Marcus Mariota's NFL Draft stock is suddenly surging

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is still expected to be the first pick of the NFL Draft. But with three weeks to go, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is starting to surge and narrow the gap.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. now has Mariota as the second player taken in his latest mock draft, up from No. 6 overall last month. Kiper feels that either the Tennessee Titans will take Mariota or another team will trade up to the No. 2 pick to get the Heisman Trophy winner.

In explaining why teams are now higher on Mariota now than they were a few weeks ago, Kiper notes that Mariota has “done as much as he can to show he wasn’t just a system guy at Oregon,” and that you can’t question his potential or “physical profile.”

Going a step further, the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock now has Mariota listed as the top quarterback available.

Mayock was a guest on the “Dan Patrick Show” and was asked why he now has Mariota at the top of his board. It turns out it was just as much about downgrading Winston as it was upgrading Mariota.

“I put a [Winston] interception reel together … I showed it to [NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner] and we went through all 18 picks and what bothered me more than anything was he played on the team with arguably the best talent in the entire country and yet kept putting the ball in other people’s hands and really putting his team at a disadvantage. And obviously he did a great job in the second half. He was at his best when his best was needed. But in the NFL you don’t get those re-dos.”

Mayock went on to say that this was just one of two big issues with Winston. In addition to the interceptions, Mayock said he doesn’t know if he can trust Winston off the field.

At the same time, Mayock thinks the knock on Mariota, that the offensive system at Oregon did not prepare him for the NFL, is overblown.

“The more tape I watched of Mariota,” Mayock told Patrick. “The more I realised that in [Oregon’s] version of the spread offence he makes more decisions with combination routes than people believe. He wins games. He takes care of the football.”

When asked which player has the better chance of being a bust, Mayock had a very telling answer.

“I think Winston has more of a higher ceiling and I think Mariota has a higher floor.”

In other words, Winston may be great or he may be a bust. But if you are conservative — and most NFL teams and coaches are conservative to a fault — Mariota is the quarterback you want.

And then there are the NFL Combine numbers obtained by that show Mariota is just as tall as Winston, has bigger hands than Winston, and proved to be more athletic than Winston in every way possible, and in some cases it wasn’t even close.

Of course, some of this is just the absurdity of the draft evaluation process. Making a highlight tape of Winston just throwing interceptions is inevitably going to make Winston look like he is bad at protecting the football.

If given enough time to review enough film and measurables everybody is going to find things they like and don’t like. That is only made worse with the draft being pushed later into the year.

At the end of the day, Mariota is probably not going to be the top pick in the draft. But the debate over which quarterback will be the better choice is far from over.

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