At the NFL Annual Meetings in Arizona, Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden discussed quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston during the NFC Coaches Breakfast.
A former quarterback himself, Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden knows a thing or two about what to look for in a prospect at that position.
On Wednesday morning at the NFL Annual Meetings in Arizona, the now second-year head coach discussed two of this year’s most talked about draft prospects: quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.
Both Mariota and Winston carry impressive résumés with them as the make their case for the NFL. While they have the hardware – both have won the Heisman Trophy – Winston (7,960 yards, 65 touchdowns) and Mariota (10,796 yards, 105 touchdowns) have also backed it up on the field.
This past year in the first ever College Football Playoff, the duo met on the national stage for a showdown in the Rose Bowl. In a 59-20 rout, Mariota’s Ducks defeated Winton’s Seminoles to advance to the National Championship game behind a second-half surge.
The Oregon quarterback threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns with one interception on 26-of-36 passing. His Florida State counterpart was equally as impressive, totaling 348 yards and one touchdown with one interception on 29-of-45 passing.
Mariota’s versatility, however, was on full display, as he also ran for 62 yards and a score in that game. As a senior, the Honolulu-native rushed for a career-best 770 yards and 15 touchdowns, the third-most rushing scores in the Pac-12 in 2014.
That kind of versatility certainly makes Mariota an attractive prospect for any team, Gruden says, but the former Louisville quarterback believes he’ll need to work on becoming a pocket passer.
“Obviously, he can run the spread offense and run the zone reads, but when you have a guy that’s that athletic and you try to taper your system to run some more zone reads, you want to protect him, too,” Gruden said. “Eventually, he’s going to have to be a pocket passer, and I think he can do that.”
“It’s tough, but I did it when I was a kid,” Mariota said afterward. “So it’s not something that is extremely new to me.”
For teams that may still be wavering due to his lack of experience in a pro-style offense, Mariota’s focus, competitive drive and knack for winning should certainly be more than enough for teams to be comfortable with selecting him.
“I think he’ll be able to do that without problem,” Gruden said about Mariota taking snaps from under center. “It might take a little bit of time, but he’s a focused individual from everything I’ve seen and [everybody] I’ve talked to, and he’ll handle it fine.”
In the NFL, it’s Mariota’s intangibles that will assist him the most in transitioning to a pro-style offense. His accuracy and general fundamentals are above average, and that’s something that Gruden believes will benefit him going forward.
However, Mariota will need to prove he has a high football I.Q. if he wants a long and successful career. While he graduated from the University of Oregon in three-and-a-half years with a 3.22 GPA, it’s his football intelligence that will be put to the test at the next level.
“I just think the speed and the different coverages that you see in the NFL are so many different things, so many different looks that you’re going to get,” Gruden said. “In the NFL, you’re going to get a hodgepodge of things – different fronts, different coverages, different blitzes and how you handle them is how successful he’ll be.
“Only time will tell.”
Florida State will hold their Pro Day on March 31, but at the NFL Combine this past February, Winston did plenty to boost his stock. NFL.com’s Mike Huguenin noted that Winston looked “razor-sharp” in his drill work, and Steve Marriucci was quite impressed with his football I.Q., as well.
While they play the same position, both quarterbacks are different. Regardless of their flavor, Gruden says, you can’t go wrong with either player.
“There’s two different guys right there,” Gruden said. “Two very good players. So, whatever flavor you want. One guy can really drop back and throw it, and the other is a great, great athlete and excellent competitor.
“So those two guys are going to make somebody very happy, I’m sure.”