Jameis Winston (r.) and Marcus Mariota (l.) are the two best quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL draft.
On the field, he’s a 6-4, 222-pound bundle of athleticism and smarts, a calm collected quarterback who makes NFL GMs drool. Off the field, he’s the perfect face for any franchise, a choirboy with a college degree.
This is Marcus Mariota, and he may be the most pivotal player in next week’s NFL draft. All signs still point to the Tampa Bay Bucs taking Florida State’s Jameis Winston first overall, but there’s increasing sentiment around the league that the Bucs are about to make a mistake by passing on Mariota.
Mariota has spent the last few months battling the stigma of Oregon quarterbacks (can you name a successful pro Duck?) and read-option QBs alike, and to some extent, that’s overshadowed his efficiency as a QB and his Clark Kent-clean rep.
“I think he is very talented,” one longtime NFC scout said of Mariota. “A safer pick than the other guy. And he (Mariota) should go No. 1 overall.”
Instead, the most well-rounded quarterback prospect in 2015 will wind up shaping this NFL draft, likely touching off a draft-day bidding war over the second overall selection, owned by the Tennessee Titans. The Jets (picking sixth), Rams (10th), Chargers (17th) and Eagles (20th) have all shown interest in Mariota, and each could conceivably move up to pick the former Oregon star.
Whoever lands Mariota just may steal this year’s finest franchise quarterback. Throughout the predraft process, the consensus has been that Winston is more “NFL-ready,” despite the litany of character questions that have trailed him for months, and an uneven, 18-interception sophomore season at Florida State.
“This isn’t hard,” said the scout. “You have to trust what you see.”
Mariota certainly has imperfections. Mariota hails from the Oregon Ducks’ fast-break offense, a system seen as gimmicky by some in the NFL. He’s taken nearly all his snaps from the shotgun. And he’s admitted that he never had to command a huddle at Oregon, let alone on a Sunday afternoon in a deafening atmosphere for an NFL game.
“I haven’t huddled in awhile,” he said at February’s NFL Scouting Combine. “It seems like a little detail, but that is kind of a big thing.”
The knock on Marcus Mariota is he didn’t play in a pro-style offense at Oregon.
Such shortcomings may loom large for some NFL decision-makers, but doesn’t Winston have potentially larger issues? He’ll arrive in the NFL still running off-field damage control, and while so many fawned over his accuracy and anticipation while throwing passes in drills in Indy, there were all those picks last season at FSU. Mariota threw four picks last season and 14 for his three-year college career.
And while Winston seemingly dazzled the media at the Combine, he didn’t endear himself to all the NFL brass. During Combine weigh-in, according to the scout, Winston failed to follow instructions, wearing his socks. It was Mariota, also in Winston’s group at the Combine, who got the star quarterback organized.
“That’s not how you make an impression,” the scout said.
By nearly all accounts, Mariota has done nothing but make good impressions throughout this process. What he lacks in pro-ready experience he seems to compensate for in moxie; according to an AFC scout who worked him out, he’s a quick study who almost always gets plays, drills and routes right on the second try if he misses on the first.
“He has the tools,” the scout said. “He may not be as NFL-ready, but he’s going to be just fine.”
FIVE BEST AVAILABLE
Jameis Winston, Florida State, Soph.
Viewed as the most pro-ready passer and a terrific feel for throwing receivers open, but must cut down on risky throws in the NFL.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon, Jr.
Has more tools than any QB prospect in this draft, but lacks a feel for anticipating deep throws. That will come.
Bryce Petty, Baylor, Sr.
“He’s underrated,” said one scout. Has NFL-caliber arm strength, but must learn to make pro-style reads.
Brett Hundley, UCLA, Jr.
Draft X-factor could be third QB taken. Has size (6-3, 226) and solid arm strength. But said one scout: “He has no feel for the rush at all.”
Garrett Grayson, Colorado State., Sr.
Not in the same class as the top prospects, but has solid size (6-2, 213) and uses good lower-body mechanics to make accurate throws.
Brandon Bridge, South Alabama
A massive project but has some tools. Terrific size (6-4, 229), and showcases good athleticism (4.72 40). NFL arm, but has shaky mechanics and poor accuracy.
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