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Rounding up some Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston analysis

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With Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota taking the field later today, I thought I'd highlight some recent articles on both quarterbacks' on-field play.

NFLosophy evaluates both quarterbacks

Joe Bussell, AKA @NFLosophy got into the game this past week, and just posted his analysis of both players -- a few hours ahead of the Rose Bowl. He comes away significantly impressed with Jameis Winston's on-field play, while noting that Marcus Mariota still needs to develop.

It's pretty simple. Jameis Winston displays all the traits that NFL teams want on the field and could probably start week 1 for whatever NFL team drafts him (provided he hasn't done anything stupid off the field to prevent that). Marcus Mariota will have a good amount of necessary development of his skills to make himself a quality NFL starter but his ceiling is tremendous.

Ignoring the off-field concerns (which NFL general managers don't have the luxury of doing), Winston is on a completely different level than Mariota. His skill set is more of a translation as opposed to the projection of Mariota's skill set to the NFL. Winston's skill set may just make him worth the risk with the first overall selection anyway.

Bussell's more optimistic on Mariota's pro prospects than that sounds, but he's clear in his preference for Winstons' more developed pro-style skillset.

Pro Football Focus grades Winston and Mariota

Pro football Focus graded Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston's 2014 seasons, the way they normally do with NFL quarterbacks. Surprisingly, PFF was very, very harsh on Jameis Winston, at least compared to Marcus Mariota. That may highlight some flaws in their grading system, or just be an honest reflection of Winston's play this season -- it's not an NFL projection, but just a reflection of his play this season. Which hasn't been stellar, despite the wins.

More interesting than the grade was the charting of both quarterbacks, which neatly dispels a few myths that have grown up around both of them.

Marcus Mariota is often called a running quarterback, and is contrasted with Jameis Winston's pocket play. So it may be surprising to see that Mariota has just 25 runs on scrambles, while Winston has 21. Certainly Winston has more attempts on the season, which makes the difference slightly more pronounced, but both quarterbacks clearly look to pass first, and the idea that Mariota looks to run at the first sign of trouble is nonsense.

What is true is that Mariota is more likely to abandon the pocket than Winston is. Mariota had 56 total scrambles on the season, which includes passes thrown on scrambles, while Winston had just 39. Mariota had a total of 429 dropbacks on the year (attempts+sacks+runs on scrambles), while Winston had 466. That means Mariota abandoned the pocket on 12.0% of his dropbacks, while Winston did so on just 8.4%. That's still not a huge difference, but it's perhaps a significant one.

Another surprising result of PFF's charting is that Winston comes out as the more conservative passer who's better on short throws, while Mariota appears to be the passer more willing to take a shot down the field who actually struggles more on short passes. That's basically the opposite of the conventional wisdom on both quarterbacks, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong. It may just be a result of their respective systems, though.

Cian Fahey dives into Winston

One problem with Jameis Winston is that he declined significantly in his second season -- or at least his statistics did. One of the areas where he declined the most was in the number of interceptions he threw. To be precise: he threw 17, whereas he managed just 10 the year before. Of course, highlighting just that one statistic is hardly a valid evaluation of the player as a whole, but it's worth looking at those interceptions specifically to see what happened.

So that's what NFL analyst Cian Fahey decided to do in this Rotoworld article focusing on Winston's interceptions. Fahey is surprisingly harsh on Winston's interceptions, pointing out specifically that an inability to recognize underneath coverage is a consistent issue.

Most significantly, too many of Winston's turnovers this season have been a direct result of his poor play, rather than something he could blame on a team. One of the recurring causes of Winston's interceptions is his inability to recognize underneath coverage.

[..]

Winston simply makes these plays that are inexplicable in terms of his thought process. He is an exceptionally smart quarterback from the pocket for the most part, but underneath defenders appear to lie in a blind spot for him. This is an element of his game that NFL defenses will attempt to highlight with flooded zone coverages and mixed coverages. It's the kind of flaw that could prove fatal if it doesn't improve significantly.

Of course, when you go looking at interceptions you're going to find some pretty bad decisions in there. But this is a pretty good counterpoint to the common refrain that Winston's problems were caused by inexperienced receivers. There's some truth to that, but it doesn't explain all of his issues.

I'd recommend reading the entire thing, because it's pretty good. But you may also want to look at two articles he wrote before the college football season under way, one focusing on Marcus Mariota and his skills as a pocket passer, and one looking at Jameis Winston's impressive ability to handle pressure and read defenses. Those articles are slightly outdated, but they still offer some quality insight into both players.

Correction: Added some clarification as to what PFF's grade means, and noted that it's not an NFL projection.