Column: Winston, Mariota shine at NFL Combine

Story posted March 2, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Kristopher Rogers

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are the consensus top two quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft class. Both have significant questions surrounding them going in to the 2015 Draft, but used the NFL Combine to clear away some of the scrutiny placed on them.

Most of the time, top quarterbacks do not participate in the throwing drills at the combine. The combination of throwing to unfamiliar receivers and a high-adrenaline atmosphere offers only a high-risk, low-reward situation. However, the two-top quarterbacks not only threw, but impressed scouts with their workouts. Both showed impressive deep-ball accuracy and effortless throwing power.

Mariota showed off his elite athleticism and agility, clocking a 4.52 second 40-yard dash, good enough for the fastest amongst quarterbacks and even faster than 10 of the wide receivers at the combine. He also boasted a 36-inch vertical leap and a 121-inch standing broad jump, showing the explosiveness in his lower half.

Winston on the other hand was a bit lacking in those aspects, running a 40 that was more than half a second slower than his competition at 4.97 seconds, a 28.5-inch vertical leap, and an 103-inch broad jump.

Both QBs measured at 6’4” tall, but Winston weighed in ten pounds heavier at 231 pounds, compared to Mariota at 222.

Mariota thrived in three years as the starting quarterback of the Oregon Ducks, going 36-5 as a starter. He also set an NCAA record for completing a TD pass in every one of his 41 starts. In total, Mariota accounted for 10,976 yards through the air, 2,237 rushing yards, and 136 total touchdowns (105 passing, 29 rushing, 2 receiving).

In 2014, Mariota racked up several awards for his season, including the Davey O’Brien Award, the Walter Camp award, and the Heisman Trophy. Mariota went 13-2 in his final season in Eugene, completing 304 passes for 4,454 yards (68.3 comp %), 42 touchdowns to only four INTs, while also running the ball 135 times for 707 yards (5.7 ypc) and 15 touchdowns.

However, despite these accolades, there are questions about how Mariota’s game will translate to the professional level. The high-tempo read-option system he ran at Oregon simplified what he needed to do in reading defenses and going through his progressions. Mariota was also reportedly not a vocal leader in the Ducks’ locker room, so that may be something that deters NFL teams from selecting the dual-threat quarterback.

“Super Mariota” put some of those fears to rest at the combine, looking comfortable taking snaps under center, throwing five and seven step drops and delivering accurate passes. He also showed to have the proper footwork to run a pro-style offense, keeping his hips aligned with his target downfield and transferring his weight off of his back foot well.

Winston was as famous for events off the field as he was for his play on it. From incidents involving being accused of sexual assault, to stealing crab legs, breaking windows with a BB gun, and yelling profanities in the student union building.

Winston started for two years under head coach Jimbo Fisher and led the Seminoles to a 27-game win streak (Winston was suspended for 1 game during that streak). Winston has a strong arm and prototypical size for an NFL quarterback, and shows good movement inside of the pocket to extend plays.

Winston won the Heisman Trophy in 2013, becoming only the second freshman to do so (Johnny Manziel was the first). He recorded 257 completions for 4,057 yards (66.9 comp %) and 40 TDs opposite 10 INTs, while also adding four scores on the ground.

In 2014, Winston’s stats declined a bit, completing 305 passes for 3,907 yards (65.3 comp %) and 25 TDs. What’s concerning is that Winston threw 18 interceptions in 2014; showing a habit of staring down receivers too often. Winston was also throwing to freshman and sophomore receivers who still needed time to get acclimated to the speed of the college game.

Before the combine, Winston spoke to the media and addressed his off the field issues, saying that he: “knows he’s made mistakes, and knows he has a past, but right now this is about moving forward and earning the trust of these 32 teams.” Winston also said that he looked forward to creating a positive image and getting involved in the community wherever he ends up being drafted.

Winston also showed that there was no issue with his shoulder after reports had surfaced about him suffering some weakness in his throwing arm, saying that he was fine and there was no issue.

The two will now have some time to continue training, interviewing with teams and getting ready for their pro days. Mariota will participate in Oregon’s pro day on March 12, while Winston has until March 31 until he takes the field again.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kristopher Rogers is a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email klr5374@psu.edu.