WINSTON, MARIOTA SETTING RECORD PACE
So far, 2015 has ushered in a changing of the guard at quarterback.
Andy Dalton is demanding (with his play) that he be mentioned among the elite. Derek Carr is on pace for 38 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Tyrod Taylor has a passer rating of 108.8 and has the Bills competing for the playoffs again. But perhaps no breakouts are more surprising than those of the top two picks in the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
Of course, Winston and Mariota were expected by many to become great -- that's why they were the top two picks -- but it's exceptionally surprising that they are already playing at a high level despite the fact that they were playing against college defenses only a year ago. Mariota only turned 22 less than two weeks ago, while Winston won't be 22 until January.
Yet both quarterbacks have more than respectable numbers and seem to be getting better as the season goes on. Which of the two is having a better season? How do they stack up against other rookie quarterbacks, historically? And what does the future have in store for each of them?
Let's start with Mariota, who made his sixth career start on Sunday and beat the New Orleans Saints 34-28 in overtime on the back of his four touchdown passes.
Mariota finished the game with 371 passing yards, 9.5 yards per attempt, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 135.7. It is only the tenth time in history that a rookie quarterback has thrown four touchdowns without a pick in the same game. The last time that it happened was … Week 1 of this season, when Mariota did it against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He is the first rookie in history to have two such games.
It's also his second game with at least 350 passing yards, and he's the only rookie to accomplish that feat since Andrew Luck did it three times in 2012. (Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill also hit 350 that season.) Mariota and Marc Bulger are the only rookie QBs in history to have at least 350 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in the same game.
The game raised his passer rating on the season to just under 101. Compare that to some other recent rookies that had early success.
Through Blake Bortles first six starts, he had 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 68.3. Derek Carr had a passer rating of 80.9 and was 0-6. Luck had a passer rating of 72.3 after six starts. Russell Wilson had a rating of 85.6. Cam Newton had nine interceptions and a rating of 78.3. Joe Flacco had two touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first six starts.
Even the best success stories when looking at the first six starts as a true rookie pale in comparison to what Mariota has accomplished to this point. Robert Griffin III had a rating of 100.5 in his first six starts, but with only five touchdowns. That's eight touchdowns less than Mariota. Ben Roethlisberger had a rating of 104.7, with nine touchdowns and four picks.
Only two rookies in NFL history have posted a passer rating of at least 100 over a full season, both of whom did it in 2012: RGIII and Wilson. Could Mariota be the third? It's possible.
The Titans still have two games left against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are allowing better than a 100 rating to opposing QBs this season. They also face the Oakland Raiders, who just had a meltdown against Antonio Brown (17 catches, 284 yards this week), Houston Texans (95.2 rating allowed), and Indianapolis Colts.
Perhaps what's more surprising is that Mariota is getting it done with a set of skill players that might be better described as "kill players" in the way that they kill drives. Among those receivers, tight ends, and running backs that are mostly anonymous to anyone but the most diehard football fans are Antonio Andrews, Justin Hunter, Dexter McCluster, Delanie Walker, Dorial Green-Beckham, Harry Douglas, Anthony Fasano, and Craig Stevens. Tennessee's top receiver, Kendall Wright, was inactive this week with a knee injury.
And even Wright is a somewhat limited receiver to begin with.
One thing he does not have is a legitimate number one receiver (though Green-Beckham could become one eventually) but when the Titans do find a guy like that, Mariota's numbers -- specifically his deep passing numbers, which have been poor -- should only improve.
Finding a legit number one isn't something Winston has had to worry about.
That was evident on Sunday, as Winston posted another strong performance in Tampa Bay's 32-18 loss to the New York Giants, with Mike Evans contributing eight catches for 152 yards. That helped Winston throw for 249 yards without an interception. It's his fourth straight game without a pick, putting him on pace for 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on the year.
It was the first game of his career where he didn't throw a touchdown.
Overall, Winston's numbers compare favorably to Dalton, who had 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during his rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals. But Winston is averaging significantly more yards per attempt than Dalton, though anything could change over the next eight games. Winston could get better, or he could get worse, but lately his game has been going in the right direction and the Bucs are competing again because of it.
It's easy to forget that Tampa Bay was 2-14 last season, so their 3-5 start is actually quite good in comparison. They would be 4-4 if not for an epic defensive collapse against the Washington ********, and this week's loss to the Giants was much closer than the final score would indicate.
Over his last four games, Winston has a passer rating of 99.1 with 233 yards per game and no picks. That includes two road games and a divisional win over the spiraling Atlanta Falcons. One thing that people questioned about Winston leading up to the draft was his maturity, but eight games into his NFL career, he's playing like a grizzled veteran and giving the Bucs a legit chance to win most weeks.
Being drafted in the top five is no guarantee for success for quarterbacks. You can ask JaMarcus Russell, Sam Bradford, Akili Smith, and at least a dozen others. It's way too early to determine if Mariota or Winston are successes or busts, but midway into their rookie seasons, they're doing better than anyone could have asked for.
What happens next is anyone's guess, but as the next generation of quarterbacks accepts the torch from the Manning, Brady, and Brees's of the world, it's definitely fun to watch.
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"