Toward the end of last season, when Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy and led Oregon to the College Football Playoff, the general consensus was that he would be the top quarterback taken in this year’s draft. But it didn’t take long for Jameis Winston to become top dog once more.
“I think that for the public who watched college football, what happens is the guy who’s the Heisman Trophy winner – especially if he’s the quarterback – people immediately assume he’s a top-five guy and the No. 1 quarterback in the nation,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Marcus played to that level. But Jameis Winston, who won it the year before – there was so much controversy swirling around him and I don’t think . . . people were looking at him and saying, ‘Well, that’s the best quarterback, and he’s going to be the top draft choice.’ It became much more of Marcus needing to be cemented in.
“Most people thought Winston is the guy in front because he plays a pro-style offense, did pro-style stuff,” Davis continued. “Marcus hasn’t done nearly as much of that. So I think that’s what changed for a lot of people. I hear it all the time: ‘I thought Mariota was the best quarterback. How did Winston move ahead of him?’ Well, a lot of times, what the NFL thinks and what the public really believes coming out of college football doesn’t always match up.”
Indeed, perception is not always reality, and Winston will almost assuredly be the top pick in the draft.
“As long as nothing happens between now and Thursday night when the commissioner steps to the podium and opens up the 2015 Draft, I believe that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select Jameis Winston,” Davis said. “I’ve talked to too many people close to the situation there. I know that Marcus Mariota has support in the room there. But the final decision makers, they have it with Jameis Winston. I think that that’s the direction they will go.”
That leaves the Tennessee Titans in the catbird seat. The Titans can either draft Mariota and make him their franchise quarterback, or they can trade the pick to any number of suitors, including, potentially, the Cleveland Browns, who are reportedly willing to offer a pair of first-round picks – 12 and 19 – to move up to No. 2.
Is Mariota worth that?
“I think he is, especially if you’re Cleveland,” Davis said. “They’ve got to get the quarterback position right. And many will say, ‘Well, you drafted Johnny Manziel last year. Why won’t you guys give him anther shot?’ Well, he had a bad work ethic last year. He didn’t play well when he actually got on the field. He ended up, unfortunately for himself, in rehab, which is a bigger deal than playing football. So you can’t, as a Browns organization, say, ‘Well, that’s the guy. He’s going to be our guy. We know he’ll be okay.’ Always try to make your team better and try to move up. Trying to get Marcus Mariota, to me, makes sense.”
That’s because Davis believes Mariota is a better all-around prospect than Manziel.
“I think Mariota would be rated on just about everyone’s board as a better prospect coming out,” Davis said. “(He’s) a bigger quarterback – 6-4, 220-something pounds – he’s got everything Johnnny has. In fact, he’s faster than Manziel. Many people thought Manziel was fast. He was actually quick – way quicker than he was fast. Well, guess what? Marcus has that same quickness but is a really faster runner.
“I would go with Mariota if I could make that trade,” Davis continued, “but I think it’s going to take more than 12 and 19. I think it’s going to be 12 and 19 and a couple more sweeteners before that deal gets consummated. But if I’m Cleveland, I’m exploring every part of it.”