Listen to all the draft coverage on any network and you will hear the same thing coming from a different mouth. The two best quarterbacks in the draft are Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon. All signs indicate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select the man they see as the best quarterback, Winston, with the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
As they have been throughout their team’s history, Tampa Bay will be wrong.
A fact that has recently emerged regarding Tampa Bay sheds a little light on that statement. In the history of the Tampa Bay franchise, they have never signed a quarterback they drafted to a second contract. Every quarterback the Bucs have ever drafted has washed away or drifted off to another team. As a result, the team has to reset the position with the frequency of a Presidential election, every four years at best.
Of the 32 men who have been quarterbacks for Tampa bay since their inception in 1976, only 5 have played four or more seasons in Buccaneer Orange. Their frugality in contract talks have cost them players who went on to greater success and Super Bowl rings with other teams. (Steve Young, Doug Williams, Joe Flacco). Now they’re primed in the top spot of the draft to choose the new face of their franchise at the quarterback position.
The best quarterback is not Jameis Winston. Not by a long shot.
The measurables for Winston look great. He has a NFL build. He played in a pro-style offense at Florida State that everyone sees as the dividing line between him and the man who really is the best quarterback available, Marcus Mariota. Winston is a proven winner who won the Heisman Trophy his freshman year. Despite putting up better numbers than Winston, Mariota didn’t win the Heisman until last season, his junior season.
There are few positive metrics that Mariota does not beat Winston. Last season, Mariota was better than Winston in completion percentage, passing yards, rushing yards, passing and rushing touchdowns, yards per completion and quarterback rating while leading the fourth highest scoring offense at Oregon to the tune of 45 points per game. Winston led Mariota in one category, interceptions, with 18 to Mariota’s 4. He completed one pass more than Mariota (305 to 304) but it took 22 more attempts to do so.
To the eye, Winston looks much bigger than Mariota. In reality they’re practically the same. Both players stand 6’4. Winston (225-230) outweighs Mariota (215-220) by 10-15 pounds depending on how much indulging on crab legs he’s been doing lately. Winston does carry a spare tire around his midsection where Mariota has a more slender, athletic frame. Both men have rifle arms and show great pocket presence and escapabilty. Mariota gets the nod in the speed department after posting a 4.5 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
The single knock on Mariota is the system he played in. In Oregon, he was the maestro of the spread offense. He operated out of the shotgun and Oregon ran a play an average of every 20 seconds. Pro pundits debate whether that system of play will translate to the NFL. That stands as the only reason Winston is considered a can’t-miss NFL prospect while Mariota is seen as a project. The Oregon QB hasn’t ran a play from the under center since high school.
Any quarterbacks coach should be salivating over the possibility of having a prodigy such as Mariota to mentor. A three, five or seven step drop is not rocket science to teach. As Mariota gets comfortable operating under center he’s going to get better with each season as the drops become second nature. Look at his tape and Mariota goes through his progressions quickly, not just deferring to his first read as many have said. He has an above average release time and is adept at reading defenses.
Winston comes with a lot of red flags. All of his misadventures at FSU are well documented and it should force a GM to reconsider using the highest draft pick on one with such a questionable moral code. The quarterback is the leader of the football team, the face of his university. It could be argued that Winston has damaged the reputation of Florida State as much as he has enhanced it. Mariota has no such character issues.
Immaturity does (or should) play a role in the decision making process. If Winston makes such bad decisions when he’s a poor college student, what is he going to do with his free time with millions of dollars in the bank? How will he behave when the gold-digging groupies of the NFL come after him? What are the odds Winston will be able to keep his nose clean his entire pro career, help his team win games and be the first person the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have ever signed to a second contract? Things can always change but I wouldn’t bet he will.
Both quarterbacks are the top of their class. Mariota has unlimited upside while Winston enters the league at the height of his powers. This is shaping up to be the millenium edition of the Manning/Leaf debate. In my view, Mariota is trending to be the next Steve Young or Cam Newton (another spread quarterback) while Winston looks like the next Byron Leftwich or Jamarcus Russell. (All the raw, physical tools in the world but lacking the self-discipline to put it all together). A quarterbacks’ most important weapon is his brain and I trust Mariota to be the film room junkie, first one in, last one out of the facility type of athlete that becomes a Hall-Of-Famer. Four years from now we’ll all look back and wonder how it was even a question.
Sorry Tampa, you got it wrong. As usual.
Two decades are a very long time to hold onto a grudge. Twenty years are far too long to still feel disappointment and humiliation. But here I sit, stewing in self-degradation and sadness. That symbol, that “SF” encompassed by gold and red enrages me to the point of maximum workout efficiency. Yes, I worked out because I remembered what happened, the after effects and the personal toll that those two letters did to me and my beloved Chargers twenty years ago.
People were stating that the Bolts were not supposed to be in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. We were the Cinderella team of the 90’s, knocking off the Steelers in dramatic fashion. Across America, people were saying that the NFC Championship game was the “true” Super Bowl game; that San Diego didn’t belong. Then Vegas put out the line . The 18.5 point spread is the second largest one in Super Bowl history; falling just below the Super Bowl III spread of 19.5 favoring the Baltimore Colts over the Jets. Thoughts of Joe Namath and the Jets upsetting the heavily favored Colts team, the Cinderella season for the Chargers all mashed into three weeks of my thought process back then.
In hindsight, Vegas would prove worthy with that high of a spread. Many records were set in that game. It’s the first Super Bowl where every quarter each team scored. It was the highest total points of any Super Bowl. The 49ers would set the record for the fastest touchdown in the game, and then topped it off with another record of the fastest second touchdown in Super Bowl history. Steve Young’s pose after the game with the Lombardi Trophy in his hand continues to burn in my brain. Young had thrown 6 touchdowns and was the leading rusher for San Francisco as well. Is your temperature boiling right now? Do you want revenge yet? I was proud of the Bolts for accomplishing something literally nobody thought that they would do. Yet, I was honestly still a bit embarrassed at the outcome where all the naysayers were proved right. But then….the following Saturday Night, I became filled and consumed with loathing and malevolence towards Steve Young and the 49ers.
I was watching Saturday Night Live at home alone in 1995. Norm MacDonald came on with the Weekend Update sketch which I always found hilarious. Then he did an update; an update on the Super Bowl. “This just in: San Francisco has just scored again on the San Diego Chargers, putting the score at….” Honestly I can’t remember what he said the faux score was, but it was awful. I felt like Bobby Boucher from The WaterBoy when he sees his favorite wrestler laugh at him.
There were enough reasons to beat the 49ers yesterday. The Chargers needed this win to keep their playoff hopes alive. San Francisco is falling apart like a cheap K-Mart lawn chair and even with our massive injuries continually piling on, we proved to be the better team. I for one, will have a bit more excitement in my voice. A little more passion, laced with deep-seeded vengeance with every cheer. Out here in SW Florida… I was doing my part
“THE AXE FORGETS, BUT THE TREE REMEMBERS.” – African Proverb
Every football media pundit on television lauds the NFC West as the by far best division in football. On some shows it has even been mentioned that the NFC West is the toughest division in sports regardless of the sport. While the NFC West is definitely the talk of the league division-wise, it is hardly a forgone conclusion that the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are the best division in football.
The AFC West would beg to differ. While not as defensively dominant as the NFC West, the AFC West excels in the opposing category. The AFC West is the most offensively dominant division in football. The 1754 points scored by the AFC West teams best the closest division, the NFC North, by over 100 points (1,648). The NFC West led the league in fewest points allowed with a paltry 1,191. The next closest division was the NFC South with 1377 points allowed, a difference of 186.
The AFC and NFC West are the classic example of unstoppable force meets the immovable object.
That story played out in the last season’s Super Bowl as the highest scoring team in the league, the 13-3 Denver Broncos with 606 points scored faced the team that allowed the fewest points in the league, the 13-3 Seattle Seahawks with 231 points allowed. Both teams reached the same record in completely different fashions. Another old adage played out in this contest. Defense wins championships. The Seahawks embarrassed the Broncos 43-8, solidifying their season-long dominance with the Lombardi trophy. The win also put the NFC West as the best division going today.
But are they?
The NFC West was long the laughing-stock of the league until only three years ago. Keep in mind in 2010 the Seattle Seahawks created a national firestorm among football purists and analysts when they made the playoffs by winning the NFC West with a 7-9 record. It was during these three seasons that the NFC West rebuilt itself starting with the Rams drafting Sam Bradford in 2010. The 49ers drafted quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was drafted in the 2012 draft. Add to the mix players that are now household names like Seattle’s Legion Of Boom members Walter Thurmond (2010), Earl Thomas (2010) and Richard Sherman (2011) or San Francisco’s Aldon Smith (2011) Navorro Bowman (2010) to show how this division has risen only after years upon years as the NFL’s doormat.
On the other hand, the AFC West has long had dominant teams represented with the exception of the 2008 and 2011 seasons when San Diego and Denver won the division with 8-8 records, respectively. In both cases, they won the wild card game and lost in the divisional round. League dominance by a division is cyclical. The last time the NFC West dominated the way they have been in present years was the Steve Young era 49ers in the 90’s. During the second half of that decade, the division also featured the Kurt Warner-led ‘Greatest Show On Turf’ St. Louis Rams team. Now the NFC West looks primed for another long run of dominance as players like Kaepernick and Wilson mature and the team around them gets better suited to their talents. The question is, at this point, are they that much better than the AFC West?
Take a look at the principal teams. In the NFC West you have Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona as the heavies while St.Louis toils away in the basement. In the AFC West you have Denver, San Diego and Kansas City jockeying for control with Oakland living in the cellar. The AFC West was the only division to get three teams in the playoffs last season. The NFC was close to getting three teams in as well as Arizona went 10-6 but failed to make the playoffs. Call them victims of circumstance, but the Cardinals did lose three games last season by a field goal including a loss to the lowly Rams in the season opener. The big three in NFC West had 2 more wins than the big three in the AFC West by a 35-33 margin. They were by far the top two divisions in the NFL when you take a win count of the top three teams. They may be lapping the rest of the league, but not each other.
Look at the starting quarterbacks. Representing the NFC West you have Wilson, Kaepernick and Carson Palmer representing the Cardinals. In the AFC West you have Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith. If you had to select one group of quarterbacks, team notwithstanding, to carry your team a for full season which group would you pick? The NFC group is the young upstarts, (Palmer notwithstanding) but Palmer is only in his second season in Arizona. The AFC West feature the proven quarterbacks. Manning and Rivers can light up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree. Kaepernick and Wilson are on the rise but their best days are ahead of them. The AFC West crop are winding down their careers but Manning and Rivers represent the most dangerous quarterback tandem in any division.
Leaving Palmer and Smith out of the formula for a moment, in Manning and Rivers you have two of the most cerebral quarterbacks in the league. Give them time and they will eat defenses for lunch. There’s nothing they haven’t seen and they are the old-fashioned stand in the pocket, lead-footed gunslingers that are fading out of style in the NFL. Instead, teams fancy the new breed of quarterback with Wilson and Kaepernick as the prime examples. They are quick to scramble to extend a play. They are also very intelligent, game managers. They capitalize on field position granted by their stalwart defenses. Manning and Rivers have rarely had the benefit of top five defenses, instead making their mark with their arms and their superior knowledge.
This season, these divisions will battle it out in the regular season and when the smoke clears two things will be evident. One, neither division will get three teams in the playoffs. Two, we’ll know which division is truly the best in football because as you can see, no other division comes close. However, to answer the pundits, the NFC West is not without a doubt the best division in the NFL. They may be in the lead as they can boast the current Super Bowl champion but not by far. The safer thing to say is the WEST is the best division in the NFL, regardless of conference. Will the unstoppable force or the immovable object come out on top this year? Let the games begin.
What do you think? Which division is better?
The Greg One