The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the number one pick in the draft, which means we can now speculate freely about who they'll pick. No need to take into account what other teams are going to do. No "is he even going to be there". The Bucs are going to have the luxury of picking whoever they think is the most important for their franchise.
In Dan Kadar's latest mock draft, that player is Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
Mariota is the pick for now before the complete vetting of he and Winston begins. He's a highly skilled quarterback who is smart with the football and has steadily progressed as a pocket passer. Mariota truly becomes a special player, however, when a play breaks down and he uses his feet. Coming out of Oregon, he's an advanced version of Colin Kaepernick - and that's more of a compliment than it probably seems right now.
Kadar has Jameis Winston going to the Tennessee Titans at number two, so it's not like he thinks Winston is doomed. But the consensus among draftniks is that Mariota is going to be the number one pick. That's exactly what we see in basically every other mock draft out there. Like Chris Burke's Sports Illustrated mock draft, which has Mariota going to the Bucs and Jameis Winston dropping all the way to the New York Jets at number 10.
And those mock drafts aren't just built on hot air, though there's a lot of that this early in the process. Those talking to NFL executives are convinced that Mariota's the more likely pick at this point. That's what Peter King thinks after talking to five executives, too.
The Bucs will have a delegation, led by GM Jason Licht, at the Rose Bowl Thursday to see Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota duel Florida State's Jameis Winston. I recently asked five GM/personnel types in the NFL about the two players, and it came out the way I thought: 5-0 in favor of Mariota, because of on-field and off-field things, including the fact that Winston, in the words of one team official who is in the market for a quarterback high in the draft, got careless on the field this year and played some undisciplined football. We won't really know about how high Winston goes, though, until teams do their post-season homework on him.
It's still early, and things can and will change between now and the moment the Buccaneers turn their card in. They've yet to talk to either Mariota or Winston, they've only just started the evaluation process, and they don't even have an offensive coordinator in place right now. But at this point, all the signs point to Marcus Mariota.