Because the Buccaneers are expected to take Jameis Winston with the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the intrigue really begins at No. 2 with the Tennessee Titans. Rumors are flying that it won't be the Titans who actually keep that pick.
Oregon's Style Hurting Mariota?
There can be no arguing the college statistics of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. He might have gone down as one of the greatest college quarterbacks in NCAA history if he had been able to beat Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff national title game. Still, Mariota won the 2014 Heisman and is certainly the greatest QB in Oregon history -- no Duck had won the Heisman.
So why wouldn't Tampa Bay take Mariota at No. 1 overall? He's a very cerebral quarterback, has great size and has no off-field problems. In fact, he's almost too nice. Some teams have questioned if he can be a vocal leader as that's generally expected of quarterbacks. Winston definitely is that, in fact his leadership is off the charts -- he just makes dumb off-field decisions. Winston also had the advantage of playing in a pro-style system at Florida State. Mariota just about never took a snap from under center at Oregon in that read-option spread offense. That scares some teams off. Think about someone like an Andre Ware or David Klingler, who both put up video game numbers in gimmick offenses at the University of Houston (Ware won a Heisman). Both were total flops in the NFL as first-round picks.
Perhaps the history of recent Oregon quarterbacks and the lack of any pro success in the NFL is working against Mariota: Joey Harrington? Kellen Clemens? Dennis Dixon? Darron Thomas? None of those guys were near as good as Mariota in college, although Harrington was a Heisman candidate in a different style offense. He was a major flop as a high first-round pick by the Lions. Of course I could also argue against the NFL success of recent Florida State quarterbacks like E.J. Manuel and Christian Ponder, both first-round picks in the past few years.
Mariota is given an 'over/under' of 3.5 for a draft position at sportsbooks in the draft's first round on April 30 in Chicago. The 'under' is a -210 favorite on the NFL odds and the 'over' is at +155. He's going No. 2 -- just perhaps not to Tennessee.
Titans Put Pick Up For Sale
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt says he likes his potential 2015 starting quarterback in Zach Mettenberger. Those who make NFL picks realize that Whisenhunt prefers big guys who are prototypical pocket passers. That's exactly what the 6-foot-5 Mettenberger is. As a rookie sixth-round pick last year out of LSU he played in seven games (all losses) and completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 1,412 yards, eight touchdowns, seven interceptions and a rating of 83.4. Not terrible for a rookie. The Browns certainly would have taken that from Johnny Manziel and the Jaguars would have too from Blake Bortles. That was a better rating than guys like Cam Newton, Nick Foles, Derek Carr, Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown. Plus the Titans had zero running game to speak of and an iffy offensive line.
Tennessee has multiple needs so perhaps the smart move is to auction off the pick, which could help them compete in the AFC South. The two teams rumored to be hottest on moving into that spot are San Diego and Cleveland. Well-respected NFL writer Jason Cole of Bleacher Report wrote this week that it's looking "stronger and stronger" that the Chargers will acquire Tennessee's pick to select Mariota. The Bolts would trade QB Philip Rivers, who is playing out his contract this season and doesn't want to follow the team to Los Angeles if it moves there in 2015, and the No. 17 overall pick at a minimum. Whisenhunt was Rivers' offensive coordinator in San Diego in 2013 when Rivers had one of his best seasons. Rivers also is from not far from Nashville as is his wife, so he presumably would be fine with that trade and sign an extension.
Cleveland has two first-round picks: No. 12 and No. 19 and new Browns quarterbacks coach Kevin O'Connell used to mentor Mariota. Maybe the Browns can throw in Manziel too as he clearly has no future in Cleveland and it would be a low-risk gamble by the Titans. Other teams that could move up to No. 2 to grab Mariota include the Bears, Jets, Redskins and Eagles. Mariota would fit perfectly with Philly and Chip Kelly, but the Eagles would have to pay a fortune to move up from No. 20.
I believe that Mariota is a lock to go No. 2 and would say there's about an 75 percent chance it's not by Tennessee.