The 2015 NFL Draft gave us two of the most intriguing quarterbacks in recent memory with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. The two of them became the sixth ever quarterback duo to be drafted with the top two picks of their draft. With Winston being the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and Mariota winning the award in 2014, the two were expected to take their franchise to great heights.
However, we’ve seen mixed results with both quarterbacks. Winston had a strong start to his career, becoming the first-ever quarterback to have at least 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons, and nearly led the Buccaneers to the playoffs in 2016. Things were looking up but injury and turnover plagued 2017 and 2018 seasons brought his career and reputation down.
Mariota has strangely followed a similar path to Winston. After a solid but not spectacular rookie season in 2015, Mariota had what looked like a breakout 2016 where he finished with 26 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions, and he was also named a Pro Bowl first alternate that year. While he regressed in 2017 the Titans did make the playoffs and Mariota did help them upset the Kansas City Chiefs in one of the Wild Card playoff games, before taking a massive step back in 2018.
Both quarterbacks had their fifth-year options picked up in part due to both the Titans and Buccaneers viewing the 2019 quarterback prospects as can’t miss. With both quarterbacks needing to make 2019 their year, it’s easily their last chance to prove to their respective franchises that they can lead them moving forward.
Jameis Winston 2019 Season So Far
The Buccaneers have been building up their skill positions for a few seasons in order to surround Winston with enough pieces to succeed. They’ve certainly done a good job with the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and, O.J. Howard. However, the key that Winston always needed was a head coach to help unlock his potential. The 2019 offseason finally saw the Buccaneers do that with bringing in Bruce Arians. The once retired coach found success in Arizona and his season as interim head coach in Indianapolis in 2012 and is a “quarterback whisperer.” Many believed that Arians would finally be the coach to unlock the potential of Winston.
Things didn’t start off strong with a three-interception performance by Winston in week 1 of 2019, but since the first game, things have been a lot better. In weeks 2-4 Winston has thrown for eight touchdowns to only two interceptions while having a quarterback rating of 66.0 or higher in two of those games, and over a 100.0 passer rating in all three games.
The most recent game was the 55-40 upset victory over the Los Angeles Rams, a win that stunned many pundits and analysts. While the rest of the season has yet to be played up to this point, Winston has clearly shown improvements in his game. If Winston continues to play at his current pace, he will likely throw for a career-high in yards per pass attempt and passer rating. Now, this isn’t exactly a shock as Winston has been known for his deep-ball ability, but it’s two other key stats that he has cleaned up in.
Again aside from his three interceptions in the first game of 2019, Winston has only thrown two other interceptions, and he has thrown a 60% completion percentage in weeks 2-4 of 2019. This consistent completion percentage and cleaning up of turnovers have allowed Winston to flourish under Arians and early on we see more of the Jameis Winston we saw in 2015 and 2016. Victories over playoff-hopeful Carolina and defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams helps his resume and had it not been for the Buccaneers defense blowing a lead against the Giants, Winston would be 3-0 since week 1.
Marcus Mariota 2019 Season So Far
While he had been sacked 17 times through the first three games of the season, that did not deter Mariota from performing well the next week. Week 4 of the 2019 season saw Mariota get sacked zero times against the Atlanta Falcons en route to three touchdowns and no interceptions. If anything has been clear so far in the 2019 season, when Mariota is in rhythm, the Titans are a real threat.
Mariota has done well to start 2019, despite the team only being 2-2 they have been competitive in three out of four games, the exception being the week 3 game against the Jaguars that saw Mariota get sacked nine times. Aside from that game, Mariota has been allowed to truly impact the games, and a large part has been due to being injury-free. Mariotas’ seasons have been marred by injuries that more time than not, limit him rather than forcing him to sit out.
Now that he has been able to stay healthy, the results are beginning to show. Mariota has been allowed to build chemistry with his receivers, he’s currently on pace to average a career-high in yards per attempt and second-highest completion percentage. Mariota also has a chance to potentially throw a career-high in attempts in a season that will allow us to see his passing game on full display this season.
Along with the passing improvements, Mariota has a good running game in Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis, and his offensive line will improve soon as Taylor Lewan will be returning from his four-game suspension. With the team coming together now with a moderate schedule coming up, Mariota has everything in his favor to continue to improve this season and continue his success.
While only a fourth of the season has been played to this point, both men have shown early on they have taken strides and are in a position to build upon their great starts. The key to how different 2019 is for both players is that their teams, for the first time in their respective quarterback’s tenures have real hope. Both teams find themselves at 2-2 and in the thick of things.
The Buccaneers find themselves in an NFC South where the Falcons and Panthers have rocky roads ahead, and a Saints team that is without Drew Brees for a few more weeks. The Titans are in an even better spot, they are in an AFC South where no team has fully separated themselves, but the Titans have the best point differential with a +29, no other AFC South team has a positive difference. With both teams doing well and both quarterbacks looking the best and healthiest they’ve been in years, we could see both get extensions of some sort after the 2019 season.