The Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently hold the top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. although that could change quite rapidly. That means they get the pick of the litter, and all indications are that pick will be quarterback. But which quarterback, Marcus Mariota, or Jameis Winston? Assuming both of them even enter the draft, that is.
Both The MMQB and CBS think the Bucs would take Mariota over Winston. Mariota's also ranked ahead of Winston in Scouts Inc.'s top 32, on Mel Kiper's Big Board and on The MMQB's draft board. Basically, he's the consensus top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. But it's still early in the process, and much will change over the next months.
It's easy to see why: Mariota is accurate, strong-armed, mobile, has an incredible track record of success and has improved every year he's been in college. He appears to be more mature than Winston, doesn't have any off-field flags, and his mechanics and accuracy seem a little more consistent to me, although the difference isn't huge.
Where he really beats out Winston is his ability to pick up yards on the ground: he's rushed for 700 yards in each of his three seasons, while Winston is stuck at 150 yards per year. And that mobility is a big plus in Lovie Smith's mind, who repeatedly emphasized athleticism when asked about what he looks for in a quarterback.
I wouldn't worry too much about Mariota's spread background. He displays all the traits necessary for a successful transition to the NFL, he appears to frequently read the defense, only looks to run if there's no other option. He remains calm under pressure, keeping his eyes downfield consistently, and he displays a good ability to avoid hits -- crucial in the NFL.
That's not to say that Jameis Winston isn't any good. While he's not as accurate or productive as Mariota and seems to have taken a step back this season, he still displays a lot of key characteristics. He has a strong arm, he's generally accurate, he stays in the pocket and doesn't panic under pressure, and he's not afraid to make tough throws.
The fact that he's operating from more of a pro-style scheme will give him a leg up on Mariota early in his career, depending on the style of offense his NFL team plays. And where the ability to function in an NFL-style offense and make NFL reads is a bit of a question mark for Mariota, Winston already appears to have much of the mental side of NFL quarterbacking down -- a major plus.
However, Winston's off-field problems are real issues. The minor incidents don't concern me much, as he wouldn't be the first NFL quarterback to succeed with some minor but common college-age trouble. The rape accusation is more troubling, not because it's definitely true or false (we can't know that), but simply because there's a realistic chance that he raped a girl. And when the face of your franchise can forever be linked with the possible rape of a girl, well, that might be a bit hard to stomach for some. Unless you're the Pittsburgh Steelers, I guess.
There are some on-field issues with Winston, though. There are the many interceptions he's thrown this season, particularly in the first half. Yes, his team consistently managed to come back from those picks, but that's a lot harder to do in the NFL than it is in college. And it's not like the rest of his game was so spectacular that we can forget about those turnovers entirely -- in terms of production, he took a definite step back this year.
Moreover, there are some pretty clear mechanical issues with his footwork and upper-body delivery: he has a tendency to throw with his feet close to parallel to each other, and has a bit of a hitch in his delivery, though that disappears at times. His arm is strong enough to make up for those deficiencies, but it leads to some scattershot throws and a result not dissimilar to Andrew Luck's accuracy his first two years in the NFL, when he was not nearly as accurate as generally believed. Those issues aren't crippling, but they're not flaws that can be ignored either.
Still, based purely on his on-field skillset, Jameis Winston looks like a very talented player certainly worth a top pick in the draft, even if he's a bit raw and unpolished in his mechanics.
The question the Bucs will face, assuming they even get the top pick in the draft, is which quarterback takes their fancy? Who will their new offensive coordinator like best? Who will even be their new offensive coordinator? The next couple of months will surely be interesting, if only for that reason.