With the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Bucs will have their choice of quarterback—and fantasy owners who find themselves in a similar situation would be wise to take their cues from what Tampa Bay does, as it’s the most favorable landing spot for a rookie quarterback among the first ten teams picking in this year’s draft.
If you don’t have the luxury of waiting until their destinations are determined, who is the better fantasy option: Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota?
The knee-jerk reaction might be to lean towards the über-athletic Mariota, who is bound to add rushing yards and scores to his stat line a la the rookie campaigns of Geno Smith (366 rushing yards, six rushing scores), Robert Griffin III (815 and seven), or Cam Newton (706 and 14). But you’ll notice those QB rushing stats decline from Newton in 2011 to Smith in 2013, as the league is figuring out how to defend run-first quarterbacks. Plus, Mariota comes into the NFL a less polished passer than RG3 or Newton—more akin to Smith, who even with the rushing numbers still ranked as the 20th-most productive fantasy quarterback during his rookie season.
Mariota has all the intangibles and enough arm strength to make the throws, but he hasn’t huddled or actually called plays since high school and he has almost no experience under center. Plus, in the Oregon offense he made limited reads and threw into big windows—two luxuries he’s unlikely to have in the NFL. So there’s bound to be an adjustment period before Mariota makes his fantasy mark.
Winston, on the other hand, has few on-the-field question marks. He has a strong arm, comes from a pro style offense, and possesses a Peyton Manning-like football IQ. He was prone to interceptions, especially last season, and he has a U-Haul full of baggage he’ll need to explain to any team who wants to make him the face of their franchise. But assuming the off-the-field stuff isn’t a concern, Winston should be ready to step directly into an NFL offense and produce—especially if he’s gifted with a receiving corps that includes Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The vast majority of mock drafts have Winston slotted to the Bucs, which would certainly serve as the clincher in this debate. His upside is along the lines of Newton’s rookie season (4.051 yards, 21 TDs) minus the monster rushing numbers. Those stats are remarkably similar to what Ben Roethlisberger put up last year (4,077 and 21, with just 70 rushing yards and zero rushing scores), stats which placed Big Ben 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. Winston has enough athleticism to outgain Roethlisberger on the ground, pushing him into every-week fantasy starter status.
While nothing is set in stone just yet, all indications are Tampa Bay is poised to make Winston their selection—a pick fantasy owners should emulate.