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Reasons why Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota comparisons won't die anytime soon

[Winston: Associated Press, Mariota: Getty Images]
[Winston: Associated Press, Mariota: Getty Images]
Published Nov. 12, 2016

They won the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back seasons. They played against each other in the final game of their collegiate careers and in the first game of their pro football careers. They were the top two selections in the 2015 NFL draft.

In a season and a half in the NFL, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota have shined and struggled. It's too early to say whether one will enjoy more success, whether both will succeed or whether both will fail. The only thing we know for sure is that they'll continue to be compared. Here are some reasons why.

• • •

We like to tell people how wrong they are.

Remember when Winston's critics compared him with JaMarcus Russell? "They do dumb things," an NFL executive said before the 2015 draft.

Remember when Mariota's critics called him a system quarterback and questioned his ability to lead because of his quiet demeanor?

Fans have bookmarked those articles and tweets. They will resurface.

• • •

The Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf comparisons have never stopped.

This was not an easy call for the Colts, the owners of the first overall pick in the 1998 draft. They didn't settle on Manning over Leaf until the morning of the event.

Manning, of course, validated their decision. He went on to play in 27 playoff games; Leaf's career lasted 25 games. He won four conference championships; Leaf won four games total. He broke NFL records; Leaf appeared in arrest records.

Still, no matter how many touchdown passes Manning threw, no matter how many playoff games he won, no matter how many pizza commercials he appeared in, curiosity over Leaf never faded completely. To this day, general managers, agents and fans dissect the decision.

• • •

The Bucs have a bad track record in drafting quarterbacks, particularly in the first round.

Here is how each of their first-round quarterbacks have performed in their first 24 starts.

QuarterbackYear draftedPickComp/AttComp %YardsYards/AttTD/INTRating
Doug Williams197817224/55440.4%3,4006.124/2557.0
VinnyTestaverde19871367/76847.8%5,2036.824/4556.1
Trent Dilfer19946334/64451.9%3,9326.18/3055.5
Josh Freeman200917426/73458.0%5,0356.933/2480.4
Jameis Winston20151493/84158.6%6,0797.239/2484.6

There are a couple of ways to look at that table. You could conclude that Winston has outplayed the other four quarterbacks. You also could say that while Winston has outplayed Freeman, there's not much difference in their numbers.

However, if Winston maintains his level of play or slightly raises it, he soon will separate further from the pack. Winston hasn't been a paragon of consistency, but his play this season has been in line with his play last season. Freeman experienced huge swings from one season to the next. He struggled during his rookie season (posting a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 0.5), improved dramatically the next (posting a ratio of 4.2) and then regressed in 2011 (posting a ratio of 0.7).

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• • •

Neither Winston nor Mariota has proven that he is definitively better than the other.

Winston looked like the better quarterback after last season, but questions about his decision-making and accuracy persist. He has reigned in the turnovers, committing just two in his past four games. In his first four games of this season, he committed 10 turnovers, though not all of those were his fault.

As you might expect from a second-year quarterback, Winston can dazzle you one play and then make you wince the next. He can drop a deep ball into the arms of Mike Evans, as he did in the Monday night game against the Panthers. But on some slants and digs, he'll overthrow his targets or throw behind them. Such passes have either left receivers vulnerable to big hits or prevented them from gaining yards after the catch.

Imprecise ball placement has contributed to the Bucs gaining just 3.95 yards after catches, which ranks 30th. Mariota and the Titans also have struggled in that department, gaining 4.79 yards after catches, which ranks 25th.

One key difference between Winston and Mariota this season has been the deep ball. What was once a significant weakness for Mariota has become a strength, at least for now. Over the season's second quarter, he completed 6 of 14 targets 20 or more yards down the field. Two of those completions resulted in touchdowns. Winston, who was the better deep passer last season, completed 6 of 20 deep passes, four of which resulted in touchdowns.

Otherwise, there is little difference statistically between the two. Through the Bucs' and Titans' first eight games, Mariota held a 95.1 to 85.4 edge in quarterback rating, a flawed statistic that considers only pass attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions.

By ESPN's QBR, they've both been about league average.

Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric favors Mariota. According to DVOA, which considers factors such as down, distance, field position, score and opponent, Mariota played at 6.9 percent above league average in his first eight games while Winston played at 0.9 percent above league average.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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