Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were taken first and second overall in the NFL draft but which rookie will rule in 2015 and add value to our NFL picks?
The former University of Oregon superstar was chosen as the second overall pick in the draft by the Tennessee Titans, who have hardly been adept at picking high profile signal callers. In 2011 they called Jake Locker's name as the 8th overall pick in the draft and in 2006 claimed University of Texas product Vince Young with the 3rd overall pick in the draft. Neither player materialized leaving the franchise struggling to find a quality passer to lead them to glory. They are hoping Marcus Mariota is just that guy but oddly enough the NFL odds on him becoming the Offensive Rookie of the Year is, at first blush, a startling +1200 at 5Dimes.
However, when predicting what a rookie quarterback will do we must evaluate the talent surrounding him. Unfortunately for Mariota Tennessee's troubles are evident everywhere. As far as quality targets Mariota better hope that Kendall Wright goes from good to great in a hurry because he is the rookie's lifeline in an offense that doesn't have much to give. The Titans signed veteran Harry Douglas, a castoff from Atlanta, to provide leadership to a young receiving group that includes the enigmatic and confounding Justin Hunter. Tight end Delanie Walker should be a go-to-guy for Mariota as he likes to roll out and find those big targets along the sidelines. Tennessee will only go as far Mariota will take them but in this offense that will certainly be a struggle unless the offensive line gels in a hurry and that untapped potential in Hunter and high second-round pick Dorial Green-Beckham out of Wisconsin explodes onto the field this season.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Jameis Winston this season is... Jameis Winston. His off-field antics have been closely documented and the verdict is that the kid is a fool but a fool with enormous talent. Whether Winston is smart enough to learn from his mistakes is simply an unknown but there is no doubt he is not the quality, character guy who will be plying his trade under center in Tennessee this season.
In addition to sheer athleticism and the ability to make something out of nothing Winston has some talent around him in Tampa Bay. First and foremost is the skillful veteran Vincent Jackson who has been begging for someone to get him the damn ball (channeling Keyshawn Johnson) since he left San Diego. On the other side of the ledger is second year man Mike Evans, who found the endzone a dozen times last season in his rookie campaign. Both men are 6'5" so Winston should have no problem throwing the ball up and letting his big wideouts go get it.
Yet, one of the most stunning upgrades in Tampa Bay could come courtesy of the offensive line. The Bucs traded for All-Pro guard Logan Mankins last season and this season drafted highly touted blindside tackle Donovan Smith of Penn State and then snagged a brilliant right guard in Ali Marpet from a small Division 3 school in upstate New York named Hobart & William-Smith College known more for small class sizes and terrific academics than birthing NFL linemen.
Finally, Winston will have a rejuvenated running back in Doug Martin, who burst onto the scene with a stellar rookie campaign in 2012 but has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency in the subsequent two seasons. Winston will also have at his disposal an unheralded tight end in Tim Wright, who was cut by the Patriots in the offseason after trading their All-Pro tackle Logan Mankins to Tampa for him at the beginning of last season. The Bucs astutely claimed Wright back on the roster as the third year man out of Rutgers was underused and unappreciated in New England.
There have been five circumstances where quarterbacks were drafted first and second overall in the same draft. Each time there was a clear winner and loser. Most recently the Indianapolis Colts opted for Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III and there is no doubt they are glad they did.
In 1999 Tim Couch was selected first by the Browns over second overall pick Donovan McNabb. McNabb went on to six Pro Bowls while Couch languished in Cleveland and was never a factor.
We all remember 1998 when future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts and the biggest bust of them all, Ryan Leaf, was chosen by San Diego.
And finally in 1993 the New England Patriots selected Drew Bledsoe with the first overall pick while Seattle tapped Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer. Bledsoe enjoyed an excellent career with four trips to the Pro Bowl and led his team to the Super Bowl in his fourth season while Mirer fizzled tossing 76 interceptions to only 50 TD passes.
What will history say about this draft and the journeys of these two young men? If the storyline remains consistent then one will be a boon while the other will be a bust. For this season at least it looks like Winston has all the tools to not only make him a legitimate favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year at +600 NFL odds at bet365 but could also lead the Bucs right out of the NFC South cellar. Marcus Mariota may very well have a better career than his rival in Tampa Bay, but 2015 belongs to Jameis Winston.