Winston the Right Choice at #1

Bailey Adams, Sports Editor

The NFL Draft can change the direction of a franchise. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have not reached the postseason since 2007, who they choose with 2015’s top pick could change their franchise for better or worse.

The debate is ongoing. It is unlikely that it will ever end. Do the Buccaneers draft Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota or do they trade the pick? First off, let us eliminate the idea of trading the pick. GM Jason Licht will have to get a return that is absolutely worth it in order to trade down, and if he does, Tampa Bay would presumably be in good shape. In that case, the debate would not be necessary and we could avoid it altogether. If not, the Bucs are staying put at number one.

Next, we can dive in on the real debate here. Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota?

Jameis Winston did it all in his two years with the Seminoles. As a redshirt freshman, he threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns while leading his team to an undefeated season that featured an ACC Championship and a National Championship. He also won the Heisman Trophy. What did Winston do next? Why, he threw for 3,907 yards in a season in which he carried the Seminoles to the first ever College Football Playoff (where they fell to Marcus Mariota’s Oregon Ducks). Despite falling short in 2014, Jameis Winston’s career record at Florida State was a ridiculous 27 and 1.

Of course, Winston has seen his share of off-field issues. That is why the Buccaneers (and any other team interested in him) will have to ask him extensive questions about his past during their time with him.

On the other hand, we have Marcus Mariota out of Oregon. He also posted an impressive record in college, going 36 and 5 in three seasons. In his career, he passed for 10,796 yards and 105 touchdowns while also rushing for 2,237 yards and 29 touchdowns. And in three seasons, he threw just 14 interceptions. In 2014, he led the Ducks to a Pac-12 Conference Championship and a National Championship Game appearance (in which Oregon fell to Ohio State). He threw for 4,454 yards and 42 touchdowns while rushing for 770 yards and 15 touchdowns on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy.

What separates these two?

To begin with, Jameis Winston comes out of a pro-style offense. He can stand in the pocket and make big throws, something necessary for a Tampa Bay offense that features big receivers like Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Scouts and analysts praise his football IQ, an asset that is just as valuable as athletic talent. Marcus Mariota comes out of Oregon, who ran a version of the spread offense, an offense not often utilized in the NFL (Philadelphia runs an offense that would most benefit Mariota). The question for most teams is whether or not they want to build their offense to fit his style or insert him into a pro-style offense and develop him. His unconventional style leaves questions about his arm strength and ability to throw from the pocket. For this reason, Winston is the better choice.

Both quarterbacks were leaders for their respective teams, but Jameis Winston is the kind of leader that a quarterback in the NFL needs to be. He is vocal, much like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. He can take charge of an offense soon after coming into the league. For Mariota, his reserved personality holds him back from really taking charge of a locker room. However, the type of leader needed depends on the team’s dynamic. Along with being a vocal, serious leader on the field, Winston carries himself with a certain swagger and winning passion that gives him a slight edge in leadership capability.

When it comes to off-field personas, Marcus Mariota has the advantage in a heartbeat. His character is unquestioned and everyone notes what a great, genuine guy he is. While recently appearing on ESPN’s First Take, former Buc receiver and current college football analyst Joey Galloway called Mariota a nice guy to go to dinner with. Winston’s troubles off the field have been well-documented. However, he will have to sit down with GM Jason Licht, head coach Lovie Smith and the Glazer Family before the draft. Because of his issues in the past, they will need to determine whether his character matches what they are looking for in a player that will lead their organization into the future.

The world may be divided on this debate. This pick will be analyzed every day until the draft and then judged from the day both quarterbacks take their first NFL snaps on throughout their careers. But when Roger Goodell walks to the podium on April 30, Tampa Bay fans should want to hear him call Jameis Winston’s name.