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Nearly 5 years later, it’s a hung jury for Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

Draft Wire logo Draft Wire 9/16/2019 Luke Easterling
Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota are posing for a picture: Associated Press © Associated Press Associated Press

It was the great debate heading into the 2015 NFL draft.

Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the No. 1 overall pick, and desperate for a franchise quarterback, they appeared to have their pick of two worthy candidates.

There was Winston, a vocal leader who took Florida State to a national title and won a Heisman Trophy on the way. There was Mariota, a quiet, lead-by-example type who won a Heisman of his own while helping turn Oregon into a national powerhouse.

The Bucs eventually chose Winston, making him the face of the franchise from Day 1. Despite some speculation that the Tennessee Titans, picking at No. 2 overall, were happy with Zach Mettenberger as their quarterback of the present and future, they happily selected Mariota.

Heading into the draft, each prospect came with a different set of concerns. For Mariota, it was his lack of experience in a pro-style offense, and whether or not his ability to make plays as a runner would lead to injury issues at the next level. For Winston, there were certainly on-field issues in terms of mechanics and turnovers, but off-field concerns were far more serious. He was accused of raping a fellow Florida State student back in 2012.

a group of baseball players that are standing in the grass: Associated Press © Associated Press Associated Press

It's now 2019, and both quarterbacks are two games into the final year of their rookie contracts, with both teams having picked up their fifth-year options. Winston has started 56 games for the Bucs up to this point, Mariota 57.

And still, neither has proven themselves more worthy than the other. We are no closer to knowing whether or not these two can be true franchise quarterbacks than we were in the Spring of 2015.

Bucs and Titans fans alike are still divided on whether or not their quarterback deserves a long-term extension, a contract that current market value would likely put somewhere north of $25 million per year.

Sure, both have shown flashes of brilliance. Glimpses of the potential that made them such high draft choices.

Winston has racked up huge yardage totals, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to start his career with back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons. Mariota has proven at times to be the dual-threat he was for the Ducks, rushing for over 1,200 yards in his career to go with more than 12,000 passing yards. Winston made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, while Mariota came in at No. 50 on NFL Network's Top 100 list following the 2016 season.

But despite those moments of triumph, these two star-studded prospects have lacked the consistency to deliver on their hype.

Off-field concerns about Winston appeared to be further validated when he was accused of groping a female Uber driver in 2016. The NFL investigated the incident and as a result of their findings, suspended Winston for the first three games of the 2018 season. As he did in the Florida State case, Winston settled a civil suit with his accuser.

On-field concerns about Winston's consistency and penchant for gratuitous turnovers also persist. Since entering the NFL, he leads the league in a wide variety of categories no quarterback wants to win, including interceptions and total turnovers.

Marcus Mariota et al. looking at each other: Getty © Getty Getty

For Mariota, injuries have indeed been a problem, though he's done his best to play through them. He's missed time for everything from an MCL sprain and fractured fibula to pulled hamstring, strained elbow and neck stinger.

I'm the last person who would cite wins as a quarterback statistic, but it's hard to ignore the fact that these teams simply haven't been successful with these respective quarterbacks at the helm. The Titans are 28-29 with Mariota under center, while the Bucs have gone 22-34 with Winston as their starter. Mariota has led the Titans to just one playoff appearance, while the Bucs have yet to taste the postseason with Winston at the helm.

There are obviously many different contributing factors to those records, but the fact remains that these two teams rarely win because of, rather than in spite of their quarterbacks.

This offseason, each of these teams will have a seismic decision to make. And it's possible that the rest of the 2019 season could go a long way toward making that decision easier, for better or worse.

But at least for now, this is one debate that still doesn't have a compelling case in one direction or another. And when you take a quarterback that high in the draft, that's simply not good enough.

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