They’re two of the most compelling, fun and ultimately best quarterbacks college football has ever seen. Both Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are fascinating as NFL draft character studies. Controversial vs charismatic, pro-style vs spread, risk vs risk. They each come with terrific upside and Pro Bowl calibre abilities and yet each comes with obvious risks. Given the value of the position they’re likely, and rightly, the first and second selections in the 2015 NFL draft. Let’s deep dive into both players and analyse the great Mariota vs Winston debate looking at all aspects; their football abilities, quarterback traits and intangibles.
MM: Mariota has a good frame – 6’4’’, 211lbs – with blazing world-class speed. Recent reports suggest that Mariota continues to add bulk and is up to around 225lbs to prepare for the punishment of the pro game. He naturally needed to add some weight and it’s significant to see that as the season went on (PAC-12 Championship game) that he was up in size and lost none of his top-end speed or agility. His top-end speed is possibly the best we’ve ever seen from a first round projected quarterback. He’s a world-class sprinter in the same vein as Robert Griffin but appears, at least on tape, to have an extra gear that even Griffin never had.
JW: Winston has a prototypical NFL frame – 6’4’’, 235lbs – and is adequately mobile. Winston is agile enough to avoid the rush and his top end speed is above average. His frame allows him to stay in the pocket and shake off rushers of a disproportionate size. He’s taken some big shots during his sophomore year yet has missed no time due to injury. The comparison used most often is Ben Roethlisberger and it certainly has merit. He does not have the speed of a Cam Newton but he shakes of defenders like a linebacker, he’s a freakishly built and tough athlete.
MM: Passing – Career: 779-1167, 10,796 YDs, 105 TDs, 14 INTs – 2014 (rJR): 304-445, 4,454 YDs, 42 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing – Career: 337 ATTs, 2,237 YDs, 29 TDs – 2014 (rJR): 135 ATTs, 770 YDs, 15 TDs
Mariota has had an electric career ever since he set foot on campus at Eugene Oregon. The key stat is the turnovers, just 14 INTs in his entire career to 119 total TDs. Added to the otherworldly stats are a Heisman Trophy, PAC-12 titles, CFB Playoff Semi-Final victory and a national championship appearance. He also redshirted in 2011.
JW: Passing – Career: 562-851, 7,964 YDs, 65 TDs, 28 INTs – 2014 (rSoph) 305-467, 3,907 YDs, 25 TDs, 18 INTs
Rushing – Career: 146 ATTs, 286 YDs, 7 TDs – 2014 (rSoph) 58 ATTs, 67 YDs, 3 TDs
Winston redshirted in 2012 and since then has gone on to dominate from within the pocket. 2013 was a perfect year with a low number of INTs, a perfect record, national championship and a Heisman trophy. His turnovers were extremely high in relation to Mariota in 2014 but he was without his stud wide receiver, running back and offensive linemen who all entered the 2014 draft. It is a red flag, but Matt Ryan also had a high turnover number in his final year at Boston College (19).
MM: Mariota is an outstanding individual. He’s a high character, humble, charismatic human being and every member of the school from coaches, students, faculty, boosters and media rave about his personality and maturity. He has the ability to connect with all who he meets and has become a more vocal leader. He continues to lead by example and he loves to be coached even if that means being chewed out. He has zero prima donna traits and has handled being the face of a program with nothing but professionalism. He’s a gym and film rat and is dedicated to the craft of being a quarterback and being a quarterback on the NFL level.
JW: Winston is an alpha-dog. He leads from the huddle, taking over in the big stage at the big moment making the big play happen. He leads by connecting with every player on the team and bringing Florida State as an institute of swagger. He’s shown more than once that the field is where he wants and needs to be and that no stage is too big for him. Off-the-field there are serious concerns over his maturity. Firstly, he’s been torn apart unfairly in certain circles for some non-football things. I truly believe that some of the issues will not be a factor when he is being paid like a professional but the allegations against him are serious and his decision making has been consistently dumb. Does yelling an obscenity impact his ability to lead? In my opinion, no. But it’s just a dumb decision that under the cloud he was living he should not have been making. As a redshirt sophomore he has a lot of growing up to do if he wants to be the face of an NFL franchise. He was suspended by his school in 2014 and lots of research needs to be done into the behind the scenes culture with Winston.
MM: Mariota rarely, if ever, seems rattled and no stage (including national title game) seems too big for him. He benefits greatly from Oregon’s uptempo spread offense that simplifies his reads and creates truck sized throwing windows. Is asked to play a numbers game and does a superb job of getting his guys into the right place. He has complete command of his offense. Mariota has become better at scanning the field and locating his targets, although he still takes too many unnecessary risks. His turnover number (4) is impossible to argue with. He’s more decisive through 2014 and has withstood the mental barrier of his own recent history (Stanford, Arizona). Great concern about his ability to throw on third down when he gets behind and the offense isn’t flowing. Unsure of his ability to step outside of an offense and make individual plays consistently when the offense isn’t clicking.
JW: Winston is a really inconsistent decision maker. He became much more decisive in 2014 but showed a scary tendency to force the issue and turn the ball over. Winston forces the ball downfield in a similar vein to Andrew Luck and doesn’t take his check down often enough (possible irrational confidence in his own ability over contemporaries). He’s no mortgage broker and he does a far superior job of scanning the field and working his progressions to the second and third read but he must learn a null play can be a good play. He’s more than capable of beating the blitz with his mind as much as his arm and legs and has anticipation skills that are off the charts. Showed the ability to come from behind, make pressure plays and improve those around him during the final BCS National Championship game. Can sometimes get on his own players but it comes from a competitive position and he doesn’t carry it onto the field, indeed he puts them in a strong position to succeed.
MM: Mariota’s accuracy is difficult to evaluate given his offense, but his mechanics have certainly come a long way since his first year. He marries his feet with his eyes and steps toward his target. He’s become much more consistent and fluid with his shoulders and feet and it has radically improved his release and ball placement. He leads his receivers and it’s shown in Oregon’s consistent ability to dominate teams after the catch. Throws with a nice rhythm and changes his velocity mid-drive. He’s improved his accuracy over the middle of the field and is more than a complete thrower on the run and can contort his body to throw off balance. His deep ball needs work but it is improving.
JW: Winston’s accuracy has been greatly exaggerated in certain circles. He’s a world class thrower of the football when all is right. He’s got a good body position and pairs the lower body and upper body consistently. However he is nowhere near consistent enough and as a result relies on his arm talent too much. He regularly misses the strike zone and has no business making the kind of 50-50 throws he often does. If he becomes more consistent with his footwork he has the ability to be the best passer in the NFL. As a result of the inconsistencies his accuracy comes and goes but it certainly improves as he throws down the field where his mechanics are simply flawless. On shorter and intermediate routes Winston gets sloppy and struggles, it seems to be a practice and effort thing. He’s just scratching the surface of just how good a pocket passer he can be. He doesn’t have the same ability on the run as Mariota but he is above average.
MM: Mariota has a quick, smooth over the shoulder release. He has a high release point that appears without effort. He’s thrown with more velocity with each passing year as he gets bigger and refines his mechanics. He can make all the throws necessary at the next level.
JW: This is where Winston separates himself from nearly all recent high-level quarterback draft prospects. Winston has an over the top release, limiting batted passes, and drives the ball in an instant. He gets the ball out with high velocity and can put the ball anywhere on the field. His arm talent limits his footwork, a common notion with unrefined college QBs, but can beat the blitz on balance as soon as he makes his mind up. He’s a rare talent within the pocket, extremely rare and his going to blow minds in pre-draft workouts.
MM: Mobility comes down not just to athletic ability to the ability to pick up and avoid the blitz with both physical skills and mental skills. Mariota is the most dynamic athlete of a generation. He can avoid pressure with both his arm and speed. He makes decisions early and most often they are the right one. He puts stress on every level of your defense. Up front do you contain and keep him in the pocket, blitz and commit extra men who he can beat to the edge? At the intermediate and third levels you are unable to make quick decisions nor can you trust them, due to his ability to pull the ball down and run with it or throw on the run. The stress he puts on the defense is reminiscent of Aaron Rodgers. He needs to show a greater ability of stepping up in the pocket and taking off immediately as well as identifying blitzes out of zonal coverage.
JW: Unlike Mariota, who stresses defenses at all levels with speed, Winston confuses and stresses a team upfront. Winston has rare and innate avoidance traits within the pocket. He climbs the pocket effortlessly and sense pressure from all angles. As previously mentioned he is strong enough to beat defenders who are all over him as well as beat teams out with his arm talent whilst staring the blitz down. He is quick enough to be a first and third down scrambling threat but will done most of his work moving within the pocket.
In summary, both Mariota and Winston are fabulous prospects who with the right supporting cast, coaches, support and scheme can be Pro Bowl calibre players. Winston in particular is truly a rare quarterback pro prospect within the pocket who has been overshadowed by self-created off-the-field concerns. Both are young, need development and could do with sitting for at least a season for whatever team they land on. There is nothing between the two. They each have the merits and any team who lands either one of these prospects should be delighted.