Winston, Mariota never lived up to the 2015 Draft hype

Quarterbacks taken No. 1, No. 2 in first round

Friday, October 25, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 43

Marcus Mariota greets Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston after a preseason game in 2018. The No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks from 2015, who will have a chance to reconnect this week at Nissan Stadium, are now in the final year of their contracts with both likely to be searching for new homes at the end of the season.

-- Photo By Mark Zaleski | Ap Photo

Nearly five years ago, the debate was whether Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota would be the better franchise quarterback to lead either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Tennessee Titans out of the NFL wilderness.

Now, with the full view of the hindsight of four and a half seasons of play from both, it turns out that the correct answer was “none of the above.”

When the two first got together in the 2015 season opener in Tampa, it was Mariota who bested his fellow rookie, throwing four touchdown passes in a 42-14 Titans rout.

But now, as they ready for a rematch Sunday at Nissan Stadium, things are vastly different for both.

Mariota has been benched in Tennessee, and now is just playing (or rather sitting) out the final year of his contract with the Titans in hopes of finding a fresh start somewhere as a free agent.

Winston is still the starter for the Bucs, but after a five-interception outing in London against the Carolina Panthers, the writing is on the wall for the 2015 No. 1 overall pick. He, too, will likely have a new address in 2020.

Both Tennessee and Tampa Bay chose to let the evaluation process run its full five-year course before making complete assessments of their respective quarterbacks.

Mariota’s five years have been marked by injuries. The Titans – and those who write about them – said that a complete and accurate evaluation couldn’t be made until he was injury-free.

Winston’s problems have interceptions and inconsistency.

And eventually Mariota’s inconsistencies and regression caught up with him, too.

Maybe we did know that neither would be the long-term solution to their team’s quarterback needs and just didn’t want to admit it.

If the question remains unanswered after four or five years, it really has been answered. The realistic view is that you have to move on.

The quarterback landscape has changed so much in recent years that the evaluation process can really be seen in as little as two or three seasons.

Neither Mariota nor Winston – despite memorable games and big plays – delivered consistently. Now their teams are paying the price.

We already know in Year 3 that Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson have the goods to be true franchise quarterbacks. Conversely, Mitch Trubisky has shown enough inconsistency to guess that the Bears might be back in the quarterback market in a year or two.

Second-year guys like Baker Mayfield (despite some troubles this year), Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Sam Darnold have shown promise and might make the grade.

The point of all that is that the quarterback learning curve has been shortened significantly in recent years. Teams should know much earlier if a guy is worth building around.

For the Titans, who watched Ryan Tannehill – not exactly the second coming of Dan Marino in Miami – come in and execute the offense much more effectively than Mariota, it had to be a harsh reality check. They saw how far their chosen guy had fallen and how much time had been lost hoping that Mariota would finally blossom.

Mariota and Winston might find the right system and the right team and realize their potential. But Sunday’s game will be a reminder that it won’t happen for the teams that had such high hopes when drafting them.