Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston makes his NFL debut tonight as the Bucs open the preseason at the Vikings, and the question all week has been how much he'll play. Lovie Smith has said he and other starters will likely play into the second quarter, and after the Titans' Marcus Mariota made his debut Friday night, we looked out how the previous 10 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 did in their preseason debuts.
Mariota, who made headlines by not throwing a single interception in the first two weeks of training camp, had two turnovers in his debut, with an interception, then a strip-fumble that was returned for a touchdown. To find the last top-10 QB to throw an INT in his first preseason game, you have to go back to Matt Stafford in 2009; none of the last 10 had more than one turnover in their debut. Mariota finished a solid 7-for-8 for 94 yards, but the turnovers are certainly an outlier among this group.
Looking at those previous 10 as a group, it's a 50-50 shot that you'll get a touchdown pass in that debut -- five of the 10 did so, with only Andrew Luck throwing two; it's also a 50-50 shot that you'll get more than 100 passing yards, though three of the last four have done so. Here's a quick breakdown of how much they played and what they did, to give you a sense of what Winston might do tonight.
Blake Bortles, Jaguars, 2014: 7-of-11, 117 yards. Actually came against the Bucs -- he replaced Chad Henne midway through the second quarter, just punts on his first two drives, then the end of the half. He opened the third quarter with a 75-yard drive that settled for a field goal.
Robert Griffin III, Redskins, 2012: 4-of-6, 70 yards, TD, fumble. He started, and lost a fumble at his own 21-yard line, but his third drive was an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 20-yard scoring throw. He was out with 5:51 left in the first period.
Andrew Luck, Colts, 2012: 10-of-16, 188 yards, 2 TDs. This is how you start an NFL career: first pass was a 63-yard touchdown to Donald Brown. He threw a 23-yard score to Austin Collie on his third drive and converted a third-and-10 and third-and-9 on a third touchdown drive that went 80 yards and ended with an RB touchdown run. Played until 3:10 was left in the second half.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins, 2012: 14-of-21, 167 yards, TD. Second QB in vs. Bucs after Matt Moore -- came in with 3:16 left in second quarter. Had a touchdown pass overturned, then had a 70-yard touchdown drive, hitting Charles Clay for a score. Also played the whole third quarter.
Cam Newton, Panthers, 2011: 8-of-19, 134 yards. Second QB in (after Jimmy Clausen!), entered game in second quarter, had a 62-yard drive for a field goal. Good two-minute drill at end of half -- took team 54 yards in 0:42 for another field goal. Played entire third, two plays in fourth.
Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars, 2011: 9-of-16, 85 yards. With Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator, Gabbert played the entire first half. Took team on 57-yard drive for field goal on opening drive, with another field goal after an Aaron Hernandez fumble from Patriots.
Jake Locker, Titans, 2011: 7-of-10, 89 yards, TD. Second QB in after Matt Hasselbeck. Came in with 4:52 left in first quarter, converted three downs on his first drive. Nice 45-yard touchdown. Had a second TD drive, played one series in third. Don't read too much into these, right?
Sam Bradford, Rams, 2010: 6-of-13, 57 yards. Second QB in (after A.J. Feeley!), he converted two third downs on first drive before it stalled going for it on fourth down. Played one drive in third quarter as well.
Matt Stafford, Lions, 2009: 7-of-14, 114 yards, TD, INT. Second QB in after Daunte Culpepper, he came in with 6:31 left in second, no points no his first two drives, then a pick-six on the first drive of third quarter. Threw 25-yard TD on 80-yard drive with passes of 21 and 22 yards.
Mark Sanchez, Jets, 2009: 3-for-4, 88 yards. Second QB in (after Kellen Clemens!) had shortest outing: one series. Had a 48-yard throw on a 93-yard touchdown drive.
Add those 10 up, and the average QB goes 7-for-13 for 111 yards -- collectively, they total six touchdowns and two turnovers, which is to say Mariota had as many turnovers in his debut as the previous 10 QBs drafted in the top 10 combined. (Go ahead and decide if that's a big deal before Winston goes tonight, just in case he has a turnover as well ...)