Mariota vs. Winston: By the Numbers

Steve Palazzolo breaks down Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston ahead of their playoff matchup.

| 2 years ago

Mariota vs. Winston: By the Numbers

mariota-winstonThe new College Football Playoff has presented us with a great matchup of two of the last two Heisman Trophy winners as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota squares off against Florida State’s Jameis Winston on New Year’s night at the Rose Bowl. At PFF we’ve been diving into the college game this season so what better way to preview the game than by looking at two of the nation’s best quarterbacks? Not only are Mariota and Winston excellent college players, they’re both expected to become top picks in the NFL Draft. Here’s a look at how the two quarterbacks shaped up with regard to stats and grades.

Note: * All grades are normalized by situation, meaning they’re graded in comparison to other college quarterbacks in a similar situation.


We have to start with the caveat that Mariota and Winston play in completely different systems so it’s not always apples to apples when comparing them. That said, as always, the PFF grades take into account the quarterback’s actual contribution on each play by evaluating their decision making, throw location, throw difficulty, and everything else that goes into a given play. Here’s a broad look at Mariota and Winston this season.

mvw overall

Under Pressure

The first thing that stands out is that Mariota has attempted about half as many passes as Winston when pressured. Both players have performed fairly well, but Mariota’s +12.5 grade and 11.7 yards per attempt stand out. Winston held his own, particularly given the unrest at the center position throughout the season. Prior to an offensive line overhaul in Week 12, Winston faced pressure through the center on 30 drop-backs, and as we’ve shown in the past, pressure through the A-gap is the worst kind of pressure for a quarterback.

mvw pressure

No Pressure

Most quarterbacks post gaudy stats from a clean pocket and Mariota and Winston are no different. With the stats are solid for both, Winston’s interception totals stand out and some of those poor decisions drag his grade down to only +9.1.

mvw no pressure

vs. Blitz

Another difference in how teams approach the two quarterbacks, Mariota only faced the blitz on 24% of his snaps while Winston was blitzed 36% of the time. Mariota’s numbers are good again, but Winston actually has the better grade. This is in part because he’s had a higher number of opportunities, but when comparing the stats and the grades, Winston has obviously had some bad luck that has led to his nine interceptions. For the most part, he’s done a nice job of getting the ball out and finding his playmakers against the blitz.

mvw v blitz

No Blitz

Opposing teams have generally sat back and played coverage against Mariota and it hasn’t worked well. He threw 27 touchdowns and no interceptions while averaging 10.5 yards/attempt. Winston actually struggled a bit more against a traditional rush.

mvw v no blitz

Play Action

Perhaps the best stat that shows the difference in Oregon’s offense compared to Florida State and even a traditional NFL offense, Mariota used play action on 51% of his drop-backs. By comparison, in the NFL, Alex Smith led the league with 31% and Winston only uses play action 16% of the time. Mariota’s numbers are exceptional, but the grade sitting at only +5.5 shows that the play action game has led to some easier throws that have looked great on the stat sheet.

mvw play action


The one area where both players have actually struggled is on designed rollouts. Mariota is obviously known as a very athletic quarterback, but when Oregon has rolled him out, he’s grading at -2.2. Winston’s results have been similar and he’s only been asked to roll out half as often.

mvw rollout


A different animal from designed rollouts, these plays include any time the quarterback has left the pocket and scrambled left or right while throwing. Mariota performs better in these impromptu situations at +5.5, but it’s interesting to note, that despite his athleticism, he plays most of his game from the pocket. Only 31 of his 375 attempts have come on these broken plays.

mvw scramble

Running Game

*Important (glorious) note: At PFF, we do NOT count sacks as negative rushing yards as does the NCAA, so rushing totals will not match traditional NCAA statistics.

Obviously Oregon uses Mariota as a designed runner as a big part of their offense and he has been extremely good in that area, picking up 528 yards on 52 designed runs. He’s done well as a scrambler as well, adding 196 yards on 25 carries. Winston is not used as a runner very often and he picks his spots when scrambling, but he’s had some key runs this season on his way to 150 yards on 21 carries. Given their reputations, it may be surprising to see a similar number of scrambles for both quarterbacks. (click to enlarge)

Mariota Rushing

Winston Rushing

By Route

The route chart speaks for itself, Winston has relied heavily on out routes, hitches, crossing routes and passes to the running backs on non-screens, while Mariota has thrown quite a few WR screens while putting up gaudy numbers on post routes.

Mariota Routes

Winston Routes

Passing Charts

Again, the visual speaks for itself. Winston has made some of his questionable decisions on throws down the field while Mariota has graded extremely well on passes to the intermediate and deep ranges. The question about the Oregon offense is how many of those throws were made into tight coverage.  (click to enlarge)

mariota mapwinston mapBig Throws vs. Risky Throws

It may not be the best way to describe the throws, but the beauty of the PFF grading system is the ability to separate the various types of throws each quarterbacks makes. For lack of better terms, the “big throws” are the highest-graded throws when factoring in difficulty of the throw and ball location while the “risky throws” are those which are deemed as poor decisions or poor enough ball location that they should become turnovers, regardless of whether or not they were intercepted.

The further to the right on the chart, the higher percentage of big-time throws while the higher up on the chart, the lower the percentage of risky throws. We’ve included some NFL comparisons from this year just to show where each quarterback stacks up. The upper right of the chart is the desired area (high percentage of big throws/low risky throws) while the upper left is more of a safe region (think Alex Smith), while the lower right is more of a high risk/high reward region (think Andrew Luck) and the lower left is the worst place to be.

Here’s a look at Mariota and Winston in this context (click to enlarge):


*Important to remember this is just a small percentage of throws and only represent the extreme ends of the grading spectrum. It is a good way to measure the risk/reward nature of a player’s performance.


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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Chris

    My biggest takeaway on this:

    Everyone harps on Winston’s decision making and how he throws too many interceptions. Poor decision making will be amplified in the NFL.

    However, despite his gaudy numbers Mariota does not look like a surefire NFL QB (based on this piece). Way too much playaction (51% vs. Smith’s league-leading 31% in the NFL) and read-option – we’ve just seen Manziel have similar issues transitioning that style. Plus he does most of his work on bubble screens and deep posts/go routes. Winston works the intermediate tree much more with outs, ins, comebacks etc. These are NFL type throws that Winston makes every game, while Mariota relies on screens and deep shots and read-option athleticism.

    • Chris

      Btw that last chart is excellent. More proof of why Rodgers is now the best in the league.

      • LightsOut85

        Right?? Very cool. I wonder why they left Peyton off. Also, Brees’ position is a little odd, given his #2 grade this season.

      • 76mustang

        Where did Mariota show up on that chart? Not sure how you can laud Rodgers and slam Mariota citing proof from a chart measuring the same data?

        • Chris

          Um, because Rodgers does it in the NFL while Mariota does it in the Pac 12?

          • smh

            Cherry pick specialist.

    • Jason Williams

      where’s the garapalo of this group?

    • LightsOut85

      Very good points. I think the increasing tendency (at least for certain teams) to use a spread/shorting passing game makes the transition not as daunting as it once was. (Although, many of those teams are led by veteran QBs who are “100% in charge” of the offense, and a rookie QB might require an offense that is more “traditional”, if only for the run-game).

      I’d be interested in knowing the no-play action numbers/grade (odd to leave them off, really), to see if it matters that MM plays 51%PA. If he played pretty well without it, then it’s just a matter of scheme & not *need*.

    • Steve Pedullo

      only guys like luck are sure fire. it’s a crap shoot

      • BeansNRice

        And Luck is a turnover machine. Mariota looks better at this point than nearly all great NFL QBs did. The guy that thinks JFF and MM ran similar stuff in college must be an NFL fan right? In the next 5 years NFL teams will be incorporating Chip Kelly’s stuff, he solved the NFL immediately. His stuff leads the league in offense. He never led college football in offense….think about that!

    • DrAWNiloc

      Mariota would do well on a good offensive, especially one with a solid running game and good interior receivers. Winston will be better on poorer offenses…and those are likely the kind they’ll both end up on.

  • Jason Williams

    I read this thinking the Bears can land Winston and then I get through the top section and realize we already have a QB who throws tons of picks – don’t need another one.

    • Mucksony

      The BUCS got Winston if he comes out. 50/50 on him returning

      • Jason Williams

        Winston needs to come out now. He’s not mature enough to survive another year in college.

        • It depends on what fails

          Winston is praying to not fall to the Jets.

          Trading college madness for the New York City media.

          • Jason Williams

            and are winston and geno smith really all that different? based on this article I would say no.

          • Tim Edell

            You no nothing about player evaluation if you think there is a comparison between Winston and Geno. Winston can read the field and manipulate with his eyes like a veteran QB.

          • Jason Williams

            its just my opinion – calm down…this is the internet, not the front office of an nfl team…

          • Jason Williams

            stay close, Tim – let’s have this conversation again in 7 months. Winston showed you what he is last night.

          • Tim Edell

            Please tell me why you would compare Winston to Geno Smith?? Because of their skin color? Geno played in a spread offense where he was in the shotgun a majority of the time in college. Winston plays in a pro-style offense where he is required to go through his progessions and where is game and skills will translate to the next level. Everyone has their own opinions so I would like to hear why you would compare the two?

          • Karthik Sriram

            There comes the race card. Can we compare Winston to Mettenberger?

          • Tim Edell

            Well why else I was asking would you compare the two?? Of course he didnt have a logical explanation for it. I hope your kidding by comparing Winston, who will be 1st or 2nd pick in the draft, to a 6th rounder.

          • Steven

            Fun fact: No black qb has ever won a superbowl

          • Keith

            Fun fact: Two black qbs have won a super bowl. Dumbs

          • Keith


        • Mucksony

          You have no clue what you’re talking about. smh must watch a lot of ESPN?

      • eYeDEF

        Why would the bucs take Winston when they could have mariotta?

        • Mucksony

          Because WINston is better. Winston is used to the the Florida humidity, Winston played in a Pro-style O, Winston is a Heisman & National Champ, Winston has proved he has ice water in his veins and can come from behind, Winston already has a ton of fans in Tampa, Winston can read Defenses better and has a better arm & he can run but always looks to pass first, Winston is bigger and will be harder to injure. Mariota runs a spread gimmick O, Mariota is not used to the Florida weather in the summer, Mariota runs way too much and will get maimed. Mariota has bust all over him. Also the last FSU QB in Tampa won a Super Bowl. I got more reasons, but those are just a few.

          • eYeDEF

            All fair points. But as far as “bust written all over him” Winston’s off the field character concerns are the equalizer that makes it a toss up.

          • Mucksony

            Don’t believe the ESPN witch hunt bs. The only thing Winston ever did wrong was have someone at Publix hook him up with crab legs and he walked out without paying because he was told his money no good by a fan. He was punished and suspended for 5 baseball games while he did his community service and paid a $30 fine. All the rest of the so-called incidents he did nothing wrong. The poor kid has been investigated 3x and once by a highly respected federal chief justice and found to have done nothing wrong. They even tried to get him for autographs because people sell his autograph on ebay, but once again he was found to have done nothing wrong. Just a witch hunt. A National Champion/Heisman winner who plays football and baseball signs a lot of free stuff every day for fans. FSU suspended him for yelling.making fun of an internet meme in the cafeteria. That was beyond ridiculous imo to suspend a kid for the biggest home game of the season for cussing. He is in college smh. Regardless Winston is a very smart kid. He got into Stanford and his final 3 schools coming out of HS were FSU, BAMA, Stanford. He is from a country bumpkin town in Alabama. So he has a southern draw dialect, but that was how everyone talks were he is raised. It is not ghetto slang or anything.

          • Fred

            For every fan Winston has in Tampa, I’d bet he’s got two Bucs fans that don’t like him. Too much of a distraction.

          • Mucksony

            Wrong. Pro fans want to win and will embrace rivals no problem. Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Dexter Jackson, Brad Johnson, Greg Spires etc tons of Noles helped led the Bucs to be a good team and then the playoffs. The Gators will have to get over the fact that Noles on the team = wins

          • Gordy

            Bwahahaha. First, your first point is totally invalid since Mariota will have a national championship to go with his Heisman in 8 days. Winston sure proved that he can lead a comeback by embarrassing himself with those fumbles against Oregon. Talking about durability? Pssh, that’s impossible to know. If anything Mariota has proven more durable since he’s run so many more times without injury. Keep dreaming FSU homer

          • Mucksony

            Grow up if you want to have a discussion

        • Mucksony

          Also Mariota chokes in close games. He is 2-3 in games decided by 9 points or less and Winston is 9-0 in those same games.

    • ‘Eric Hughes

      This isn’t taking into the fact that Winston lost 2 NFL WRs (Benjamin with Carolina and Shaw with Oakland) that combined for almost 2,000 yards. He was breaking in new receivers, with 2 being freshman, that broke off routes, ran wrong routes, and deflections that lead to good portion of his INTs. When the game is the biggest and matters most, he doesn’t make mistakes. ESPN did stat analysis and he’s 4th best QB by QBR in the FBS in 2nd half. If you watch GT game he had 0 INTs and played best game of year from start to finish. Look at his whole body of work and all contributing factors before jumping to conclusions.

      • Jason Williams

        he isn’t going to have those WRs in the NFL. Who did Andrew Luck have at Stanford? Did it even matter? no.

        • ‘Eric Hughes

          Yes it does matter. They don’t have to be super stars. If they’ve been in the system, they know what they are supposed to do and where to be and a QB has more confidence. Shaw and Benjamin were in system 3-4 years versus 2 freshman. That matters. Guess you have no clue about football and probably didn’t even play.

          • Jason Williams

            (eyeroll) I love you elitists. I really do.

          • ‘Eric Hughes

            I love you ignorant, arm chair QBs.

          • Jason Williams

            ok, thanks. I guess.

          • Karthik Sriram

            We have similar challenges. Usually, the people who support Winston are FSU homers. (Eric may or may not be).

            We have a had a terrible time at Bucsnation with FSU homers trying to project Winston as Big Ben + Rodgers with Brady like winning instinct.

  • Jason Williams

    Is Cutler off the chart under Foles?

    Also the 4 corners of that chart are perfect : Rodgers, Smith, Sanchez, Cousins.

    • Chris

      Who do you think the Bears hire? I think Rex would’ve been the best candidate to rebuild that defense but it sounds like he’s considering ATL/SF.

      • Jason Williams

        I’ve been reading a lot today (should be working) that they can’t dump Cutler bc of the contract so that pretty much leaves Shanahan but they don’t want to pay him $7MM a year. We’ll see. I can’t see Gase coming to this shit show.

        • Chris

          Think Singletary is a possibility?

          • Football

            Why would anyone want to coach the shitty Bears? Or the Raiders and Jets for that matter

          • Jason Williams

            always appreciate your postivity, Football… 😉

          • Jason Williams

            god i hope not – you remember what the 49ers were before harbaugh, right?

          • Chris

            Yea but he’s a defensive coach who could rebuild the defense. He also was largely responsible for building the roster that Harbaugh won with. He also took over a team with Shaun Hill and Alex Smith as QBs, and he isn’t exactly an offensive genius. Harbaugh was gifted Kaepernick in his first year which allowed him to ride the defensive Singletary assembled to the playoffs multiple times.

            Singletary would walk into a team with a QB and good offensive weapons in place already in Chicago. He would just need to focus on the defense and turn that around in a year or two.

          • Jason Williams

            Id rather have mike smith. Shanahan is a disaster waiting to happen. Singletary BEST CASE is no better than Lovie Smith. Worst case he is singletary who couldn’t get a very talented 49er team to win.

          • eYeDEF

            It’s hard to argue with Shanahan’s pedigree regardless of what happened at the circus show ruin by Snyder.

        • eYeDEF

          What cheapskates. It’s not like they can’t afford him, or didn’t just fork over 54 mil guaranteed last year to a non functioning quarterback.

      • Jason Williams

        Sorry to dig this up from the wayback machine but John Fox is a dream come true given what we were looking at 3 weeks ago when this thing started. Bring in Kyle Shanahan, run the rock, keep that suspect defense off the field…sounds like a recipe to win to me.

  • Izach

    Not surprised to see mariota grade so well, but Chris brought up common scouting issues based on scheme, I’m not sold on mariota at all I dont think he’ll pan out well, great personality and boy scout image teams are looking for after this years off field issues. But talent wise and developmentally i think Mariota has a much hard adjustment to NFL.

  • smorkingapple

    Go read Greg Bedard on MMQB about Jameis. He’s way more pro ready than Mariota.

  • LightsOut85

    I went through & examined the route-breakdowns more carefully, and while MM throws a lot of short stuff (the 2 screens, HB non-screen & quick-outs), it’s not much different from the NFL average (37.2% to 34.6%) – and that’s just average, obviously some teams prefer to do it more often. He did pass for intermediate routes (not the ones mentioned, or Go/Post/Corner) a good deal less than NFL average (46.9% to 54.7%), he was more accurate than NFL average, and more accurate on them than JW. I think the distribution tells more about the offensive weapons & scheme than it does any limitations.

  • Fred

    I think it’s too hard definitively to tell who is more NFL ready. If that was easy to do and clear cut, you wouldn’t have guys like Wilson going in Round 3, Brady going in Round 6/7, etc. There is the experience, athleticism, and talent on Day 1, and then there is ability to learn and adjust during training camp and the first season. How many times have we seen a superb QB come out of college and not work out in the NFL, while also seeing what was thought as mediocre (including not drafted at all) do very well. So for my money, I’ll take Mariota and focus on football and not have the local and national media constantly gunk up the news with extracurricular stuff. It was a circus in Cleveland last year, and I’m betting the Bucs would like to avoid that in Tampa.