Revisionist history is easy to profess, but the Tennessee Titans surely feel fortunate to have wound up with Marcus Mariota in the 2015 draft.
Leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were clearly the top two quarterbacks and the top two picks in some order. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Winston first overall, and the Tennessee Titans followed easily by taking Mariota No. 2.
Heading into their fourth NFL seasons, there’s still not a lot of clarity over who was the better choice. Winston’s raw passing numbers are better (two 4,000-yard passing seasons, 11,636 passing yards and 69 touchdown passes in three seasons), even with 44 interceptions as a negative (tied for second-most in the league over the last three seasons), but Mariota has a playoff win on his resume.
During a radio appearance on Monday with Paul Kuharsky of 104.5 The Zone, former Titans director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield said Mariota was the “easy choice” over Winston.
It’s easy to say three years later that the guy you got was the one you wanted more, and Beddingfield allowed for the idea they would have taken Winston if he had been available. But the Titans reportedly turned down a big trade offer from the Philadelphia Eagles, who were coached by Mariota’s former college coach Chip Kelly at the time and wanted to make a significant move up. The Chicago Bears were also rumored to have interest in moving up to get Mariota, but Tennessee stood pat.
Winston’s off the field trouble at Florida State has followed him into the NFL now, with a three-game suspension for an alleged sexual assault of a female Uber driver in 2016. Mariota carried no such red flags with him a little over three years ago, which according to then-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was viewed as a negative in some NFL circles.
In terms of completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate and passer rating, Mariota and Winston are basically equal through three seasons (Mariota does have a slight edge in four of those five categories).
There’s no denying Winston looks the part on the field better than Mariota does right now. But character matters too, so based on that the Titans have to feel lucky they got the right guy as Mariota tries to reach a new level of play in his fourth season. And he’ll be able to do it from the start, while Winston is suspended for the first three games.