The NFL Draft is now an integral part of the NFL season for fans as it has become a nationally televised and highly publicized event. As would be expected, the incoming rookie quarterbacks are the most speculated group of each class due to their critical role in the success of a team (and how sad/desperate a handful of fan bases continue to be come late April/early May). The combination of both of these factors makes for 24/7 talk about “the next great quarterback prospect,” and this is especially true for 2015.
Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have taken the college football world by storm over the past few seasons and both of them have been stars since their respective Redshirt Freshmen years. As of just over a week ago, both of them are now Heisman trophy winners, as well. One, Winston, already has a national title to his name and the other, Mariota, is now closer to that pedestal than he has ever been. In short, Mariota and Winston are prestigious and well-decorated collegiate quarterbacks.
But their college days will soon come to an end and they will take their talent to the professional level. Their names will be called on April 30th, turning their life long dreams into a reality. With both of them being immensely talented, it is still unsure as to which of them will hear their name first. Though, the constant bickering about the two is not just about who will be called first, but why will it be them.
For many, Mariota is (or they believe he should be) the surefire No.1 quarterback and possibly No.1 overall pick. He has displayed arm talent, accuracy, athleticism, composure and veteran-like stability over the course of three seasons as a starter. Steady progression has been shown over the years, especially in the departments of being smart outside the structure of the offense and being a more aware player. The Oregon star is also a graduate in General Sciences, which, if nothing else, shows maturity and responsibility.
On paper and on film, Mariota is #DraftTwitter’s golden boy, deservingly so. There are few holes in his game and he does most everything well. He does not have any off-field issues that people would be inclined to freak out about and he has yet to have a serious injury (though, he did suffer a minor MCL tear in 2013 that did not sideline him).
For more credibility, one can point to Bill Parcell’s thresholds, which I stumbled upon in Matt Miller‘s “Scouting 101″ series.
Mariota checks out in all four of these areas, assuming that a Redshirt Junior is equivalent to Parcells viewing them as a Senior. Of course, Mariota is not a perfect prospect, but it would be nitpicky to say that he is not a first round quarterback prospect.
Conversely, there is Winston. The young Alabama native took over for EJ Manuel in 2013 and his talent was immediately made known. In Winston’s first start against Pitt, he looked as if he had been a starting college quarterback for years. Pocket navigation, arm talent, anticipation; all the key traits were there. He would go on to have a wonderful season in a more pro-style offense than Mariota has operated in at Oregon.
Though, as we are all aware of, more of the Winston criticism stems from what he does when he doesn’t have pads on. The crab leg incident, the rape accusation, the yelling of expletives in public, etc. have all been stories haunting Winston. Of course, they were self-inflicted (rape case is unclear), but they have taken a toll on Winston’s stock and his mental clearness as a player.
Winston has been seen as a regressed player this season, though that is not the case. Different, yes, but he is still a high-level prospect. He has a better arm than Mariota, has consistently shown touch and anticipation, his pocket movement is natural and he has the poise to rise to the occasion when necessary. Just as I said with Mariota, Winston is not a perfect player. It is actually easier to poke holes in Winston’s game than it is Mariota, but Winston has shown that he has the raw ability to be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
Both players are going to be good professionals, but it can be tough to definitively say which is better. For me, the race is close, but Mariota has a slight edge. This game alone will not be the be-all, end-all factor when discussing these two, but with each player being as highly debated as they are, a head-to-head match-up will give an added layer of context trying to distinguish the two.
The #DraftTwitter community can be rather short-minded at times, so a game that puts the clear top two quarterbacks of this class in a dog fight will be highly anticipated, over-analyzed and talked about until they both retire.
Backpacking from that statement, the talk surrounding the two has quite simply gotten annoying. There is no way around it. Narratives are being forced and assumptions are being made about them as people, it is just getting out of hand. If nothing else, what needs to come of this game is silence. Marcus Mariota has played three full seasons and Jameis Winston has played two, and it has lead up to this game. They will fight, one of their teams will come out on top, then the smoke needs to clear.
They will have put everything out on the line. After a game like this, the draft community as a whole will have the opportunity to gather their final thoughts and be done with it until they have begun their NFL careers.
But alas, that is wishful thinking and the constant coverage will ruin the fun of the NFL Draft process and ability to enjoy these players, just like we saw with Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel last year.