Let the great debate continue as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota have both accepted the challenge and will throw at the combine. The last two Heisman winning quarterbacks will be forever linked and compared even though they are completely different on and off the field.
Let us start from the beginning of their journey into the NCAA. Winston committed to Florida State as the top recruited QB prospect while Mariota a relative unknown outside the state of Hawaii didn’t make a high school start until his senior year. Winston verbosely led Florida State to a national championship and won a Heisman Trophy in his freshman year. Mariota quietly led the Oregon Ducks to a national championship and gained a Heisman of his own in his junior season. Similar levels of success but their paths and the way they lead are polar opposites.
Off the field Jameis Winston has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The well-documented sexual assault allegation is when the off-field issues started as a woman stated that Winston attacked and raped her. Although Winston was later cleared of any wrongdoing this allegation still looms large over Winston’s head, drumming up substantial questions regarding his character. Add that to shoplifting crab legs and making vulgar comments in front of the student union building, Winston has made his share of bad decisions. Is he of questionable character? Does he think he can get away with anything because of his on-field success? Or is he just immature? And will grow from it?
Marcus Mariota on the other end of the spectrum is the nicest nice guy who congratulates opponents when they get a late hit on him with a calm subtle “good job”. Mariota is known to be a soft spoken kind hearted individual that does everything right off the field. He studies film, has a strong work ethic and is very coachable which are just some of the characteristics that make-up Mariota’s A+ character.
Now that all of the off-field and character cards are on the table, it is now time to get to the meat and bones of the debate, the on-field analysis. Which QB anticipates his throws while scanning the field and working through his progressions? Who has the edge in arm strength and accuracy? Add in pre and post snap reads, delivery/release, football intelligence, proper foot work, and pocket presence are all traits that must be analyzed to evaluate a QB taking the leap to the next level. Who has the edge?
I will preface my breakdown by saying CPGM believes a QB like Winston who ran a pro style offense has a huge advantage over a QB like Mariota who is coming from a spread, zone read offense. With that said Winston has a clear head start and advantage over Mariota in terms of reading a defense and anticipating his throws in small windows, which will get even smaller in the NFL. Therefore, Winston gets the nod in being more pro ready while Mariota will have to learn on the fly while trying to win football games.
Although arm strength and accuracy is secondary to the mental aspect of the game it is still crucial in evaluating a QB (see Peyton Manning in the playoffs). The reports coming out of the combine suggest that Winston tested as having weakness in his throwing arm, this does not concern me one bit. Winston’s arm is stronger than Mariotas’ and most QBs in the NFL right now. He pitches 90+ miles of gas on the baseball diamond. In terms of accuracy I feel both QBs have question marks. Winston tends to force passes while losing his footwork causing his passes to sail at times. The offensive scheme Mariota played in during college makes it hard to truly judge his accuracy. Although Mariota completed over 65% of his passes in his collegiate career most of his throwing windows are huge because of the design of the play leaving you to question how accurate he really is.
One advantage Mariota has over Winston is his release and delivery. Mariota has a quick three quarter throwing motion that gives him the ability to get the ball out of his hands faster which is ideal for running a west coast offense, typical among professional teams. While Winston has a troubling, elongated release ala Byron Leftwich that needs to be adjusted. I have always knocked Winston on his slow throwing motion which will cause him issues at the next level. Huge advantage goes to Mariota.
As big as an advantage Mariota has in throwing motion the same can be said for the gap between Winston and Mariota in terms of footwork. Mariota was never asked to take a snap from under center at Oregon puts him at a huge disadvantage in his 3, 5, and 7 step drops. The NFL has become a more predominant shotgun league but to be great at the next level you will have to be able to have the versatility to line up under center and deliver the football on time at the top of your break. It should also be noted that footwork remains important even when in the shotgun when throwing the ball down the field. Unless you’re attempting passes that don’t travel beyond the line of scrimmage, a QB’s footwork is imperative.
There you have it, Winston vs. Mariota in a nutshell. Both have their strengths and both have areas that need improvement. There are a lot of differences in both QBs but the main difference in my opinion is who is ahead of the learning curve? Although I don’t think Winston is a sure thing at the next level I would rather take my chances on the QB who ran a pro style offense in college. The track record shows those are the guys who succeed at the next level. Manning, Brees, Rodgers, Luck, and Wilson all ran pro style offenses in college. Where as a Mariota spread offense, collegiate progression style of QB has not had success in the NFL yet. Robert Griffin, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and Johnny Manziel all had their moments (except Manziel) but have plateaued and are now struggling (varying degrees) to take the next step in their development as professional quarterbacks.