Back in 2017, a doe-eyed and bushy-tailed Jameis Winston, then playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, told ESPN that he and fellow quarterback talent Marcus Mariota “weren’t trying to compete against each other.”
Oh, how the times have changed.
Winston will play under center for the New Orleans Saints in 2022 after signing a two-year deal while Mariota agreed to his own two-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons following the Matt Ryan trade.
As the respective starting quarterbacks for two rivalry franchises, the stakes could not be higher. Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota entered the 2015 draft as the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects that year, with Winston taken first overall by the Bucs and Mariota taken second overall by the Tennessee Titans.
Their careers had strayed along a very similar path in college, then diverged, and now they converge once again in the NFC South, each quarterback now the master of his own destiny — to a degree, of course, since Winston and Mariota are inheriting vastly different teams.
Winston takes over a Saints squad that just barely missed the playoffs last season, boasts a top-10 defense, and will feature one of the league’s top wideouts in the soon-to-be-healthy Michael Thomas.
Mariota takes over a Falcons squad that has posted a losing record in the last four years, ranked 29th in team defense in 2021, and lost their top three wideouts, including one who recently signed with the Bucs.
Compared side by side, Winston seems better primed for success, though he still faces an uphill battle on his road to recovery after tearing his ACL this past season.
Neither player has made quite the same impact in the league as other first-round quarterbacks have (Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert), but each has developed his own style of play that may influence their respective teams’ offensive schemes for the foreseeable future.
Winston, or Mr. 30-30 as he is often notoriously called, went interception-crazy in his final season at Tampa and will look to play a cleaner game in his second year in NOLA. In 2021, he showed his formidable arm strength and ability to make big plays, but he hasn’t yet proved he can consistently lead drives down the field or string together decisive wins.
New Orleans Saints’ Jameis Winston and Atlanta Falcons’ Marcus Mariota fuel a new NFC South rivalry
Mariota threw his fair share of picks in Tennessee but is perhaps best known for his nimble legs, recording 1,399 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in five years with the Titans. Once touted as the NFL’s Next Big Thing, Mariota never lived up to the hype, suffered debilitating injuries, and has been critiqued for his scrambling pocket presence. He never found his groove in Tennessee, but in Atlanta, his chemistry with the ever-versatile utility weapon Cordarrelle Patterson will be something to keep an eye on.
What do the record books say about this potentially fiery-hot quarterback rivalry? Mariota – 1, Winston – 0.
Winston and Mariota played just one head-to-head college game: the 2015 Rose Bowl in which Mariota’s Ducks thrashed Winston’s Seminoles 59-20. Mariota threw for 338 yards and recorded two touchdowns and one interception, and Winston threw for 348 yards with one touchdown against one interception. Florida State’s epic collapse may be more telling of Winston’s inconsistency (he had that god-awful fumble) than of Mariota’s quarterback play, however, as fans saw Winston completely unravel and shamefully bow out of a chance for a repeat national championship.
College ball is one thing; the NFL is another. Seven years after their letdowns on their originally drafted teams, Winston and Mariota have a golden opportunity to rewrite history and ignite a rivalry for the ages.
Instead of being remembered as Mr. 30-30, Winston can take the horns of the Saints’ passing offense and be “the 2022 NFL MVP (a reach, we know) who beat Brady so badly he finally retired.” Instead of being just a serviceable backup quarterback, Mariota can earn a long-term starting job and be “the misunderstood prodigy who miraculously revived his career in Atlanta.”
We doubt we’ve seen the best in either quarterback so far, and this upcoming season will act as a momentous, high-stakes “prove it” year for both of them.
At one point in their careers, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were Desirable No. 1 and No. 2, and every team in the league wanted a piece of them. Their once-dissipated dreams could come true when the Saints and Falcons enter the murky NFC South battlefield in 2022.
On one side, the Heisman Trophy winner of 2013. On the other, the Heisman Trophy winner of 2014. Let the games begin.