We’ve spent months comparing Winston and Mariota to each other. But how do they compare to other recent first-round quarterbacks? An NFL team shares five years of its pre-draft quarterback grades. Plus, notes on Landon Collins, Marcus Peters and the race to be the fourth receiver taken
Here’s an idea: What if we took Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and every quarterback drafted in the first round over the last four years, and ranked them in order of how they would be drafted if they were in the same class?
I asked a high-ranking evaluator from an NFL team that has been in the QB market to do just that. He checked back on the final grades for each of the 12 first-rounders, added Winston and Mariota, then seeded them on the condition of anonymity.
From Luck to Ponder, Team X’s Top 14:
1. Andrew Luck
2. Jameis Winston
3. Robert Griffin III
4. Cam Newton
5. Blaine Gabbert
6. Marcus Mariota
7. Ryan Tannehill
8. Blake Bortles
9. Jake Locker
10. Teddy Bridgewater
11. EJ Manuel
12. Johnny Manziel
13. Brandon Weeden
14. Christian Ponder
In case you’re wondering, this isn’t coming from the Buccaneers or the Titans. This team and this evaluator doesn’t have a horse in the Winston/Mariota race. He submitted the list in the interest of debate, with a caveat: The grades span multiple management regimes.
So in that interest of debate, here is the evaluator’s view on the top of the list:
SCOUT X: You have Luck, who is in his own category. The only guy who compares well to him in the last five years is Jameis. A quarterbacks coach will tell you that Winston has fewer issues than Cam or RG3. Most guys are looking for a strong-armed pocket passer with the ability to read coverage. There’s no projecting that with Jameis; he’s already able to do it. We have Winston high, but don’t believe he’s quite as skilled as Luck.
The MMQB: But what about the interceptions?
SCOUT X: The 18 picks are more of a discipline issue. He has such a small sample size, so it’s hard to say he’s a chronic interception thrower. You had Kelvin Benjamin lost to the draft. You ask him who his go-to receiver was and he’ll tell you Nick O’Leary, who doesn’t project as a starting tight end in the NFL. You had drops, wrong routes. I think every game he was taking it upon himself to go win it.
The MMQB: And the off-field immaturity?
SCOUT X: Even with that, we still [have him rated higher] than both Cam Newton and RG3, because Cam had his own off-field issues, and RG3’s projected success was a question because he never had a playbook. With RG3, we felt he had all the tools, but there was still some heavy lifting to do.
The MMQB: And what about Mariota? Behind Gabbert?
SCOUT X: The only reason Gabbert was rated higher than Mariota is that I think they saw fewer fundamental flaws with Gabbert. Obviously you fast forward and this guy’s a gigantic bust. Mariota falls into the Manziel category for us, though bigger and with a little more polish.
* * *
Just remember: That is one team’s collective opinion. The exercise shows what Team X thought of the QBs before the draft, so the Mariota believers shouldn’t take the Gabbert comparison as a slight. This is, after all, an inexact science.
Five things you need to know
1. I don’t believe the teams often linked to Alabama strong safety Landon Collins at the end of the first round are seriously considering drafting him. Said one GM: “You’re not going to pick a safety like that in the first round unless he’s Sean Taylor. He’s a good player but is there any ‘wow’ factor? If he’s just steady, it may not be worth it.”
2. Trying to slot Washington cornerback Marcus Peters in the first round? You can cross off the clubs undergoing coaching transitions, as well as teams lacking strong veteran leadership in the defensive backfield. The stories of Peters’ verbal clashes with an assistant on first-year Washington coach Chris Petersen’s staff have potentially vulnerable NFL staffs disinterested. “He needs to be in a meeting room with some grown men who are about their business,” said one evaluator.
3. Of the eight or so teams rumored to be interested in a draft day deal for Adrian Peterson, four make sense to me. You have to figure a team willing to give up a 1 or a 2 for a 30-year-old running back feels as though they are one All-Pro away from the Super Bowl. So count out Washington, Miami, Tampa Bay and Oakland, leaving Arizona, Atlanta, Dallas and San Diego. The rest of the leaked teams feel to me like Minnesota trying to drive up Peterson’s price to get the first-rounder they seek.
4. An intriguing question in the middle of the first round: Which receiver goes first, UCF’s Breshad Perriman or Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham? Both are projects for different reasons. Green-Beckham looks like a pro on film and in workouts, but he was accused of shoving a woman down a flight of stairs, leading to his dismissal at Missouri. Perriman was productive enough to be considered a late-first rounder, then he ran in the 4.2s at his pro day. But, said one GM, “he never played faster than 4.45.” After asking around, I like Green-Beckham as the fourth receiver taken, after Amari Cooper, Kevin White and DeVante Parker.
5. As several readers pointed out, I erred when I implied in last Thursday’s column that prospect visits don’t matter. It’s easy to oversimplify when working on deadline. Face time with teams matters a great deal for prospects with character and injury concerns. Some teams, like the Packers, use the visits on small-school fringe players in order to shore up their undrafted free agent plans. Other teams, like the Cowboys, rarely draft a player who didn’t first visit the team. Please accept my humble apology, savvy readers.
BETTER KNOW A PROSPECT
Syracuse offensive tackle Sean Hickey started nine games at right tackle and 29 games at left tackle as a collegian, and polished off his résumé with 35 and 38 bench press reps of 225 at the combine and his pro day, respectively. Hickey is a likely sixth-round pick after returning to the Orange for a fifth season.
The MMQB: When you tore your ACL in 2011, how did that alter your career trajectory?
HICKEY: When it first happened I was trying to compete for the starting right tackle job. I was devastated for a few months, but I kind of buried myself in routine and just lifting whatever I could possibly lift. As I got bigger and stronger in my upper body and my knee healed, I had a completely different body. I can’t say I’m happy that it happened, but I did learn from it.
The MMQB: Are teams telling you which position they’d like you to play?
HICKEY: I’ve heard both guard and tackle. Some teams think I’m a right tackle that can play guard. It’s kind of split. The pass protection is different, but the biggest difference is your mentality in the running game. I’d have to get used to that and I’ve been working at that. Instead of dealing with the most athletic guy on the field you’re dealing with a much larger body.
The MMQB: Here’s a line from CBS Sports’ scouting report on you: “Needs to flash more of a mean streak and add more glass to his diet.” What do you think about that?
HICKEY: My mentality is to win every single play. Whenever you read things like that, you take it with a grain of salt. In an up-tempo offense you have to make sure you finish the play rather than running to where the ball will be spotted. You have to think about that. I just have to show them at the next level that they were wrong.
STAT OF THE WEEK
I’d invite you to poke around Alan Dandar’s highly addictive draft analytics playground, smashdraft.com. Dandar, a former player personnel assistant with the Eagles and statistician for the 76ers and Timberwolves, developed a trade value calculator for draft picks, which he says at least seven teams are testing out as the draft approaches.
Want to see what the Eagles would have to give up to move from the 20th pick to No. 2? According to SmashDraft, this and next year’s first-rounders would only account for half the value.
Dandar improved on several improvisations of former Cowboys vice president Mike McCoy’s NFL Draft Value Chart, which became a staple for NFL teams dealing picks on and before draft day. Dandar took Harvard’s recent revision of the chart and added his own engineering tweaks.
“The point is, ultimately, try to mimic a common sense approach to football, rather than a recap of past behavior,” Dandar says. “I want to open eyes to a better way of doing business with great tech in sports.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“How I’m supposed to handle it if I just say I got them for free? ... A week before, it was my buddy’s birthday, and we had got a cake, and we met a dude that was inside Publix, and he had said that Hey, anytime you come in here, I got you. So that day we just walked out and he hooked us up with that, and when I came in to get crab legs, I did the same thing, and he just gave them to me, and I walked out, and someone from inside the store had told the security that I didn’t pay for them, and that’s how the whole thing started.”
—Jameis Winston, explaining to Jim Harbaugh on an episode of ESPN’s Draft Academy how the Great Crab Legs Heist came about. That Winston seemed intimidated enough by Harbaugh to break his silence in the matter on camera (presumably subjecting his former school to NCAA scrutiny) doesn’t bode well for his future employer’s public relations staff.
SCORCHING HOT TAKE OF THE WEEK
"I LOVE TODD GURLEY...Todd Gurley is SPECIAL enough to be a top 5 pick in this draft." - @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/XWSpJoWQvC
— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) April 16, 2015
Thanks for making it easy for me, Skip. And now, your Sober Take of the Week:
Ted Thompson will stand here soon & tell us almost nothing about the NFL draft. Will tweet highlight if there are any pic.twitter.com/tIabUpFxoS
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) April 22, 2015
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