Three years. That’s how long you are meant to wait to judge a draft class. 48 games gives a chance for everyone from the #1 pick to undrafted free agents to show their true ability and just how well they fit into the NFL. It lets hype and pre-draft prejudices disappear, and stops injuries from dominating the discussion.
With that in mind, we have now had three years since the 2015 draft class was chopped up and distributed around the NFL. Three years to evaluate and take stock. This series will dart around the board and look at how teams, position groups, and the league faired in the 2015 draft, and we start at the top.
As is the case most years, two quarterback-needy teams found themselves picking first and second. Tampa Bay had just come off a season with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon at the helm, which had resulted in an awful 20 interceptions and 6.8 yards per attempt, while the Titans worked their way through Zach Mettenberger, Jake Locker, and Charlie Whitehurst (sorry for the flashbacks, Titans fans).
In short, both teams had no option but to take a quarterback with their first pick. But three years down the line, how has it panned out?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers & Jameis Winston
Three years into the Jameis Winston era and I think it is safe to say that no one is delighted with how it has turned out, but also there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic. Tampa Bay have an 18-27 record in games he started, which is far from brilliant, but the Bucs have had plenty of problems with their roster and the blame cannot be placed solely at Winston’s feet.
What was true of Winston in college is still true now. He takes chances, and mixed in with some terrific throws and wonderful escape plays are bad decisions and wild interceptions. There is more than enough quality in Winston’s play to see a Super Bowl MVP, and more than enough to see a quarterback that will shoot his team in the foot at the least-opportune moment possible.
He has thrown 44 picks in just 45 games which is far, far too many, but he’s also tallied 69 touchdowns, 7.5 yards per attempt and despite the turnovers the Tampa Bay passing attack has ranked #17, #12, and #9 in DVOA. The lack of running game and pass rush has crippled the team in terms of wins and losses, and while Winston is not the All-Pro caliber player that Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson look like being, he has been productive enough to at least be happy with the result of this pick.
If the Bucs were offered the #1 pick this year in return for Winston I’m not sure they would take it, and that is all you really need to know about if Tampa Bay should reg
Tennessee Titans & Marcus Mariota
What is true of Winston is true of Mariota. He has had some spectacular moments that show just why he was the #2 pick, but also the kind of play that makes fans dream that Tennessee had taken a Todd Gurley or Marcus Peters in this spot.
Still, the Titans needed a quarterback and when he is on form Marcus Mariota is one hell of a quarterback. Mariota has had his moments with interceptions, but he has thrown it to the other team just 34 times in his 42 games while having a better completion rate and similar yards per attempt as Winston.
What Mariota also brings is a serious running threat. While he hasn’t had an offense built around it like Cam Newton has or had to take off as often as Russell Wilson, it is still there. Mariota has put up 913 rushing yards so far, and his out-of-the-box playmaking created one of the most memorable moments of the season when he caught his own pass for a touchdown in the playoffs.
Mariota has suffered somewhat in Tennessee due to coaching. Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie were about as old school as you could be in the modern NFL, and the fast-paced, spread world that Mariota thrived in in college was cast aside. When the Titans do have to ramp up the tempo and let Mariota run the show their offense has shown far more bite.
2018 will see Matt LaFleur take the reigns, and his experience under Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan should serve Mariota very well.
In a vacuum neither of these players are as good as Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters, or Leonard Williams, but they play quarterback. Both the Bucs and Titans are capable of making the playoffs now because they have an above-average player under center, and that is more than enough reason for fans to be happy with these picks in hindsight.
There is no Jimmy Garoppolo or Russell Wilson lurking in the late rounds that they could have taken on day two. Tampa and Tennessee had to get their chips in the middle in 2015, and they have both won the pot.
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