NFL Nation: Marcus Mariota

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jerry Angelo, who was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' director of personnel from 1987 through 2000, said he's glad he's not in that role these days.

Angelo said the Bucs face an extremely difficult decision on what to do with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He said Tuesday it's a "coin flip" between Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"They're both good," said Angelo, who went on to work as the general manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001-11. "It's what flavor you like."

Angelo said Winston has the edge when it comes to on-field performance.

"Winston has everything you look for," Angelo said. "He reminds me of a Ben Roethlisberger. He's big and strong and can extend a play. He has good mobility. He can make plays with his feet. He's big, athletic and accurate. That's his best trait, his accuracy. And the fact he's played in a pro-style offense certainly helps."

Mariota, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds) among quarterbacks at the combine, didn't have the luxury of playing in a pro-style offense. He played in a spread system in college.

"You can't minimize the intangibles with Mariota," Angelo said. "Intangibles are about 60 percent of it -- and he has great intangibles. My concern with him is the system he's played in and his accuracy within the pocket. I weigh that very heavily. With what you've seen in college, you don't know for sure and it's tough to come away with any confidence. Could he be like [Kansas City's] Alex Smith is now? Yes, he could be. But you don't know anything for sure because you haven't seen him in a pro-style system."

Angelo said the Bucs have to factor in more than on-field talent when making their decision. Winston has had a series of off-field incidents, including an allegation of sexual assault, although he was not charged with a crime.

"You have to do your homework very thoroughly," Angelo said. "But you're still taking a flier. The quarterback is the face of the franchise. The Bucs can't afford any more bad publicity. It's not just about the talent. The talent is obvious. But you have to bring character [into the equation] and the potential damage you could do to the franchise. That's an issue for ownership. If you take the character out of it, Winston is the pick. But you can't take the character out of it because that's a very important thing."

TAMPA, Fla. -- The first wave of free agency is long over and the most perplexing thing for the Buccaneers is why they haven’t done anything with their offensive line.

It was the worst in the league last year and the Bucs haven’t made any changes, other than releasing left tackle Anthony Collins. That was a good move, but there has been no flip side to it.

That brings huge concern because it looks as if the Bucs are going to draft either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota with the first overall pick. You don’t want a rookie quarterback playing behind a bad offensive line and that’s what the Bucs have at the moment.

They have flirted with free-agent center/guard Stefen Wisniewski. But he has yet to sign anywhere despite making several visits. Indications are that Wisniewski still is a possibility for the Bucs. He would fill an instant need, either taking over for Patrick Omameh at right guard or allowing center Evan Dietrich-Smith to switch to right guard.

But it remains to see what, if anything, will happen with Wisniewski and the Bucs. In addition to guard, there’s a gaping hole at tackle. Collins was a huge flop last season and the Bucs need to have someone competent protecting the blind side of a rookie quarterback.

Right tackle Demar Dotson flipped over to the left side at the end of last season and it’s possible he could stay there. But, even if Dotson plays on the left side, the Bucs would have a big need at right tackle.

It’s easy to point to the draft and say the Bucs can address the offensive line there. But that’s asking for too much. They could get an instant starter on the offensive line in the second round. But it’s too much to expect anyone taken beyond the second round to start right away.

Besides, do the Bucs really want two rookies protecting Winston or Mariota? I don’t think so.

The Bucs need to sign Wisniewski or some other veteran free agent to fill one of their holes, then use the draft to take care of the other open position.

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As he watched Marcus Mariota receive the Heisman Trophy in December, one thought kept running through Jack Thompson's head.

"I just kept saying, 'He's Samoan. He's Samoan. He's Samoan,'" Thompson said.

It's a matter of pride for Thompson, a former NFL quarterback known as "The Throwin' Samoan." Mariota, who was born and raised in Hawaii, also comes from Samoan ancestry. His father was born in Samoa.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Mariota should be the top pick in the draft, former NFL QB Jack Thompson says.

"Marcus is a far better quarterback than I ever was," said Thompson, who was born in Samoa and moved to the Seattle area as a child. "Marcus is going to have a great NFL career. My heritage is very important to me and I can't tell you how proud it makes me to see what Marcus has done and what he will do."

Mariota is expected to be picked early in the draft, perhaps even No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That gives him something else in common with Thompson, who was picked No. 3 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1979.

Thompson's career didn't work out the way he and the Bengals envisioned. He started only five games in four seasons with Cincinnati. He then went on to Tampa Bay for two seasons and was the starter in 1983.

Thompson, 58, sees a much brighter future for Mariota. He thinks the University of Oregon quarterback is a can't-miss prospect.

"He's 6-foot-4 and he can throw the ball," said Thompson, now a banker in Seattle. "And let's not forget he runs the 40 [yard dash] in 4.57 seconds. He's a special talent."

Thompson, a Washington State product, should know. Living in the Pacific Northwest, Thompson got to see a lot of Mariota in college.

"I followed him about as closely as a Cougar can follow a Duck," Thompson said.

When he met Mariota at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame in Honolulu in January, Thompson wasn't disappointed. Mariota was being honored as the College Football Player of the Year and Thompson, a member of the Hall's first class, came away even more impressed than he had been by watching Mariota on the football field.

"He's a class act," Thompson said. "You won't find a guy more centered than Marcus."

But Thompson has heard the critics. They say Mariota will struggle in a pro-style offense because he ran a no-huddle, spread offense in college. Thompson doesn't see that as a problem.

"It's easy to say he doesn't have the drop-back pedigree," Thompson said. "The question is, does he have ability to become that? I think he does. All he's proven is he's been able to master a certain style of football. He has the physical stature to morph into the drop-back passer. He has the arm and he has the intelligence. I think he'll be able to assimilate any offense that's thrust upon him."

Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are considered the best quarterbacks in this draft. Winston has played in a pro-style offense and has very few on-field questions. Instead, Winston comes with questions about his character and maturity after being involved in off-field incidents during college.

That's just one reason why Thompson thinks the Bucs should take Mariota with the first pick.

"You know exactly what you're getting," Thompson said. "There are no surprises. I think he is the perfect package of what you want in a quarterback. I think he would be a perfect fit with [Buccaneers coach] Lovie Smith. I think their personalities are in sync. They're both kind of laid-back on the surface, but they both have a strong work ethic and they're competitors.

"I have no doubt who I would pick. I would grab Marcus Mariota and I think I would be very happy with that for the next 10 or 15 years."

Thompson, of course, admitted that he's biased when it comes to Mariota. After all, they're both Samoan.

Our weekly look at clues that might reveal whether the Buccaneers are leaning toward selecting Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota -- or neither -- with the No. 1 pick in the draft:

The scenery has changed, but don’t let that lead you to believe that the final picture is any different.

The indicators still are pointing toward Florida State's Winston being the first overall pick in the draft by the Buccaneers. But we’ve been hearing – and will continue to hear – about another quarterback being eyed by the Bucs.

That’s Oregon’s Mariota. Timing has thrust him and the Bucs into the spotlight. Mariota had his pro day in Oregon last week. General manager Jason Licht and several team officials were there.

Mariota is visiting with the team at One Buccaneer Place on Monday. The team also will conduct a private workout for Mariota in April. That doesn’t mean there has been a sudden shift that put Mariota in the lead.

It just means the Bucs are being diligent and doing their homework. Even if Winston ends up being the choice, the Bucs need to see exactly what the alternative is. When you’re talking about investing millions of dollars in a player, that’s the only prudent thing to do.

The Bucs need to know Mariota as well as they know Winston. They already have been down the road a bit with Winston. He has already made his visit.

Now it’s Mariota’s turn. It’s unlikely Mariota will have to talk as much about off-field issues as much as Winston did. Winston has had several off-field incidents that bring up possible questions about his character and maturity. Coach Lovie Smith has said he would have no problem making Winston, who has no real on-field questions, the face of the franchise.

There are no off-field questions with Mariota. But there are bigger on-field concerns with him. Mariota spent his college career playing in a no-huddle, spread offense.

Can he make the transition to a pro-style system?

That’s what the Bucs have to find out. They got a look at Mariota’s skills at his pro day. By most accounts of people who were there, Mariota had a good, but not great, workout. If he is going to surpass Winston in the eyes of the Bucs, Mariota needs to use this visit and the private workout to show he has what it takes to be a pocket passer. He needs to show he can handle a huddle.

The odds are that Winston still will end up being the choice. But Mariota is getting his shot to change the Bucs’ mind.
NFL teams flocked to Eugene, Oregon, on Thursday to watch top prospect Marcus Mariota throw footballs in shorts.

General manager Ray Farmer was not present, but that's not curious -- he's known to sit out pro days and favors private workouts. He'll probably watch the tape of Mariota's session.

In fact, he might have a pretty good idea how the day will go for Mariota -- apparently his new quarterbacks coach helped script the day.

NFL Network's Lindsay Rhodes tweeted live from the event that Mariota crafted his 65-throw script with Kevin O'Connell, who was training Mariota before accepting Cleveland's quarterbacks coach job. O'Connell is in attendance at Mariota's pro day.

News broke of O'Connell's hiring in late January, but the hire wasn't made official until Feb. 17. The Browns let O'Connell finish his sessions as a private quarterbacks coach (he helped Johnny Manziel last year alongside notable quarterbacks tutor George Whitfield) before officially joining the staff. The NFL did not take issue with O'Connell's transition.

O'Connell's influence on the pro day script is a reminder of the Browns' unique perspective on Mariota.

Obtaining Mariota would likely require, at the least, the Browns' two first-round picks (Nos. 12 and 19 overall) and mid-round picks. At the least. There's always a chance Mariota falls to the middle of the first round, but momentum does not seem to swing that way.
TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're wondering why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been so quiet in free agency this year, all you have to do is look at last year.

That's when the Bucs splurged on free agents in the first year with coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht. They made some decent moves, such as signing Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald. But the team made three moves that turned out to be disastrous.

They signed defensive end Michael Johnson, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and quarterback Josh McCown to contracts that were worth a combined $83 million.

So what did the Bucs get out of all that?

Virtually nothing. Johnson recorded just four sacks. Collins was benched by the end of the season. And McCown led the Bucs to precisely one win (Mike Glennon led the other victory).

One year later, all three of those players are gone. Johnson's release Wednesday completed the trifecta.

There's a lesson to be learned here. Championships aren't won in March. The Bucs found that out the hard way during a 2-14 season.

It's pretty obvious the Bucs are using last year as a cautionary tale. Their approach to free agency this year has been totally different. They've stayed out of the bidding for high-priced players and focused more on midlevel free agents.

That's the smart approach. This team has a lot of holes. Filling them without overspending is crucial. The Bucs have a long road ahead of them as they try to reverse course.

They have the first pick in the draft and likely will use it on a quarterback, either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. The draft is where good teams form their nucleus. Free agency should be used to add complementary players.

The experience has been painful, but at least the Bucs are getting it right this time around.
The Philadelphia Eagles' signing of Mark Sanchez to a two-year deal Sunday night will fuel the intrigue of Chip Kelly possibly making a serious run at Marcus Mariota in the NFL draft.

Could the Cleveland Browns help him do just that, while getting a quarterback (and possibly more) in return? I know that question has been asked in more than one NFL circle in this context:

Eagles give up the No. 20 pick plus Nick Foles for the right to move to Cleveland's No. 12.

Deals are typically more complex than that -- Philly could sweeten the deal with a mid-round pick -- but it's a point of reference.

Browns get more quarterback help while keeping two first-rounders, picks 19 and 20. The Eagles get eight spots closer to Mariota, using No. 12 overall and future first-rounders to snag Mariota. NJ.com reported the Eagles quietly shopped Foles at the Senior Bowl, with the Rams, Titans and Texans showing interest.

Josh McCown very well could be the starter in 2015, but I'm told the quarterback room in Berea is not complete. A draft-week move could be coming, either via trade or by using a mid-round pick on one.

The question: Would Foles be worth the decision to move back eight spots in the first round? Some would debate no. Foles' numbers -- 14-4 as a starter, 40 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, a 100.5 passer rating -- say yes. Depends how the Browns' personnel folks feel about Foles' game.

Hard to imagine a quarterback better suited for Kelly's offense than Mariota. If the cost of getting him is too steep, the Eagles likely will commit to Foles and Sanchez as the 1-2 combo for 2015.

The McCown signing gives the Browns breathing room in free agency. They don't have to dip into a weak quarterback pool if they don't want, instead adding depth to key positions and allow a free-roam approach to the draft aiming for the best available players.
TAMPA, Fla. – On the surface, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are doing their due diligence on Jameis Winston.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerJameis Winston might have played in state, but he's still not an easy sell to the fan base.
They had the Florida State quarterback in for a visit Tuesday. He met with general manager Jason Licht, coach Lovie Smith, ownership and others. That’s the kind of homework you would expect from a team that holds the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

But I have to wonder if the Bucs had an ulterior motive in bringing in Winston almost two months before the draft. And I wonder if that ulterior motive is why pictures and video of Winston’s visit showed up on the team website. I’m still wondering if that possible motive played a role in Smith saying a few weeks ago that he would have no problem with Winston being the face of the franchise.

Are the Bucs preparing their fans for the selection of Winston?

Ordinarily, fan bases jump up and down when their team holds the No. 1 pick and is about to draft a quarterback. That is especially true when the quarterback played his college football in the same state.

But things are different with Winston. His football talent is unquestionable, but he’s a polarizing figure. A large part of the Tampa Bay fan base still is hoping the Bucs take Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota instead.

That’s because of Winston’s background. While at Florida State, he was accused of (but not charged with) sexual assault. He also had several other off-field transgressions that have left questions about his maturity.

But the early indications are that Winston has won the Bucs over and they’re prepared to draft him. The Glazer family, which owns the team, is very private. But the Glazers still care very deeply about public perception. They want a franchise that fans can fall in love with the way they did back in the glory days of Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch. They need a face for their franchise, and Winston is a charismatic guy.

Maybe the Bucs are being so public with their feelings about Winston because they want to give their fans some extra time to embrace the selection.
TAMPA, Fla. – In the latest sign that drafting Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick is the most likely course of action, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting the Florida State quarterback on a pre-draft visit.

What’s unusual here is the timing. Potential top draft picks usually don’t make their visits to teams until just a few weeks before the draft. This year’s draft isn’t until the end of April. A team official said the visit was scheduled for now because the Bucs want to be able to devote their full attention to free agency when it begins March 10.

Winston
But the Bucs appear earger to get to know Winston. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that ownership (the Glazer family) will be heavily involved in the meetings with Winston. Take that as a sign that the visit could be a final hurdle in deciding whether to draft Winston.

The Glazers generally stay out of football matters, but they have final say over situations as big as this. That’s because they could be paying Winston millions of dollars and making him the face of the franchise.

Although Winston has had some off-field issues, including an allegation of a sexual assault, coach Lovie Smith said at the scouting combine that the club’s research into the quarterback’s background had not produced anything that would eliminate Winston from the team’s draft board.

Smith also has talked highly of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, and the team is expected to have him in for a visit at some point before the draft. But the early visit by Winston makes it appear more than ever that he’s the leading candidate.
Don't expect the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback plans to stop with Josh McCown's signing last week.

After asking around, I’m hearing Cleveland plans to add at least one more quarterback to the 2015 meetings rooms, a role filled through the draft or free agency.

McCown
Trading up for Marcus Mariota would likely require a hefty load of draft picks, leaving the team’s best option as drafting a quarterback in the second round or somewhere in the middle rounds.

The Browns are intrigued by Sam Bradford, but many believe he won’t be attainable without -- once again -- valuable draft picks. Giving up first- or second-rounders is difficult for a build-through-the-draft team such as Cleveland.

Free agency plays for Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker seem unlikely at this point.

Save Bradford, a home-run quarterback signing doesn’t really exist for Cleveland. But they can dig through the bargain bins and hope for the best.

A plausible rotation for Cleveland’s quarterback room is Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw and a rookie quarterback such as Colorado State's Garrett Grayson or Baylor's Bryce Petty.

The Browns have been burned by spread quarterbacks before, but I’m told they had productive meetings with the former Baylor star at the Senior Bowl.

McCown, who last week signed a three-year deal worth $14 million, seems ready to support any quarterback in the Browns' facility.

"Whatever I can do to help somebody, I can do that," McCown said.
video Our weekly look at clues that might reveal whether the Buccaneers are leaning toward selecting Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota -- or neither -- with the No. 1 pick in the draft:

The rumors started to really fly on Friday. All along, there’s been speculation that the Philadelphia Eagles might try to trade up for the No. 1 pick in the draft to use it on Oregon's Mariota. It all is logical. Mariota played for Eagles coach Chip Kelly in college and would be a perfect fit in Philadelphia’s up-tempo offense. It was pure speculation, I thought.

Until my phone started ringing Friday. Two different members of the Philadelphia media called me to say they were hearing rumblings that a trade was imminent. These are trusted media members and the content of both calls contained the same details.

The Eagles were about to trade quarterback Nick Foles, running back LeSean McCoy and three first-round draft picks to the Bucs for the No. 1 pick in the draft. It sounded believable.

So I called someone within the Tampa Bay organization that would know if something was cooking. He said the rumor was untrue. Meantime, my friends in the Philadelphia media poked around some more with their Eagles’ sources. They got the same response I did. No trade was imminent and no one would say if there even have been any talks between the two teams.

Scrap that rumor -- for now. If something is going to happen, it probably won’t come until much closer to the draft. Deadlines push people to action and the draft isn’t until the end of April. The rumors are likely to continue to circulate.

But for every reason why such a deal would make sense, there are an equal number of reasons why I don’t see it happening.

Let’s start with Tampa Bay’s side of things. Would the Bucs really part with the No. 1 pick instead of using it on Mariota or Florida State’s Winston? I think that might be a stretch. Winston and Mariota might be franchise quarterbacks. The Bucs would be giving up a franchise quarterback and plugging in Foles as the starting quarterback.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Bucs had something close to Foles in Josh McCown and they let him go. They still have something close to Foles in Mike Glennon.

Then there’s McCoy. He’s a great running back. But the Bucs already have Charles Sims and Doug Martin. All indications are the coaching staff and front office are deeply invested in Sims, who they drafted last year. I don’t see the Bucs suddenly giving up on Sims. Plus, I'm not so sure the Bucs want to take on McCoy's big contract.

The three first-round picks would have to be attractive for the Bucs. They have plenty of holes besides quarterback. But this is where the potential deal hits a major roadblock.

With that in mind, let’s flip over to Philadelphia’s point of view. No matter how smitten Kelly is with Mariota, the Eagles might not have the firepower to make such a trade. At the moment, the Eagles have the 20th overall pick in the draft. That’s all they have.

They would have to make another trade first to get another first-round pick for this year. Yes, Philadelphia could offer its first-round picks in 2016 and ’17. But the Bucs can’t sit around and wait for those drafts. Coach Lovie Smith needs to win now.

Besides, giving up three first-round picks, would mean the Eagles would be mortgaging their future on Mariota. Three picks and two players would be a very steep price.

I’m not saying such a deal can’t happen. But let’s file that trade away for the moment and wait for something that’s stronger than a rumor.
CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Josh McCown signing:

McCown’s three-year deal with Cleveland reinforces Johnny Manziel’s place in the Browns’ plans: McCown should be the favorite to start the season opener. He might be the Browns’ best option all year. But McCown also seems an ideal eventual handoff option to Manziel or another young quarterback.

Manziel
McCown
In 12 years, McCown has never started a full 16-game season.

The Browns needed a new quarterback plan after Manziel entered a treatment facility, but they weren’t moving on.

Re-signing Brian Hoyer, after the clunky competition between him and Manziel in Cleveland, wouldn’t have made sense. If Hoyer had come back, he would have been the starter. Despite winning seven of his first 11 games for Cleveland last season, apparently the Browns had seen enough.

McCown can be a starter or backup and adapt either way.

Support existed -- in Berea and from fans -- for Hoyer as a Brown. But Hoyer isn’t much different from McCown. Both are reliable and have shown flashes of good quarterback play, but haven’t sustained it.

Manziel might never be the answer. The Browns still want to find out for sure -- with more than two games as a sample.

Browns hoping for the McCown from Chicago, not the one from Tampa Bay: McCown’s 1-10 record and 14 interceptions with Tampa Bay are curious after he played so well in five starts for Chicago in 2013, throwing 13 touchdowns to one interception.

But McCown dealt with a thumb injury, a struggling offensive line and the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford in September. Those factors shouldn’t excuse his stats, but they help explain them.

The Browns know they aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers. They’ll get better than a starter with a 1-10 record.

Browns clearly unimpressed with quarterback market: The Bucs cut McCown 16 days ago, which allowed four quarterback-hungry teams -- the Jets, Bills, Browns and Bears -- to jockey for the services of the only available quarterback on the market.

The Browns must have believed that the group available at the March 10 start of free agency -- Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Hoyer and more -- wasn’t worth the wait.

There was never a home run for the Browns to hit. The Rams are unlikely to unload Sam Bradford. Save Hoyer, McCown was one of the best available.

Another move to come? Doubtful: The Browns’ quarterback picture has come into focus. They’ll have McCown, Manziel, Connor Shaw and possibly a draft pick (second round or beyond) for training camp.

It’s early, but after asking around, the prospect of trading up for Marcus Mariota seems unlikely at best. Giving up several top picks is a lot to ask for a self-proclaimed build-through-the-draft team.

The Browns can exhaust every option with Bradford, though they probably knew that wasn’t going to be fruitful before they signed McCown.

Bucs should trade Mike Glennon

February, 25, 2015
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Mike Glennon trade rumors have started with a report the Cleveland Browns are looking into a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the quarterback.

Glennon
Glennon is the only quarterback on Tampa Bay's roster at the moment, but trading him makes a ton of sense. Let's be really honest here. The Bucs are going to draft a quarterback -- either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. Glennon's only future with the Bucs is as a backup. The Bucs can find a backup that's just as good, if not better, than Glennon in free agency.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to keep Glennon around if the Bucs can get something decent in return. I'm thinking they can get something like a third- or fourth-round pick for Glennon and they should pounce on a deal like that.

Glennon is a promising young quarterback, but he has little value to the Bucs. The current coaching staff has benched him twice -- once when Josh McCown was signed and a second time when McCown came back from a thumb injury.

Glennon has more value elsewhere. That's why the Bucs should deal him. If the Bucs can get a draft pick for Glennon, that should make everyone happy. Glennon is a competitor, and he's not going to be content to sit around as a backup.

Get something in return for Glennon, and the Bucs should be very content.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The scouting combine is over and it looks like Jameis Winston has a clear lead on Marcus Mariota as the No. 1 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Coach Lovie Smith said he is comfortable after looking into the series of off-field incidents Winston has had. Smith said he can see Winston as the face of the franchise.

That’s largely because there are no questions about Winston on the field. He has played in a pro-style offense and can make all the throws.

"I think with Jameis Winston, even though there are all the off-the-field issues and all of the concerns that you have there -- there are so few concerns when you put on the tape and so few concerns when you talk to him from a football I.Q. standpoint," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Monday. "I just don’t think you pass."

The only way I can see the Bucs passing on Winston is if Mariota lights it up in the two months between now and the draft. Mariota threw well at the combine, and his numbers were better than Winston’s in the speed and agility drills. Those are minor victories for Mariota, who played in a spread system in college.

Smith has said Mariota is a consideration at No. 1. But he needs to do a lot to overtake Winston. He needs to continue to interview well. More importantly, Mariota needs to perform well on the field.

He needs to use his pro day to show he can handle a huddle and that he has mastered three-, five- and seven-step drops. If he can do all that, the Bucs might have a difficult choice to make between Winston and Mariota. But that would be a good thing.
Football's ultimate juxtaposition was on display at last week’s NFL combine -- quarterbacks use college to become NFL players, but college game plans don’t ask them to mirror what the NFL does.

Analysts such as NFL Network's Mike Mayock have said the emergence of college spread offenses has decreased the number of surefire quarterback prospects, highlighting the challenges Oregon’s Marcus Mariota presents scouts for the next two months.

“They didn’t make their line calls, didn’t check out of a lot of plays, didn’t work in the huddle, didn’t work under center,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who doesn’t see the trend changing any time soon. “This is a developmental league, but colleges don’t care about developing necessarily and the NFL isn’t going to change things necessarily for the sake of colleges.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe quarterbacks the Browns have drafted from spread offenses, such as Brandon Weeden, have struggled at the NFL level.
The Browns, in particular, have struggled with the unpredictability of spread quarterbacks, drafting two in the first round of the last three drafts with minimal results. Though every quarterback stands on his own merit -- football smarts, work ethic and natural ability can help overcome offensive scheme -- it’s understandable if the Browns want to play it safe with a pro-style guy in free agency.

To be sure, a look at the first five quarterbacks taken in each of the last five drafts shows quarterbacks from pro-style or spread sets have struggled. For every Geno Smith or Tim Tebow, there’s an EJ Manuel or Christian Ponder. Twelve of those 25 selected had at least some pro-style experience. They might run no-huddle but also exercise West Coast principles.

But since 2010, only the Browns and Broncos have taken two spread quarterbacks in the first two rounds of the draft -- Johnny Manziel and Brandon Weeden to the Browns, Tim Tebow and Brock Osweiler to the Broncos. Also, the Browns’ third-round pick in 2010, Colt McCoy, had experience in spread sets at Texas, though he also took snaps from under center and occasionally rolled out in play-action.

Beyond natural ability, part of Jameis Winston's appeal is his ability to simply field a snap from under center and diagnose defenses pre-snap.

The Browns’ struggles with spread quarterbacks could be more about poor drafting than scheme. Texans coach Bill O’Brien, for one, believes if the skill set and the makeup are there, the rest can be taught, even at the highest level.

But if the Browns package a proposal to Tennessee for Marcus Mariota, how he responds to a pro-style set is the biggest -- perhaps the only -- question with the Ducks quarterback. McShay said Mariota has “everything else” teams want. NFL teams still run the shotgun at least 60 percent of the time, but spread quarterbacks don't know how to handle the other 40 yet.

“You now have to win (from the pocket) if you want sustained success,” McShay said. “Look at Kaepernick, look at RG3 -- you can have a year, maybe a year-and-a-half, but sustained success, you need to win in the pocket.”

The Browns have found little of that because they’ve been burned in the draft. There’s little doubt the Browns will bring in at least one pro-style quarterback from free agency or the draft.

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