Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston?
It’s a question with no clear answer but with plenty of division among NFL fans and experts alike. Instead of put it to rest, the lukewarm preseason debuts of both signal callers brought up the question once more. In reality, this quarterback debate skims the surface of an issue that’s been a part of the game for the past decade. It boils down to the pro-style versus the spread option offenses, and the effect both have on the quality of NFL quarterbacks.
Let’s consider Oregon. Arguably no other team plays a tempo offense in a spread formation better than the Ducks. Quick passes and option reads, a running quarterback and lightning fast running backs, all working together to control the clock and confuse the defense. It becomes easy to see why many college programs have switched to this style of play and have found success with the spread option. Not only is it fun to watch, it sounds like the future of football. Compared to the sometimes slower and more methodical play of a pro-style team, it can look revolutionary.
That is, until it’s done in the NFL.
Read options don’t work in the league. Defensive linemen are fast enough to chase down a runningback or shadow and tackle a quarterback. A running quarterback can excel, but he has to be able to check down to a second or third receiver. Though it may have worked just fine in college, reading one receiver and scrambling to the edge won’t be effective (or safe) in the pros. Yet, teams have tried to build this kind of offense around their star QB, and without much success.
Look at Cleveland with Johnny Manziel or Carolina with Cam Newton. Both are incredible with the option and on their feet, but taking a five step drop and finding an open target? Not so much. The same could be said for RGIII in Washington. All three are exceptional athletes, but not great quarterbacks; they just can’t make the throws pocket passers like Brady, Rodgers, or Manning can. The only team who has had any success with this kind of offense is Chip Kelly’s Eagles. Even so, Kelly has yet to find the quarterback to run his offense, and with the roster looking the way it does now, he may still be looking in 2016. Without an electric playmaker behind center, Kelly will never recreate the Oregon offense the way he wants to.
So if I’m forced to choose between the two former Heisman winners, I’m choosing Winston. Within the pro-style offense of Florida State, Jameis covered ground that Mariota has only recently begun to. Mainly, Winston has the throwing mechanics, footwork, and passing vision the Titans QB just doesn’t have. Pro style teams consistently produce better NFL quarterbacks than option type teams, it’s that simple. Both throwers have a lot to prove, and both will be making big plays this season. I have no doubt that Mariota can become a great player in this league, but I have doubts that it will be happening anytime this season.