It’s the 2015 NFL Draft. Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is coming off a Heisman Trophy winning campaign after taking the Ducks to the national championship. The time is now April when the next step in his illustrious football career is about to begin.
“With the second pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans select Marcus Mariota, quarterback from Oregon.”
Cheers and applause ring in as the Hawaii native’s dreams of becoming an NFL quarterback have just come true. He puts on the navy blue hat and shakes the commissioner’s hand just mere minutes after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as the No. 1 overall pick.
Fast forward, and Mariota is in his fifth year with the Titans. He has had only the same offensive coordinator once in back-to-back seasons (Terry Robiskie in 2016 and 2017), an unstable offensive line and now has been benched ahead of Sunday’s matchup vs. the Los Angeles Chargers in favor of Ryan Tannehill.
So let’s play the “what if” game for a moment: What if we re-drafted the 2015 NFL Draft and Mariota was selected No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Let’s first talk about coaching consistency. In 2015, the Bucs head coach was Lovie Smith with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. That season, Tampa Bay finished with a 6-10 record and last in the NFC South division. The following year, Koetter was appointed to head coach: an offensive mind that would have been paired with Mariota at the helm. It was only until this current 2019 season that the Bucs hired new head coach Bruce Arians and new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
In 2015, Jameis Winston threw for over 4,000 yards and averaged 252.6 per game while Mariota threw for 2,818 yards. Winston was sacked 27 times while Mariota was sacked 38 times. Mariota did have the upper hand when it came to pass completion: Mariota 62.2% and Winston at 58.3%.
That same season, Bucs running back Doug Martin also ran for 1,402 total yards, good for second in the league. So the run game was very much present as well.
So just imagine what that offense would have looked like with a more accurate quarterback in Mariota combined with the offensive mindset from the head coach? Sure, the Bucs are in the same division as Drew Brees and Cam Newton (old school Cam Newton, not today’s Cam Newton), but that Bucs offense would have looked very different.
The Bucs finished 9-7 in 2016 (Winston’s second season).
What’s done is done. Mariota has had an interesting time in Tennessee to say the least and his time in Nashville may have run its course. For better or for worse, only time will tell if Mariota is seen in a new uniform next season as he will become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.