Entering the 2019 NFL season, both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are entering their fifth year in the league. To compare the two franchise quarterbacks and top picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, we also have to look at the teams that drafted them in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, respectively and see how far they’ve come.
Winston and Mariota played 56 games over their four years, only missing eight games. Winston’s amassed a 21-33 record for a 39% winning percentage. Mariota has a 27-28 record for a 49% winning percentage. Titans are more successful with Mariota under center.
When it comes to career completion percentage, Mariota barely edges out Winston with 63.2-61.6. Passing yardage is a no brainer with Winston’s 14,628 to Mariota’s 12,004. The only context needed for the stat is the Bucs hardly ever find themselves running up the score on their opponents. They are often forced to play catch up due to a combination of broken defensive coverages and errant offensive turnovers.
Yards-per-attempt is comparable with Winston’s 7.6 to Mariota’s 7.5 average. Winston has thrown for far more touchdowns than Mariota has, 88-69. This, again, goes back to what Winston’s had to do for inferior Bucs teams annually. With desperation also comes turnovers as Winston’s thrown more interceptions in a 58-42 margin.
Despite setting record numbers in 2018, Winston didn’t engineer one 4th quarter comeback, but he did manage a game-winning drive. Winston’s had five 4th quarter comebacks and engineered nine game-winning drives in his career. Mariota, on the other hand, has nine 4th quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives in his career. Mariota has managed to have more 4th quarter comebacks (two) and game-winning drives (three) in 2018 than Winston.
Aside from Mariota having actual playoff experience, he’s also been found to have superior career running stats than Winston. Mariota has run for 1,270 yards on 218 carries and 11 touchdowns. Winston has rushed for 794 yards on 189 carries and nine touchdowns.
The final intangible is coaches. Mariota was drafted by Ken Whisenhunt, who was let go mid-season and replaced by Mike Mularkey. Mularkey lasted for almost three seasons before Mike Vrabel took over in 2018. Mariota has had to deal with Jason Michael, Terry Robiskie, Matt LaFleur, and Pat O’Hara, as a combination of offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches. Arthur Smith now takes offensive coordinator duties away from LaFleur, who took the position as Green Bay Packers head coach.
Winston had two head coaches in Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter to learn from but is now with Bruce Arians. Koetter’s been the one consistent voice in Winston’s ear his entire career originally as offensive coordinator. For quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators, there was only Mike Bajakian and Todd Monken, who took over as coordinator with Koetter’s promotion. Now Winston has a clean slate. Byron Leftwich is coordinator and Clyde Christensen returns to the quarterback coach position he once held under Tony Dungy when the team was a running and defensive powerhouse.
Make the Case
You can easily make the case to defend Winston; that he was asked to do more than was ever asked of Mariota from his coaches, but even Mariota’s not asked to throw 400-500 yards to play catchup, his ebb-and-flow with his team is just much cleaner.
If the Bucs and Titans drafted the opposite, could you say Mariota would have the same stats as Winston does here? It’s difficult to say, but Mariota already has a step ahead of Winston in his career thus far with his two playoff games. Also, in the four years Winston has played, there’s only one 9-7 season to show for his progress. The Titans? Try three consecutive 9-7 seasons. The Bucs couldn’t muster up 7-9 or 8-8. The team underachieved a paltry 32 losses. The Titans have only 24 losses in that same span and were able to make the playoffs with one of their 9-7 records.
There’s No “I” in Team
There is no question that fans locally will have blinders on and choose not to see things more objectively, but the fact is that football is a team sport where the quarterback often gets too much of both the credit and the blame. To deny how much awful the Bucs teams were compared to the Titans in that same span would be foolish and naïve.
The only safe conclusions are Mariota isn’t good enough to take his team over the top and Winston proved he can’t mask his team’s own shortcomings to be the clutch quarterback he’s been asked to be.