Rookie Dreams: Do NFL Newbies Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota Have Postseason Potential?

Left: Winston (credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sport. Right: Mariota (credit: Chris Keane/AP Photo)
Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

One of the most anticipated match-ups of the first week of the NFL season (if not the entire fall) is Sunday’s showdown between this year’s top two draft picks—Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans. The winner will have a leg up on becoming only the 15th rookie since 1970 to lead his team to the playoffs.

Back in 2012, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III proved emphatically that first-year quarterbacks can make the postseason, giving fans in Tampa Bay and Nashville hope that their new stars can replicate that magic.

But CBS analyst Phil Simms thinks expectations should be tempered. Though Winston and Mariota captured the last two Heisman trophies (and Winston led Florida State to the 2014 national title), Simms points out that “they are coming onto teams that really, really struggled last season,” with identical 2–14 records.

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Still, both players have great professional potential. “Winston is an aggressive thrower of the football and an aggressive decision maker,” Simms says. “If you present him with an opportunity to throw the ball down the field, he never turns it down. That’s a great trait. It will backfire sometimes in the NFL, but he will learn where that line is.” It certainly helps that he will take the field with a pair of elite 6-foot-5 wide receivers (Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans) as primary targets.

Mariota, who led Oregon to the Rose Bowl title (and a spot in the College Football Playoff title game) in January, lacks the same caliber receivers, but the NFL Network’s Kurt Warner sees his “physical upside. If Mariota can learn Tennessee’s system, [combined] with the mechanics and the footwork that he has, I am very intrigued to see how good he can be and how quickly he can get to the top.”

The Tampa Buccaneers host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at 4:25/3:25c on CBS.