in a number of different ways and examine how NFL-ready they may actually be right now and if Winston and Mariota are as good as advertised. One needs only to look to last year and the Cleveland Browns drafting of Heisman Trophy winner and Texas A&M product Johnny Manziel to see how Hype and Numbers have a certain way of sometimes throwing the General Public off and how First Round Draft Picks aren’t always worth the large sums of money they almost always generate in the present when judged later by the honest eyes of Father Time.
Jameis Winston, Florida State Seminoles
Jameis Winston possesses a couple of really admirable qualities that an NFL QB can have—size (6-4, 230 pounds) and great arm strength. Seeing over the line of scrimmage or being able to shake off big DL or LBs is a must to thrive and survive in professional football, and the 21-year-old Bessemer, Alabama native looks like he could possibly be picked #1 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL Draft and get that Monster Payday which will forever change his young life. Leading his Florida State Seminoles to the first College Football Playoff semifinal last season, the super Sophomore threw 305 completions for 3,907 yards, 25 TDs and 18 INTs. That’s right, 18 picks. A cause for concern.
For playing just two years of College Football, Winston—who attended Hueytown High School in Hueytown, Alabama—has accomplished quite a lot, and besides the blessed physical attributes of Size and a Strong Arm, Winston has also earned the deserved reputation as a winner. In his two years as the Seminoles signal caller, Winston went 27-1 straight up (SU) and last season as a Freshman, Winston led Florida State to a national title and an undefeated 14-0 record, defeating Auburn, 34-31 in the 2014 BCS Championship Game where he was named the game’s Offensive MVP. And when the dust finally cleared, the reality of all the Winston did in 2013—besides leading the Seminoles to the National Championship—was simply mind-boggling: 4,057 Passing yards and 40 TDs, both ACC and Division I FBS Subdivision I freshman records; winner the Davey O’Brien Award, the Walter Camp Award and, the coveted Heisman Trophy winner. Absolutely fantastique.
Besides all of the accomplishments, Winston is also a very good in the pocket and making last-second decisions, throws a pretty accurate ball and may be a tad more ready to run an NFL offense right now than Mariota. So the confidence, the expectations of winning, the size and the arm strength and the ability to react under pressure all make Winston look like a Can’t Miss prospect on the football field but could he end up struggling and having off-field problems like so many young athletes who suddenly become rich in the NFL end up doing?
Running a College Football Offense from the QB position is a whole lot different than running an Offense in the NFL. The defenders in the NFL, obviously, are much bigger, much quicker and the sheer speed of the game could be overwhelming to someone like Winston who has run a 40-yard dash as slow as 4.80.
The FSU QB has also had his share of issues off the football field, and one can’t help but think that the number of potential problems Winston may have personally as a pro could create some pause for potential suitors. Drafting Oregon QB Mariota, a Christian, may end up being be safer simply from the point of view that one likely wouldn’t have to worry about what the kid is doing off the field. But Winston is mega-talented, and was actually selected in the 15th Round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers. And taking a chance on a guy with one loss—ironically to Mariota and Oregon in this year’s Rose Bowl—in 28 college games is something a team hungry for wins like the Buccaneers and Titans (#2 pick) are definitely now in the market for—especially considering their current, somewhat desperate QB situations. In short, QB is easily the most important position in all levels of football and good QBs are way harder to find (and keep healthy) than the casual fan thinks.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks
Marcus Mariota probably wishes he could get out of the shadow of Jameis Winston, but the truth is that it will take a couple of years or more to really see what’s up with these two now 21-year-olds. Last season, Mariota led Oregon to the first-ever CFP championship game, where his Ducks were upset by Ohio State and the 6-foot-4-inch, 219-pound Mariota passed for 4,454 yards last season with a robust 42 TDs and just 4 INTs, winning the Heisman Trophy in the process. Mariota, who runs around a 4.50 40-yard dash—he had a 4.48 at the NUC Combine in High School—also took home the Davey O’Brien Award, the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2014. Not bad, huh?
Samoan American Mariota—who in 2012 became the first Freshman to start Oregon in 22 years—had an impressive 10,796 Passing yards in his 3 years in Eugene, throwing for a total of 105 TDs and just 14 Interceptions and he led the Ducks to a 12-1 record and a #2 ranking in that season where he was named Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year and as well as 2013 Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP. Another wonderful dynamic that Mariota—a product of famous Saint Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawaii where he won the state title his senior year—can bring to an Offense is his ability to Rush the football when needed. Mariota rushed 337 times for 2,237 yards and a mind-boggling 29 TDs in his career at Oregon. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Mariota also led FBS with a sexy 90.9 rating last season—4.2 points closer than the second-place finisher (JT Barrett, Ohio State).
And former Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti said that Mariota is a “better student of the game” than Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. “I think Marcus is a combination of the athlete and the student," he said. But the way young Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has emerged so quickly in the league with his calm demeanor, quick feet and ability to scramble for valuable Rushing yardage when the time’s right, Mariota would be very wise to emulate him. Few gave Wilson much of a serious chance and he has indeed ended up being the Real Deal in his short tenure in Seattle. Mariota and Wilson seem to have similar games, but just how fast Mariota can adapt to the NFL after playing in Oregon’s Arena Football-like Offense will remain to be seen and is one of the biggest reasons most Suits and Ties have predominantly been leaning to FSU’s Winston for the last couple of months.
Who really needs a good QB right now will dictate where both Winston and Mariota will go, and, as mentioned, both the Buccaneers (#1 pick) and the Titans (#2) could both use some stability and a young QB to build around. And, getting either one of these two young and dynamic players would also be good for ticket sales. The thought is that with no real franchise QB on the roster right now, Tampa Bay will likely decide to take Winston #1 as he may be more suited to quickly adapt to an NFL-style Offense and he also played for Florida State—a built-in way to get probably an additional 4,000 to 10,000 South Floridians interested in going out to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sundays to pull for The New Kid from The South. And most effective, fairly long-term NFL rebuilds start with drafting the right young guy at the QB position who thrives where he plays and whom the fans embrace.
If Winston does end up getting picked by the Bucs at #1 and Mariota is left there for Tennessee (#2) or maybe the New York Jets (#6), Chicago Bears (#7) or St. Louis Rams (#10), then maybe Tampa Bay will have ended up accidentally doing The Future Employer of Marcus Mariota a very big solid. The difference between a 4.80 40-yard dash guy (Winston) and a 4.50 40-yard dash guy (Mariota) is sort of like the difference between a Ferrari and a Volkswagen Beetle. And from a betting perspective, Winston was 13-14 ATS in his two seasons with FSU—10-3 ATS in 2013, 3-11 in 2014—while Mariota was a very impressive 25-14 ATS in his three years at the helm up in Oregon where Bigfoot eats whatever he wants and it rains 28 hours a day, 8 days a week. And when one player has 18 Interceptions in a season and another has just 4, one can’t help but think that maybe in The Proverbial Long Run, Mariota will end up being the better choice. Time will tell.
In the end, the personal stability of Mariota, his potential calming effect on a football team, his willingness to learn and grow, his tendency to take care of the football and his wonderful ability to Rush, Rush, Rush will end up sitting really well with at least one salivating NFL GM. Winston may possibly be a little more NFL-ready right now at this initial entry point into the league, but Mariota may end up being the wiser college football pick over Time because of his Head and his Legs. For most young QBs drafted into the NFL these days—except for the Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck and the aforementioned Russell Wilson on the NFC champion Seahawks—it takes some time to get used to the pro game, the New Money, the older, much larger and stronger players and the almost mind-boggling speed on the field. Going from playing College Football to the NFL is like going from driving NASCAR to driving F1. There’s fast and then there’s Blur. And you can’t teach Fast.