Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans hit rock bottom. Both teams owned a 2-14 record and the top two picks in the draft, with Tampa selecting first overall. Both teams would eventually take their quarterback of the future for Heisman Trophy winners, Tampa took Florida State’s Jameis Winston while the Titans picked Marcus Mariota from Oregon. Due to their draft status, these two will always be tied to one another, and while both have played well and the teams have improved over the last two seasons, Mariota has been the better overall quarterback.
In their short careers, Winston owns the better record (15-17 compared to Mariota’s 11-16) has thrown for more yards (8,132 compared to 6,244) and has tossed more touchdowns (50 compared to Mariota’s 45). Mariota, who has played in five less games, has thrown less interceptions (19 compared to Winston’s 33), owns a better passer rating (93.8 compared to 85.2), has a higher yards per attempt (7.6 to Winston’s 7.4) and has four fourth quarter comebacks to Winston’s three.
But what makes Mariota better? Quite a few things:
Mariota is lights out in the red zone. This is one of Mariota’s best traits. Over the last two seasons, Mariota has never turned the ball over inside the 20-yard line. Winston has completed more passes (62 to Mariota’s 60), thrown for more yards (467 to 446) and thrown for more touchdowns (34 to 33), but needed to throw 43 more passes to eclipse Mariota. Additionally, Winston has completed just 45.2 percent of his passes in the red zone, a drastic difference to Mariota’s 63.8 percent – not to mention that Winston has a big target in Mike Evans to throw to. Tennessee scored a touchdown on 72 percent of their trips to the red zone in 2016 and 65 percent of the time in 2015, which ranked first and fifth in that span. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, scored a touchdown in 51.85 percent of their trips last season (20th overall) and 52.94 percent in 2015 (22nd).
Mariota is a better deep ball passer. One of the traits NFL coaches and scouts salivate over is the ability to throw the deep ball and Mariota outperformed Winston in this aspect of the game. Winston had the eighth-most deep balls (balls that traveled 20 or more yards in the air) thrown last season with a mark of 69, but only completed 22 of the passes. His 34.8 completion percentage on deep balls was 21st in the league (out of 28 qualified players), while his 71.0 passer rating was 22nd, behind quarterbacks such as Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also tossed six interceptions on those deep passes, the third-most in the league. Though out of his 22 completed passes, 11 were touchdowns.
Mariota, on the other hand, owned a superior completion percentage (41.9 percent, 14th), passer rating (101.2, 12th) and only tossed three interceptions. The one knock on Mariota is the lack of touchdowns, as he threw just six, but the Titans offense has also been more focus on establishing the run and getting to the red zone over airing it out.
Mariota is better under pressure. When the two had 2.5 seconds or less to throw, Mariota again came out on top. Mariota owned a better completion percentage (68.1 percent to Winston’s 64 percent) and an eye-popping touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13:1. Among quarterbacks with at least 10 touchdown passes when having 2.5 seconds or less to throw, only Aaron Rodgers (18:1) and Tom Brady (18:0) had better numbers. Winston, on the other hand, threw 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Mariota owned a passer rating of 103.6 in this situation, seventh best in football while Winston checked in a 24th with a passer rating of 88.2.
Mariota is a better runner than Winston. One great asset that both of them possess is the fact that they can both create plays with their legs, but will only try to do so when needed, instead waiting for the play to develop and check through their progressions instead of doing short reads, tucking and running. But when it is time to bail, Mariota gets the most out of it. On 94 career rushes, Mariota has ran for 601 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns while Winston has just 378 yards on 107 carries. Winston has more rushing scores with seven, but six came his rookie season as former Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith liked to call for a bootleg in the red zone.