It’s been almost four full seasons and the debate still rages on. Who won the 2015 NFL draft, the Tennessee Titans or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let’s take an in-depth look at the careers of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota and see if we can declare a winner.
It is the most important position in football and most teams pick quarterbacks early in the draft. Picking a quarterback is a franchise-altering decision. There have been seven drafts in NFL history with quarterbacks drafted first and second overall and it seems that one of them is always clearly ahead of the other. Recently, that trend has not been as one-sided and one matchup is still to be determined. In 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Jameis Winston and the Tennessee Titans Marcus Mariota were selected first and second overall. From now until they end of their careers, they will be tied together. The 2015 draft had seven total quarterbacks drafted, however, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are the only two remaining starters. While there were plenty of studs drafted, like Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Landon Collins and David Johnson, quarterbacks are always the headliners.
The other first round quarterbacks
Other quarterbacks that were drafted first and second overall have been mostly one boom and on bust. Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, Donovan McNabb over Tim Couch, and at this point, it is safe to say Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III. Right now, it is too difficult to determine who is ahead in the Winston and Mariota competition. Neither player is on a Hall of Fame pace, however, they certainly can’t be considered busts either.
Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who were both drafted one and two in the 2016 draft, have been very successful. They seem to have secured their position as a full-time starter for the foreseeable future. While Carson Wentz is not blowing anyone away this season, he is coming off an MVP caliber season, which neither Winston or Mariota have had yet. On top of that, Wentz is coming off an ACL tear that still seems to be affecting him. We still haven’t seen Carson Wentz at full strength, mentally and physically.
Other young quarterbacks have been more productive as well. As their recent stats have shown Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, and even Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson look like the future of their respective franchises. Some current rookies definitely need more time, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold. For Winston and Mariota, is nearly four seasons enough to tell you what their career should look like?
One way to determine a players overall is their statistics. In 52 career games, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jameis Winston is averaging 261 yards, 1.6 touchdowns, and 1.1 interceptions per game. He is completing 62% of his passes and has an 87.2 quarterback rating. Winston also has three seasons in the top ten in passing yards per attempt. While coming out of the draft, he has not been known as a running quarterback, but he has been effective running the ball when he needs to. In his career, he has 710 yards on 176 carries, nine touchdowns, and 48 rushing first downs. His biggest issue? He struggles to protect the football.
With a 3.2% interception rate, there are only three active players in the NFL with a worse rank than Jameis, and they are all backups on their way out of the league. With 55 career interceptions, Winston averages more than one per game and has the third most in the NFL since 2015. His first career pass was a pick six! Jameis has also fumbled more than any other player in the league over the past 4 seasons; He has 36 total fumbles while losing 16. His 91 combined fumbles and interceptions are the second most in the NFL since entering the league.
After all that, he is still one of the most successful quarterbacks in Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history. Jameis currently sits 2nd in franchise history in yards with 13,577 yards. He trails only Vinny Testaverde by 1,243 yards and in 24 fewer games with the team. Jameis leads the franchise in passing touchdowns with 81. This may be a product of the times with teams using more explosive passing offenses, but the fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a player that high in their franchise history less than four seasons in, is very impressive.
While Jameis has more franchise accolades, Marcus Mariota is climbing the rankings for the Titans. Mariota, in 53 games, is averaging 220 yards, 1.3 touchdowns, and .77 interceptions per game. He is completing 63% of his passes, has an 89.7 quarterback rating and, like Jameis, three seasons in the top ten in yards per pass attempt. Jameis has done it three straight years, Marcus missed out by 0.4 yards in 2017. At Oregon, he was a prolific scrambling quarterback. In the NFL he has not quite attained that status. He currently has 1,196 career rushing yards through his four seasons, 11 touchdowns, and 77 first downs rushing the ball.
The biggest concern with Mariota comes from him being a scrambler. He takes more unnecessary hits and so far, he has dealt with multiple injuries. In his career, he has missed eight games due to injuries, and while he has always bounced back, they are all different injuries. Mariota has been sacked 123 times, 14 more times than Jameis in only one more game. Where the Titans offensive line hasn’t been very good, the Buccaneers offensive line is not that much better, so Marcus needs to learn to get rid of the ball quicker.
While he does get hit more often than Jameis, Mariota does a better job protecting the ball. He has 40 interceptions and 28 fumbles losing 14 of them. It is slightly surprising how often Mariota has turned the ball over compared to his collegiate career.
Mariota is not producing “explosive numbers” compared to the rest of the league, but he is still doing great things for the franchise. The Titans have a longer tenure in the NFL than the Bucs and have been more successful at the quarterback position. So far, they have had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks on their roster for extended periods of time.
While they both never technically played in Tennessee, the Houston Oilers Warren Moon and George Blanda are huge factors in the history of the Tennessee franchise. Steve McNair is currently eligible for the Hall of Fame, so they could see another one soon. While they all are ahead of Marcus, only Warren Moon averaged more yards per game. Mariota is currently 5th in franchise history in yards and touchdowns but if he is on the team for the long haul, he should climb the rankings quickly.
Who is it?
So, the question still remains, who is the better of the two? My answer right now is both are just okay. They could stay, or they could go and either move would not be a bad decision. Neither of them has been extremely successful, but they have each had some individual achievements. While Mariota has a playoff win under his belt, Jameis has franchise records and his team has the higher scoring offense. Over the past four years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are averaging 22.7 points per game, 26.5 this season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense has been strong this season. Their defense, however, is giving up 29.6 points per game this season.
The Titans offense is scoring 20.5 points and is allowing 23.2 points per game over the past four seasons. Both teams have their strengths with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers having a better scoring offense and the Titans have a better scoring defense. Both teams have yet to win 10 games in one year, but Mariota has back to back nine-win seasons after finishing with the worst record in football in 2015. Winston has one 9-7 year, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed the playoffs. Winston is on his second head coach while Mariota is on his third. Consistency is key, so once each team finds their leaders, both teams could find more success.
Playing in the NFL is not easy, especially at the quarterback position. While these two are still young and developing, fans are restless. The instant success of other young quarterbacks is not helping either teams fan base. Football is a team game and if both teams had better players surrounding them, maybe they would have won more games. However, both teams were selecting in the top two for a reason, they were not good teams. Quarterback wins are technically a stat, but they really should not be. One player can’t win the game a complete team wins the game. So, while people want a winner and loser between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota that question really cannot be answered right now. Can we settle with both can be successful franchise quarterbacks?