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Thread: Three Years Later: NFL EXECUTIVES pick Between Mariota & Winston

  1. #1 Three Years Later: NFL EXECUTIVES pick Between Mariota & Winston 
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    NFL execs pick between Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota
    Mike Sando
    ESPN INSIDER

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans had their problems, which is why both teams made their selections so early in the 2015 NFL draft.

    The quarterbacks they picked 1-2 that year -- Jameis Winston to the Bucs, Marcus Mariota to the Titans -- had the potential to change the trajectories of their franchises. Do they still? Did they ever? Which one would NFL talent evaluators prefer now, with three years' hindsight?

    Winston or Mariota? I asked evaluators that question before the 2015 draft and again this week. We'll dive into their then-and-now comments before taking a closer look at each QB in a broader context.


    Evaluator No. 1: Pro personnel director

    What he said in 2015: "Early on, I'd rather have Winston because he is more ready to operate within a pro offense, command the huddle. I see that personality, that energy. He believes too much in his arm. The coaches can tame that down. Long term, Mariota with a good QB coach will show. He will be like the guy who sat for two years and had an excellent career. Aaron Rodgers had that. Steve Young had that. When Mariota gets it, he is going to be good and will not beat himself."

    What he's saying now: "I would take Mariota still and say there is better upside with him. Mariota is still developing. The coaching change reflects how they were looking for someone to do a little better job developing him, bringing out the best in him. There is still upside. To me, 'Famous Jameis' still gets in his own way. He still does silly things on the field and off the field that slows his development. He wants to be a gunslinger and an ad-lib guy, and he makes bad decisions. Mariota's biggest downside has been the durability. I still think he is talented. He needs the right tools around him."

    Evaluator No. 2: Offensive coordinator

    What he said in 2015: "Mariota might be the better pick if he is not that far behind in terms of learning the pro system. You cannot have the No. 1 pick blow up on character. Taking Johnny Manziel will cost all those guys in Cleveland their jobs a year from now. Winston scares the hell out of me, but he is better than the other guy [Mariota]. He is a player. I like him. He is not afraid. He tries to do too much, but just looks like a winner when he plays. You feel like we can ride this guy. He is the guy who can pick up any ball and play any sport and beat you."

    What he's saying now: "It is hard to take Winston because his decisions are so bad, and it looks like he does stuff just to do stuff. You know he has been coached because Dirk [Koetter] does not mess around. Dirk is pretty tight offensively, and Winston just wings it sometimes. Mariota looks brittle to me, but you can do so many things because he can run so well. I just don't know how long you can do those things. This is not an exciting choice to make right now."

    What four other evaluators are saying now

    Pro personnel director: "The question is, is Mariota what he is? Have we seen the best of him? I still would probably take Winston. That energy he has is a little bit unharnessed. I just love the fiery leader that he has in him. To me, when I looked at Tampa Bay's roster, I saw all the talent but I also saw all the character risks they took. You have a volatile quarterback with that many character risks, it doesn't make for a great recipe. I felt like they were going to have some issues."

    General manager: "These guys are not failures, but they are not home runs, either. To continue that baseball analogy, they both could get thrown out at second base, one because of injuries and one because of character. I'd probably take Winston just because Mariota's injuries concern me."

    Offensive coach: "The word on the street is that Winston still does the childish stuff off the field because he thinks it's cool. He is competitive as s--- on the field. They win every two-minute drill against the defense in practice. It's just how competitive Jameis is. You love those things. If he ever got that other side of his life worked out, maybe he could really be something."

    Offensive coach: "I think Mariota would be outpacing Winston if he had been the one going to Tampa with Dirk Koetter and those offensive weapons. Instead, he goes to Tennessee with a head coach [Mike Mularkey] who is not really a quarterback guru and was best known in the league for what he did in Pittsburgh with those gadget plays he built off the running game. It will be fun to see how things work out with the new coordinator in Tennessee [Matt Lafleur]."

    Underwhelming impact

    Neither Winston nor Mariota appears to be ascending. Neither is necessarily declining. Neither is a bust. Neither is a savior. They appear to be a couple of roughly average starting quarterbacks with the potential to be better than that.

    Winston has 69 touchdown passes and 44 interceptions with a 55.4 Total QBR in 45 starts. His predecessors in Tampa Bay had three fewer touchdowns with two additional picks (46.4 QBR) over the 45 games immediately before Winston's arrival. The Bucs have had a better record with Winston in the lineup (18-27) than they had in the 45 games before he arrived (12-33). Winston's higher QBR and the team's modest statistical improvement on defense help explain the six-win gain.

    Surely, the Buccaneers expected more. Their 18-27 record with Winston in the lineup is two games better than their 16-29 mark during Vinny Testaverde's first 45 starts as the first pick in the 1987 draft; Testaverde left the team as an unrestricted free agent after five seasons.

    Mariota has 58 touchdown passes with 34 interceptions (54.6 QBR) in 42 regular-season starts. The Titans had seven fewer touchdowns and eight additional interceptions with a lower QBR (48.1) over the 42 games before Mariota arrived. The team's offensive efficiency has been flat overall, while the defense and special teams have improved, according to ESPN's metrics. Tennessee is 20-22 with Mariota in the lineup, compared to 13-29 in the 42 games before his arrival.

    If the Titans loved those results, they would not be on their second general manager and third head coach in four seasons since drafting Mariota.

    "The thing I think that we all forget about is, Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning isn't always available as the best quarterback coming out in a given year," a coach who has consistently favored Mariota over Winston said. "There sometimes are no winners in a particular quarterback draft, occasionally there is one winner and not very often, there are two that come out and drive it home."

    The bottom line

    Winston ranks 16th out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks in QBR since 2015. Mariota is 18th. All the QBs ranked higher than Mariota have been named to a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers (Winston went as Tom Brady's replacement after his rookie season). Most of the ones ranked lower than Mariota have not, and a few that have are either in decline (Jay Cutler) or already out of the league (Manning). Andy Dalton is the quarterback ranked between Winston and Mariota in QBR since 2015. He could provide a good barometer for their prospects.

    Andy Dalton's stats through 45 starts were a notch or two below those for Winston and Mariota. His interception rate (3.0 percent) was a little higher. His QBR (50.1) was a little lower. Dalton's 28-17 record as a starter in those games was much better, for one obvious reason: The Bengals ranked fourth in points allowed and second in ESPN's defensive efficiency metric during Dalton's first three seasons. Winston's Bucs have been 28th in points allowed and 23rd in defensive efficiency. Mariota's Titans have ranked 25th in points allowed and 17th in defensive efficiency.

    The Bucs have also been especially bad on special teams, ranking 27th in efficiency over Winston's three seasons (they are last in field-goal percentage over that span). Bump up the Bucs and Titans in some of those key areas and everyone will benefit, including their quarterbacks.

    Dalton produced a breakout 2015 season (his fifth in the NFL) when everything around him was at its best. The offensive staff had been together for years. Dalton had a good line anchored by Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Cincy had two young, healthy backs. A.J. Green, Marvin Jones Jr., Tyler Eifert and Mohamed Sanu missed only three games between them.

    The Bengals' personnel infrastructure has eroded significantly since then. Dalton hasn't been able to make up the difference. Winston and Mariota could be more talented, but there is no evidence so far that either can significantly elevate an unspectacular supporting cast. So it goes for the vast majority of quarterbacks, no matter how early they are drafted.

    For historical perspective, an evaluator pulled up a list of the 12 first-round quarterbacks selected over the past five drafts (2013-17). He placed Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson at the top. Jared Goff came next, a tick ahead of Winston and Mariota. Patrick Mahomes was sixth, with a notation that some might place him higher. Then came a grouping with Mitchell Trubisky, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, followed by a bottom tier featuring Paxton Lynch, EJ Manuel and Manziel.

    "It is a great exercise because it shows you the risk of a first-round quarterback," the evaluator said. "How many of the 12 have been a hit? Two? It kind of puts those guys in perspective, Mariota and Jameis. Is that what they are going to be, solid quarterbacks and not superstars? Dalton is going to be a 12-year, three-Pro Bowl guy. For Dalton, that is a great thing. You hit on a pretty good NFL quarterback in the second round. If you are taking a guy first or second overall, are you OK with that?"
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  2. #2  
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    This is easy.

    Mariota has been as good or better than Winston minus the weapons on offense Jameis has had.
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