Winston, Mariota square off in drills at NFL combine

Jameis Winston, left, greets Marcus Mariota after the quarterbacks took part in drills at the NFL scouting combine.
Jameis Winston, left, greets Marcus Mariota after the quarterbacks took part in drills at the NFL scouting combine.
Published Feb. 22, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS — Hopefully, there will be more duels between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota on NFL playing fields, more shootouts with even higher stakes. But if the call to arms that took place Saturday at the league's scouting combine was any indication, this quarterback rivalry will be worth watching.

The frontrunners to become the Bucs' No. 1 pick in the draft went throw-to-throw during passing drills, and neither disappointed.

Winston mixed outstanding velocity with excellent touch on most of his passes while remaining relaxed and confident throughout the workout. The former Florida State quarterback was perfect on all 16 pass attempts.

Mariota missed only two of 15 throws and displayed great footwork for a player who had not been under center his entire college career at Oregon.

Both quarterbacks showed why they are clearly at the top of their draft class and did little to separate themselves from each other in a rare competition Saturday. The last prospective No. 1 overall pick to participate in passing drills at the combine was Cam Newton in 2011.

"I think I did all right. I think I missed a couple throws," Mariota said. "I'm a perfectionist, so I always want to try and complete every ball. I thought everyone did well (Saturday) as a group."

With Bucs coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht watching from a luxury suite at Lucas Oil Stadium, Winston dispelled any concerns about his right shoulder that arose this week in Indianapolis during a routine medical exam.

His deep-ball accuracy, throwing to receivers he was unfamiliar with, was impressive.

The workouts came one day after reports that doctors were rechecking Winston's throwing shoulder for weakness, but he didn't even ice the arm after Saturday's workout.

"I actually feel good," Winston told NFL Network after the workout. "The thing is they actually (put a) shot in my shoulder and made it sore a little bit. I was like, 'You all tried to do that. I've done had this shoulder my whole life and you're going to make it sore.' "

For Mariota, who played almost exclusively in the shotgun in the Ducks' spread option offense, it was a chance to show scouts he can operate under center, taking three-, five- and seven-step drops while delivering the football accurately and on time.

"They both showcased and accentuated their strengths," Licht said. "They both looked very impressive. I love the fact they both laid it all out there for everyone to see."

Winston's only hiccup came when he threw a 12-yard out route slightly behind his receiver. In the NFL, that kind of mistake often can result in an interception and a defensive score.

Mariota missed a receiver long on a hitch-and-go route and threw wide on a 12-yard out route.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Otherwise, there was very little to distinguish the two.

"(Mariota) and Jameis are the best in this class, and they will be franchise guys for teams in this league," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.

Prior to the passing drills, Mariota showed why he's one of the most athletic players in the draft, let alone the quarterback position. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 and 4.56 seconds, fastest among all 15 QBs. He preceded that with a 36-inch vertical leap.

Winston ran 4.97 and 4.99 in the 40-yard dash — barely ahead of the fastest offensive lineman, 307-pound Ali Marpet, who ran 4.98 on Friday — and had a 28.5-inch vertical leap.

"I felt good, but I wanted to run faster in the 40," Winston said. "That's my last time."

For Winston, the interviews with teams this week might have more value than his passing performance. "I believe I did what I needed to do because I came in and just tried to be real," he said. "I'm not that guy anymore. I'm Jameis Winston, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback."

But what scouts came to see Saturday was the arms race, and they didn't disappoint.

"We've had the opportunity to work out together down in San Diego, and I think that's really helped us out," Mariota said.

"It provided a little competition and has really elevated our game."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.