We’re breaking the NFL Draft from every perspective this week on The Inside Slant. We begin our coverage with the quarterback class, headlined by Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.
Which current pros do Winston and Mariota compare to? And what would it take for both of them to justify a top 3 pick? All of that and much more on today’s episode of The Inside Slant with our guest, Benjamin Allbright.
Q: Who do you see as the top quarterback in this class?
A: I’ve got kind of a tie. I think it’s the two quarterbacks that everyone is talking about. They’re just diametrically opposite in terms of style of play. You’ve got Jameis WInston whose basically, to me, Jay Cutler 2.0. And you have his opposite counterpoint in Marcus Mariota who, to me, is Alex Smith 2.0. I think both those quarterbacks have some strengths and some weaknesses, but I don’t think either of them is ever going to be anything more than a mid-tier NFL starter in the long-run.
Q: If Winston and Mariota project to be Jay Cutler and Alex Smith, why are people so high on them?
A: Well, because they’re young quarterbacks. It’s a quarterback-driven league, so the hype on these guys ends up pushing them up. Quarterbacks get taken well before they should be taken in every NFL draft. Look no further than last year with Johnny Manziel. I had an early day three grade on him, and there he was at the back end of the first round getting taken. You see guys get taken well above where they should, and the litany of names is quite lengthy. You’re talking about Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker… They’re all taken well before they should have been. It just happens. Youth and potential tend to trump, in the minds of general managers, reality of what they could become, and it’s a problem with drafting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Q: If you had to rank these quarterbacks, how would you rank them? Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Geno Smith, Luck, Tannehill, RGIII, Russell Wilson
A: They would definitely be behind Luck, Tannehill, Wilson. I probably had them behind Geno, I would have to look… Just about every one of those names, they would have been behind. They would have been behind Bridgewater, Carr, Luck and Tannehill and Wilson. Yeah. They would have been near the bottom of that list.
Q: So almost all of the quarterbacks drafted in the first two rounds over the past 3 years would be ranked ahead of Winston and Mariota?
A: I would have had Winston and Mariota rated ahead of guys like Weeden and Bortles… I’m trying to remember the number I had on EJ Manuel… I think I would have had them over EJ. But, yeah, that’s a pretty fair assessment.
Q: If Mariota and Winston reach their potential, what does that look like? I know you said their comparisons are Jay Cutler and Alex Smith… Is that their peak?
A: I think so. I know you hear the Ben Roethlisberger comparisons out there for Winston, but he’s nowhere near as athletic as Roethlisberger. You know, maybe he can become good Jay Cutler… You know, I don’t know. Eli Manning throws a lot of interceptions, and he’s dragged a couple teams to the Super Bowl kicking and screaming. Maybe Eli Manning is the ceiling for Winston. I don’t really know. Alex Smith, for all of the knocks on him, he’s very efficient with the football, and when he has great defenses, he wins football games. I think he went to a Super Bowl backing up Kaepernick if I remember correctly. He got them mostly there, they just relinquished his starter role midway through the season. He’s come close before. So I don’t think having either one of these guys precludes you from winning the Super Bowl. I just don’t think either one is ever going to be great in terms of what they bring to the table.
Q: If you’re a GM, and you’re drafting a QB in the top 3, what would it take for that QB to accomplish in order to justify the top 3 ranking?
A: I think if you’re going to spend a pick like that on a quarterback, he needs to become — by his 2nd or 3rd year — a top 10 starter in the NFL. In terms of production, he needs to be low on the turnovers, he needs to generate yardage, he needs to generate positive momentum in the offense. Especially in the critical situations — when you look at 3rd and 4th down, or long situations, 2 minute situations — his numbers need to be pretty good. He needs to be a guy whose leading the offense and not a detriment. Not a guy whose getting by on the talent around him.
Q: Looking back, has Ryan Tannehill justified being a top 10-15 pick?
A: I think he has. Especially if you look at it through the lens of what he became by the end of last season. We’ve seen a continual upward progression with Tannehill. A guy that was only a starter at quarterback for a year and a half at Texas A&M. He was their 7th leading WR prior to that. I’ve definitely seen an upward trend with him. Last year, I was very impressed with where he was by the end of the year. Started rough, but by the time he got there it was pretty good. But yeah, I think Tannehill was definitely worth the pick.
Q: Are there any quarterbacks after Winston and Mariota that could develop into starting NFL quarterbacks?
A: There are some possibilities. Brett Hundley, with significant work, he could become a starter in the NFL. Bryce Petty is a guy I want to like, but lower velocity than you want… He’s also going to be a 24 year old rookie coming off a broken back… And then you look at Garrett Grayson, that’s another 24 year old rookie with injury history. I think he’s a career number 2, maybe a spot starter. I don’t really care for Sean Mannion. Chris Bonner is really raw, and he looks like he could be a starter down the line if you put work into him. Brandon Bridge needs a lot of work, but could be one. None of these guys are going to be world beaters, though.
Q: Do the injury concerns worry you with Bryce Petty?
A: Yeah, I don’t know how many people you have that used to have a bad back. Everybody that I know that has a bad back carries it with them for life.
Q: I feel like everyone agrees that Winston will go number 1 overall. Where does Mariota end up?
A: Winston is a lock at number 1. I reported that 2-3 weeks ago. He is going number 1 to the Bucs. It’s happening. There’s still a chance someone could trade up to number 2. The Titans are desperately trying to create a market for him by pretending they’re going to take him. They may end up taking him to ransom him. He doesn’t fit with the Ken Wisenhunt archeotype at quarterback at all. Maybe they could keep him and use him, I don’t know. Initially I thought maybe San Diego, but they cooled on that. The Browns aren’t really in. They want to move up to get Danny Shelton. The Eagles seem to be the team that’s banging the drum. The Rams are a team that’s sniffed around. They could move up and try to get him. I don’t know if they want to do that or not, but they’re a team that’s talked about it, and I know they picked up the 5th year on Brockers. They could potentially move him as well. Those are the teams that I think would be at the forefront. Maybe the Bears could be a sleeper team.
Q: Gun to your head, who would you predict moves up to get Mariota?
A: That’s rough… If I had to predict it, I’ll go out on a limb. I’ll predict the Rams go up and get him.
Q: Would Mariota be a good fit for the Rams?
A: Yeah, I do. Jeff Fisher’s had success with mobile quarterbacks. Even ones he didn’t want. He didn’t want Vince Young, and he still won games with him. He definitely had success with Steve McNair. So he’s had success with mobile quarterbacks and moving them around in the pocket. So I think it would be a good fit, yeah.