Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were supposed to be at the helm of a new generation of NFL quarterbacks. After several down years for QB prospects following the stacked 2012 class with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, 2015 brought a strong-armed winner in Winston and a dual-threat in Mariota as the futures of the league. Tampa Bay and Tennessee had each finally found their franchise guy, and were set at the position for years to come.
About four and a half years later, we couldn't have been more wrong. Mariota was benched on Sunday after completing a whopping 38 percent of his passes for 68 total yards and two interceptions. Winston is still the starter in Tampa Bay, but is coming off a five-turnover contest in London against the Panthers and has 10 interceptions on the year. To Winston's credit (I guess), his actual counting statistics aren't that bad, but most of his big numbers come from garbage-time drives, a common refrain throughout his career so far.
Both quarterbacks are in the final year of their rookie deals. Usually, the first and second overall picks of a draft have already been signed to an extension. It takes a big miss to not give that high of a draft pick a second contract, even if they don't live all the way up to their potential. I mean, even Blake Bortles got a second contract after going third overall in 2014. But Winston and Mariota have just been that bad.
In his defense, Mariota's injury struggles have stunted his career. Every time it looked like he was putting it all together, he suffered one malady or another that either sidelined or significantly hampered him. He also hasn't been paired with an offensive coordinator well-suited to his skillset; Mike Malarkey and Mike Vrabel both enjoy taking "smash-mouth football" to its logical extreme, and Matt LeFleur, while a McVay disciple, led Tennessee to a bottom-10 offense in his one season with the Titans. Winston has had a similar run of incompetent coaching with the exception of the last two years, but he looks no better than when he came into the league.
Teams pick at the top of the draft for a reason, and no one expects even the brightest of quarterback prospects to be able to turn around a 2-14 team immediately. But the expectation is that they improve while the front office puts a good team around them, and everything is up from there. The front offices fulfilled their end of the bargain, more or less; Winston got Mike Evans and O.J. Howard to throw to, while Mariota was gifted a steamrolling offensive line and stingy defense. But the two quarterbacks just haven't gotten better.
Winston still has no idea when to hold on to the ball and when to throw it away. He's still fooled by the most basic of NFL defensive schemes. None of this is to mention Winston's well-documented off-the-field issues from both before and during his time with the Bucs, which makes one wonder why they haven't moved on already.
Mariota still looks uncomfortable attempting to dissect defenses at this level. His willingness and ability to gash teams on the ground has faded with each injury. He was just benched for Ryan Tannehill, who is essentially a worse version of Mariota.
These two were supposed to be at the head of a new era of NFL quarterbacks. They've already been surpassed by the 2016 and 2017 draft classes. Maybe a change of scenery is what both guys need, but in their current states, the referendum is already out on Winston and Mariota. It isn't good.