Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston

Perhaps the only one who can relate to Jameis Winston's rapidly ascending NFL career is the man selected one pick after him.

"I'm happy for him," Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "I've gotten to know him a little bit and I wish him continued success. We're just trying to make our teams better, find ways to win games and hopefully we'll continue that throughout our careers."

Those careers will forever be linked. Winston went No. 1 in the 2015 NFL Draft, and Mariota went No. 2. Winston won the Heisman Trophy in 2013, and Mariota won it in 2014.

They faced off in Winston's final college game and Mariota's penultimate one. Mariota got the upper hand as his Oregon team blew out Florida State 59-20 in the 2015 Rose Bowl.

Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston

Their respective first NFL games also came against each other. Mariota's Titans dominated Winston's Buccaneers. This time the score was 42-14, and Mariota had four touchdowns and zero interceptions; Winston had two of each.

Winston, though, has the better overall NFL record: 12-15 vs. 9-15. They both have thrown 44 touchdowns; Winston has eight more interceptions (26) than Mariota.

Regardless of how you measure the tale of the tape, both the 23-year-old Mariota and Winston, 22, seem poised to become part of the next generation of great passers.

Mariota said he had seen a few highlights of Winston's 2016 campaign, in which he has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 2,900 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and includes back-to-back wins over the Seahawks and Chiefs.

One of the best highlights of Winston's second season came less than a minute into the third quarter against the Bears. With a third and 10 and the ball at his own 23, Winston spun away from pass rusher Leonard Floyd while retreating to the end zone. His head coach, Dirk Koetter, thought throw it away, get down, don't take a safety.

But Winston freed himself to launch a 39-yard completion to wide receiver Mike Evans.

"That's probably one of the plays of the year," Buccaneers right tackle Demar Dotson said. "It just shows the character that guy's got. He's a guy that competes all the way to the end."

On the very next play, Winston threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Martino.

The Bears can testify to the skill of the other second-year quarterback as well. Mariota also burned them on a third and 10 play, perfectly placing a 29-yard touchdown where only his receiver, Rishard Matthews, could catch it.

Jameis Winston

"It was a money throw," Matthews said.

Winston has his share of touchdown passes as well.

At 22 years, 312 days, he became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 40 career touchdown passes. (Drew Bledsoe hit the 40-touchdown mark when he was 22 years, 313 days old.)

Mariota, who has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,998 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions this year, is also a pioneer.

He is the first NFL quarterback to have three games in his first two seasons with a 70-plus completion percentage, at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions.

"I really believe in myself, and I hold myself to a higher standard," he said.


Those close to Winston talk about his magnetic smile and praise his leadership.

The Wednesday before defeating the Chiefs 19-17 at raucous Arrowhead Stadium, the Buccaneers players stayed after practice until around 7 p.m., and Winston read out loud a letter that he had placed in every player's locker that explained how grateful he felt to be their quarterback.

"At a young age like that, to be a leader and stand up like that, he's a born leader," Buccaneers wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "You always want to play for a quarterback like that."

Marcus Mariota

Though Winston leads through his ebullience and outspokenness, Mariota is much more laconic.

"Very calm, very laid-back, don't really say much," described center Ben Jones.

The Titans center has breakfast with Mariota every morning and golfs and plays cards with him.

"We're usually around each other 24-7," Jones said.

As Mariota's roommate before games, rookie right tackle Jack Conklin also can attest to the quarterback's low-key ways.

"He's usually asleep by the time I get to the room and gone by the time I get up," Conklin said, laughing.

Mariota, though, is there when it matters most. In the red zone, he has 32 passing touchdowns and no interceptions during his career.

"He's a guy that you can always count on," Jones said. "A guy that you can trust at all times, that's your leader."


Just as they lead their team in different ways, the quarterbacks are employed in different ways.

Marcus Mariota

With veteran DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry, the Titans are a run-first team. Entering Week 12 they ranked third in rushing with 1,549 yards and second in attempts with 327.

The elusive Mariota is directly responsible for some of the Titans' strong game, having rushed 49 times for 401 yards.

"He can run and pick up first downs and run for touchdowns but also put the ball on the money," Titans tight end Anthony Fasano said. "That dual threat -- plus his decision-making -- makes him really hard to play against."

Though nimble in the pocket, Winston is not the breakaway threat that Mariota is. The Titans also were able to bring along Mariota more slowly and buttress him with their ground game.

Winston has been operating from a more pass-happy system from the get-go and thus carrying more responsibility. But unlike Mariota, who frequently throws to his running back and tight ends, the Buccaneers quarterback can rely on an elite receiver in Evans.

"Sometimes Jameis can try and go to Mike too much when he has multiple reads," Koetter said.

But Winston looks for the talented 6-5, 231-pound, third-year receiver for good reason. Evans was a basketball star in high school at Ball High in Galveston, Texas, where he didn't play football until his senior year.

"Mike has some basketball background," Winston said. "So anytime we have a chance to throw him an alley-oop, we're going to take advantage of that."

Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian repeatedly emphasizes "throw a tall guy a tall ball, " and the duo's strong rapport was on display during a third-quarter touchdown against the 49ers. Evans was hit by a linebacker, slowing the play, but Winston bought time through scrambling, and then Evans threw his hand up to show he was open.

Jameis Winston

Each quarterback's NFL career is on the rise, but they still need polish. Winston throws too many first-half interceptions before seemingly settling down late in the game.

Eight of his 11 this year and 15 of his 26 career interceptions have come in the first half of games.

Against the 49ers on October 23, Winston threw two first-quarter passes that should've been picked off by linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Nick Bellore, respectively, before linebacker Gerald Hodges intercepted him with less than a minute in the quarter. The Hodges pick led to a San Francisco touchdown and a 14-0 Tampa Bay deficit.

Mariota's turnover issue is with fumbles. He has 17 in 24 career games, including seven in 2016.

Regardless, the Titans should have a franchise quarterback in place for years to come with Mariota.

"He will continue to grow and (get) better and better," Matthews said. "It's going to be dangerous."

Matthews was talking about Mariota, but it could've just as easily been Winston.

Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.