McShay: On the Field, It’s Winston Over Mariota

Jayne Kamin / USA Today

Jayne Kamin / USA Today

Trent Dilfer is not the only analyst who has doubts about Marcus Mariota being the top pick in this year’s draft.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network is hearing buzz from personnel people that this is not a good year for QB-needy teams in the top five.

And ESPN’s Todd McShay believes it’s entirely possible that teams will prefer Florida State QB Jameis Winston over Mariota.

“If you’re making the decision based off of what you watch on tape and the football aspect of it, Jameis Winston’s the better prospect,” McShay said during a conference call with reporters this week. “He’s the best quarterback prospect in this draft class. He’s better from inside the pocket than Marcus Mariota, which is really where the foundation of an evaluation should be. Can you win from inside the pocket?

“We’ve gone through how many years of people getting excited about these mobile quarterbacks that can run around and do all this stuff, and if you can’t win from inside the pocket with your anticipation, with your pre-snap reads, your post-snap reads, throwing to spots and having excellent ball placement, we haven’t seen anyone overcome that.”

McShay made it clear that he’s not down on Mariota, but he thinks the Oregon signal-caller needs more work than Winston.

“With Winston, there’s very few cons when you talk about him between the lines,” McShay continued. “And even in game preparation, in the facility, all of those things, because he’s a very smart individual. He picks up football concepts very quickly. He knows how to go through progression reads. He’s comfortable in the pocket, can manipulate the pocket, feels pressure coming. He’s not the quickest quarterback, but he’s mobile enough and strong enough too to extend plays with his feet. He anticipates throws as well as any quarterback in the last couple drafts in terms of being inside the pocket.

“I consistently on tape see Jameis Winston with pressure in his face and/or when having to anticipate a throw and lead a receiver to a spot, make it accurately. Now did he force some balls this year that he probably shouldn’t have? Yes. I think that was a byproduct of an offensive line that struggled for a good portion of the season, and there was no Kelvin Benjamin, no big target for him, and I think he probably pressed too much. But Matt Ryan I think threw 19 interceptions his senior year and for a lot of the same reasons. …If off the field didn’t matter, and his personality, [if] there were no questions about it, I would say take Jameis Winston No. 1 and don’t look back if I were the Tampa Bay Bucs.”

As for Mariota, some seem to find evaluating him difficult because of Oregon’s offense. Mariota has played in an up-tempo spread offense that does a great job of freeing up receivers and uses the quarterback as a run threat.

For teams like the Eagles, the transition wouldn’t seem to be difficult. But for offensive coaches who are married to a specific scheme, projecting Mariota could be a challenge.

“He has the tools to play in a more traditional, pro-style offense,” said McShay. “It sounds so obvious, but he just doesn’t have the experience. …

“I think one thing I love about him is how quick he goes through reads and how quick he operates. In that offense, there’s no time to think and there’s no time to process. You just have to react. And he understands that offense so well that he’s able to make just one read off of the run, one read to the bubble screen, one read to the receiver who’s flashing down the seam, and he does that all in less than two seconds. And so he really is quick with his thought process and with his instincts and with his recognition skills, which is very important.

“The one thing I don’t see with him is the anticipation as a passer. And it’s just because in that offense, there’s not a lot of opportunity to show that. Even the other day, he missed several throws he needs to make. …Listen, no one’s perfect. Andrew Luck missed a bunch of throws, and Jameis Winston misses throws, but Marcus misses a higher percentage of intermediate and vertical throws than I’d like to see ideally. And you combine that with the fact that he doesn’t have to make a lot of throws where he’s anticipating and throwing to a spot, so that’s really what concerns me. Can he develop over time and adjust? Probably. And that’s why we have a first-round grade on him, and I think he’s gonna be a high pick.”

As coaches get more involved in the scouting process, both players’ on-field skill sets will be examined closely in the coming months. Off the field, Winston will be under the microscope, while Mariota is considered a high-character, clean prospect.

But four months out, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on which QB will be the first off the board.

“There’s just enough red flags with both of these guys,” McShay said. “Very different red flags, but there’s enough of them that it’s gonna make for a very difficult evaluation process.”