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Marcus Mariota Or Jameis Winston: Who's The Better Prospect?

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With Geno Smith sinking to new levels of ineptitude in his three 1st quarter interceptions against the Buffalo Bills, the question of the 2015 draft eligible quarterbacks was always likely to come up. So I've decided to post a very early look at two of college's finest QB's and what makes them tick.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The word in college football is that both Mariota and Winston will leave Oregon and Florda State respectively and enter the 2015 NFL draft. Let me preface this whole article my stating categorically that there are more QB prospects worth looking at in this draft than just those two. Guys like Connor Cook from Michigan State, Brett Hundley from UCLA and Garrett Grayson (a personal favorite of mine) from Colorado State all have talent and when we get closer to the draft, we'll start to take a closer look at all of these guys. However, at this moment in time, it is generally agreed that Mariota and Winston are top 5 prospects and with the Jets sitting at 1-7 and experiencing horrible quarterback play, it's logical to ask the question in the headline.

When evaluating a quarterback prospect, I'll always look at the following:

  • Character
  • Size
  • Arm Strength
  • Accuracy
  • Delivery/Release
  • Running Ability
  • QB Intelligence
  • Drop Back/Feet
  • Pocket Presence/Poise
  • Leadership

So if you'll stay with me throughout. I'm going to focus on each aspect and give you my thoughts. I expect many won't agree, but that's why every team's draft board is different. I wrote an article some time ago (2010) about "Trusting The System: The NFL Scout" which highlighted a few aspects of scouting in general. Everyone has their favorite prospects, the guys you'll defend to the end. I always defended Harrison Smith, as well as a number of other prospects over the years, most of them from Notre Dame. I always respect opinions of others even if I don't agree with them, all the observations below are my own and based on the games I've witnessed.

Character

When I think of the two players, I think of two entirely different prospects who will bring entirely different qualities to your team. It confuses me when people tell me to take character out of it, that's not how you evaluate players. You have to include character because that can cause a mountain of problems and issues that permeate throughout your franchise. Marcus Mariota has an outstanding character, a nice approachable guy who studies hard, keeps his nose clean and understands he is the leading figure of a major FBS program who can't afford to lose him to silly immature mistakes. Jameis Winston obviously has some growing up to do, he has been caught doing several silly things that have cost him game time and respect.

The character issues with Jameis Winston are quite concerning. He was accused of sexual assault, and although he was never charged there was a big investigation into irregularities of the police investigation. I don't want to get into this, but look closely and something doesn't seem right. He brought a BB gun onto campus and shot at squirrels. He has on numerous occasions shoplifted small items and earlier this year he was suspended for an entire game after a vulgar incident at the student union. I've read numerous quotes from scouts, GM's who say his character is a red flag and the best thing he can do is stay in school and mature as a person. Some will say it's just a kid being a kid, I disagree, after all I don't want to put the keys to the franchise's future in the hands of a kid.

That's character, personality and maturity. I don't think anyone can argue that Marcus Mariota is by far, the more accomplished in his regard and the more reliable player off the field. Whether you put much importance on that or not, we live in the social media age where everything is caught on video, it's far more important to have a clean character now than it was in the 1990's.

Better prospect in this category: Marcus Mariota

Size

Both prospects possess excellent size for the position. Marcus Mariota is 6'4 219lb's and Jameis Winston is 6'4 and 230lb's. Winston possesses a better build and reminds a lot of people of Big Ben, which I can understand. Mariota has a leaner frame but he still has enough strength to work through tackles. Winston however has the broader shoulders, the thicker waist and uses his size to avoid a lot of pressures and potential sacks. There really isn't a lot to choose from between them, they both have the height but Winston has the build. When both player evaluations come in at the end of the college season, size will be listed as a strength for both.

Winston

© Melina Vastola | 2014 Oct 18

Better prospect in this caegory: Jameis Winston

Arm Strength

For some reason, some people seem to suggest that Mariota has a weak arm because  the majority of his throws in college only travel a short distance. This is simply a false assumption based on offensive system. Mariota while not elite has above average arm strength and I've seen him throw the ball down field with ease. Although he works out of a spread offense at Oregon, and a lot of the throws are on quick reads and behind the line of scrimmage, that doesn't mean he can't throw down field. At times he has had to throw down field and his arm strength has never been an issue in any game I've witnessed. If you're rating the arm strength out of 10, you're probably giving Marcus a very solid 7.5.

This is a category that Winston really excels in. In 10th grade, Winston could throw a football 70 yards through the air. His first year in college he was throwing balls over frat houses. The video that is available on youtube shows him slinging a ball a fair distance with ease. Andrew Luck has a once in a generation arm when it comes to arm strength, however Winston isn't far away from that. He constantly throws the ball down-field as FSU and he makes every single throw with zip. It's very rare to see a ball under-thrown when it's coming out of his hand. Some times he puts too much mustard on the shorter throws, making it a little difficult for his receivers to catch the ball.However that's not the question here. Rating his arm strength out of 10, you're probably giving him a very good 9.#

Winston

Pure Arm Strength

Better prospect in this caegory: Jameis Winston

Accuracy

Again, some will try to argue that the superb accuracy that Marcus Mariota exhibits is down entirely to the offense he runs. I've seen a lot of Oregon games this year and last year and that's simply not true. Yes, running a spread offense is always going to help a QB but when asked to thrown down field, make post-snap reads and deliver the ball to the correct spot, Mariota is at the top of the college QB chart. I've seen him make accurate throws on the run, to the outside, over the middle, down the sideline, in the flats, on check downs, on hot reads and going deep. His ball placement is among the elite, one of the finest I've seen since I started watching prospects over a decade ago. He has enjoyed 68.5% (2012), 63.5% (2013) and 68.8% (2014) completion percentages in college. His ability to spot the ball in the face of pressure means he has a very valuable asset that a lot of teams will like when they come to evaluate him for their teams.

Currently, Jameis Winston is enjoying a very accurate season with Florida State. Last year he enjoyed a 66.9% completion record and this year he is currently throwing 70.6% completion. However saying that, his ball placement isn't half as good as Mariota's and he often throws balls up for grabs with plenty of air under it. Luckily last year he had Kelvin Benjamin who helped out a lot on those jump balls. Now that is not to say that Winston is inaccurate, not at all. His accuracy on deep throws is elite, he sometimes misses on the intermediate throws over the middle, which come down to timing, but with the completion percentage, you can see that's not a major issue. I don't think Winston will maintain his 70% completion record but he'll end up around the 65% mark.This is a very close call for who I consider to have the better accuracy, however in terms of ball placement, I have to go with:

On The Run

Better prospect in this category: Marcus Mariota

Delivery/Release

Marcus Mariota excels in the offense of Oregon because he has an excellent, clean, compact and quick throwing motion that doesn't deviate much from throw to throw, his quick and compact release allows him to throw with excellent timing and get the ball in the hands of his receivers quickly, what a spread offense is all about and what will be expected from a quarterback entering into a west coast offense. He has a high point of release that allows balls to travel with zip to their targets without danger of being tipped and intercepted. I really like Mariota's motion and his throwing motion is ready for the NFL.

Jameis Winston has a troubling motion that I really don't like. It looks a lot slower and elongated. When throwing quick read passes, especially over the middle, his elongated motion causes some timing issues. Again he doesn't have a Tebow motion or anything of the sort, but his release is a little wider than you'd like and with it being a little slower, it may cause a few issues at the next level when he comes under a lot more pressure than he's ever experienced in college. I don't think it's a major issue and he still has a high enough release point, but he does have a tendency to fall off his throws. This one is pretty straight forward for me:

Better prospect in this category: Marcus Mariota

Running Ability

Marcus Mariota is by and large one of the finest running quarterbacks I've seen when it comes to a guy who is just as talented with his arm. His ability to not only spot the gaps but accelerate through them make him a home-run threat in both facets of the game, running and passing. Over the course of his career he has had 752 yards, 5 touchdowns (2012), 715 yards, 9 touchdowns (2013) and 325 yards, touchdowns (2014, so far). He has excellent speed, tremendous athletic ability a enough mobility to scare the living daylights out of defensive coordinators. He's a very smart runner in that he protects the football and has a second gear too, he also has some moves in the open field. He avoids contact as much as he can and his ability to throw on the run make him an elite prospect for teams that like to move their QB's around the pocket and work off play-action and bootlegs.

Marcus Mariota

Superman

Winston is not a running quarterback but he does have the athletic ability and mobility to extend plays with his legs when needed. He hasn't really run all that much this year, accumulating under 50 yards of rushing. Last year he had 219 yards on 88 carries, which is only good for a 2.5 yard average. Like I said though, he's not a running quarterback, he's a pro style passer. He can extend plays and he does that a lot to avoid pressure and he can run, he would just prefer to beat you with his arm. This is a very clear category for a winner:

Better prospect in this category: Marcus Mariota

QB Intelligence

Marcus Mariota is a very safe quarterback. Over the course of his three seasons with Oregon he has thrown 11 interceptions against 87 touchdowns. Now he does have a lot of high percentage throws, however he also throws down the field and will often make the safe read. Yes he does have pre-snap reads but I've also seen him throw the ball away when the play isn't there, take the safer option when his primary read is well covered and take off if he doesn't see the passing lane. In short, he just doesn't turn the ball over very often and he often makes the right decision when it comes to throwing the football. If you pick out 2-3 games from 2012,2013 or 2014, you'll see the same thing, a guy who reads the play well and delivers the ball on time and away from pressure. His intelligence for the game is indisputable, the game at Oregon flows very quickly and he's constantly on top of his reads, checks and adjustments. Oregon works on a zone-read, read-option offense which requires a high football IQ both before the ball is snapped and once the play is in motion. Will he be able to make the transition to a pro-style offense? That's the big question, but nothing in his college career suggests he won't be able to.

Jameis Winston also exhibits exceptional intelligence for the game. He makes adjustments before the play and after the play, he works through reads and consistently finds his hot reads, and number one and two receivers. He is also adept at taking off when he needs to. Fortunately one thing has been noted about Winston and if you google this, it will come up in pretty much every single assessment. A big weakness was exposed last year by Auburn and their blitz heavy man-to-man pressure defense. Although he orchestrated the victory for Florida State he had one of the lowest completion percentages in his career, he at times looked confused and panicked when facing exotic blitzes and he often delayed his throws which affected his timing and accuracy. In the NFL you will see exotic defenses, time and time again. Blitzes will come from the left, right, defensive backs, linebackers, safeties, delayed and overload, recognizing this and reacting accordingly is a major factor for an NFL QB. I've seen him struggle at times with this, although this year he looks to be making some big improvements. When given time, his intelligence and recognition of where to go with the ball is elite! When pressured, he starts to unravel just a little. Again, with another year in college, this will probably go away.

Mariota

© Cary Edmondson | 2014

Better prospect in this category: Marcus Mariota

Dropback/Footwork

This is a tough one to really judge because Marcus Mariota often takes his snaps from the shotgun almost exclusively. He rarely has to drop back and as such there is very little video evidence to suggest he can or can't do this. However when researching this article I found something from Oregon that suggested Mariota was staying 30-40 minutes after team sessions to practice his center exchange. Now I've watched a lot of Oregon this season and they rarely run a play from under center, however it's encouraging to hear that Mariota is taking his future in the NFL seriously and he is working on this aspect of the game. Once he does snap the ball however, his footwork is excellent, sliding away from pressure and stepping into his throws. He rarely gets happy feet and that's a positive for any NFL franchise. However he will need to prove to scouts that he is comfortable throwing off 3,5 and 7 step drops during the pre-draft workout.

Jameis Winston's dropbacks are exceptional. He builds speed as he drops and he is one of the better quarterbacks in college at taking NFL standard 7 step drops. His feet are clean and structured during the drop back, he keeps his eyes up and he's very tall at the end of his drop, ready to throw. His footwork is OK once he has made his drop, this was the one area highlighted as needing big improvements going forward. It's not terrible, but he needs to ensure he feels pressure and slides away from it rather than get happy feet. His footwork is an issue for me and although he's made improvements this year, I still think he needs another year in college with coaching to clean this area up a bit. However because his drops are so clean and we don't know if Mariota can do that, the winner here is clear for me.

Winston 2

Better prospect in this caegory: Jameis Winston

Pocket Presence/Poise

Mariota has outstanding pocket presence and poise. He often makes throws under duress and his accuracy doesn't suffer all that much it seems. He keeps his eyes downfield and he feels pressure to slide away from it. He also has the ability to extend the play with his feet which makes him a very valuable asset. He delivers balls while getting hit and he doesn't mind standing tall and taking the hit if it's going to result in first downs. This is a major major asset for any quarterback and he has really evolved over the course of this season with his innate ability to just feel where that pressure is coming from. He doesn't get happy feet and he stays tall, he really is a very impressive quarterback in this regard.

Winston is hot and cold in this regard. For the majority he is exceptional, I've seen him deliver pass-after-pass on the button while getting drilled. He will stand up tall, deliver the ball and take off if he spots pressure coming with no open receiver. However he also has a tendency to lose his pocket poise once he has been under duress. We saw this against Auburn, he drops his eyes because he doesn't feel pressure as well as Mariota, this means he loses the position of his read and this delays the mechanics of delivering the pass. 85% of the time, he is absolutely fine but when faced with heavy pressure, Winston needs to do a better job of keeping his eyes downfield and feeling the pressure rather than looking for it. Again, this was an area that Mariota needed to improve in, and he did that during his 3rd year, I'd fully expect Winston to do the same.

Accuracy

Better prospect in this category: Marcus Mariota

Leadership

Marcus is the life and soul of this Oregon offense, everything runs through him and he leads by example on and off the field. If you're looking for someone to scream and shout, then the cool exterior of Marcus Mariota won't be for you. He's a passionate guy and that comes through at times, but for the majority he is a guy who will personify cool, calm and collected and that may be due to his Hawaii roots. However his team wanted him to be more of a vocal leader, they wanted him to take more of a central role. Apparently that is going very well with Mariota taking a more vocal stance in practice and during team meetings. He's not going to be Jonny Manziel ranting and raving in the face of his team mates if they make a mistake and you won't catch him jumping up and down on the sideline. Some say he reminds them of Joe Flacco, for me he also reminds me of Peyton Manning in terms of his demeanor. I'm not saying his game is similar to Peyton's, that would be ridiculous, but his "on to the next play" attitude is something very reminiscent of the former Tennessee man. I like my quarterbacks to be more in this mold than the other, but I understand people who don't.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have Jameis Winston. A ranter and raver who will get in the face of anyone who makes a mistake. As long as the QB is performing he can do this, but you try doing this when you're making errors and it's going to cause friction. On the field, Winston leads by example better than anyone, he makes big play after big play against top opponents to win his team the game. Off the field he is the worst kind of leader and several people have commented that he needs to become a better leader before he hopes to get an NFL locker room to follow him. He's still making these immature decisions that make him and the program look bad, his immaturity is a big factor and the fact he made an abusive comment that resulted in a suspension not a month ago means he has a long way to go before he is the leader everyone wants to see. People have said he needs to stay in college one more year and prove he is mature enough to be handed a lot of money and a lot of responsibility, and I think that's the right move to make.

Better prospect in this category: Marcus Mariota

Conclusion

First of all, if you're still reading me rabble on about these prospects after 3,000 words, you deserve a medal, and thank you for reading. I think it's obvious from the above that I think Mariota is the safer and more polished prospect right now. In many ways when I was writing this, I kept thinking about the 1998 draft with Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. On one hand you have this fiery character with some maturity issues who has unlimited potential and could be the next great quarterback to play in the NFL. On the other you have this reserved character who's a very safe prospect who will say and do all the right things and in the end prove to be a safe option. Now obviously there are some stark differences in this situation, the respective games of the prospects and the NFL in general now in comparison to the late 90's.

Winston could be very special.However if I were a friend of his or close to him, I would plead with him to return to college for one more year. In the space of that year, he can improve on the small deficiencies in his game like Mariota did and he can prove to NFL scouts, owners and general managers that he can be trusted to be given the keys to the franchise. Right now, with his maturity issues, I'm not handing him a boat load of money and investing my franchise in him. Now he's not toxic and these are childish things. However that's why you have college, and staying one more year will probably mean a more mature Winston when he exits for the NFL. I have spoken to a few people over the last month or so, and the feeling is that his stock is going down rather than up. He has all the talent in the world but one more year will do him the world of good.

Mariota is a guy that I really enjoy watching. He is a duel-threat quarterback but he has so much to his game. From sliding in the pocket to avoid pressure, making the right decision, working through his reads or making the accurate throw at the right time, he's the kind of guy that will win you a lot of games and not lose you very many. I know a number of people are very high on Winston and down on Mariota and a lot of those people will disagree with my assessment, but I think when you break it all down, Mariota is the safer pick and will perform better immediately. If they both stay in school next year (which is possible if unlikely), then my assessment could be very very different next year.

If I were drafting for the New York Jets and I have the choice between the two players, I'm taking Marcus Mariota.