Mariota over Winston (07/17/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Bold Predictions – an interesting player or team prediction for the 2015 NFL season.

Each day, over the next two weeks (July 13th – 24th), we will reveal an interesting player or team prediction for the 2015 NFL season. The first five articles of the series will have a fantasy focus while the next five will be bold predictions for the upcoming season.

Previous Articles: Hill leads NFL in rushing, Luck highest scorer in fantasy, Landry over 100 receptions, Peterson is No. 1 running back

Prediction: Marcus Mariota, not Jameis Winston, is the top rookie quarterback in fantasy

Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were the first players off the board in the NFL Draft but which one should be drafted first in your fantasy league?

Not all rookie quarterbacks are fantasy relevant in their first season. Winston and Mariota each has the potential to succeed but the latter has a chance to be a fantasy stud.

The NFL is a passing league but often rookie quarterbacks become fantasy starters by scoring points with their legs. Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all racked up rushing yards and touchdowns to their first year to become fantasy relevant.

Mariota is an excellent runner. At Oregon, the Titans quarterback had over 700 rushing yards in each season and averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his college career. We project Tennessee's mobile quarterback to rush for 447.6 yards and 2.2 touchdowns in his rookie season. Mariota's rushing total is the fourth most among quarterbacks behind Russell Wilson (651.1 yards), Colin Kaepernick (588.1 yards) and Cam Newton (544.1 yards).

Tampa Bay's rookie quarterback is not as fleet of foot as Mariota. Winston topped 200 rushing yards in his freshmen year at Florida State but only managed 65 rushing yards on 57 carries last season for the Noles. Winston is projected to have 193.0 rushing yards and 1.9 touchdowns.

Winston does have an edge in the passing game with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson as receiving threats, but Mariota closes the gap by being a better overall quarterback. In our analysis of the 2015 NFL Draft, Mariota received an impact score of 9.5 out of 10 (star player), while Winston earned a mere 8.1 out of 10 (just an adequate starter).

Mariota's projected to throw for 3,807.9 passing yards, 25.8 touchdowns and 14.5 interceptions. We anticipate Winston to accumulate 4,147.8 passing yards, 26.3 touchdowns and 20.8 interceptions (the most in the NFL). The numbers are similar with the biggest difference being the turnovers.

Mariota's projected statistics make him the 14th best fantasy quarterback. He ranks ahead of Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick and Jay Cutler, all players currently being drafted as potential starters.

What makes Mariota special and gives him a chance to be a fantasy stud is that on a per game basis, his fantasy output is just one point less than Peyton Manning, which would make him a top ten quarterback.

Top 5 Fantasy Quarterbacks – plus Mariota and Winston

Player Passing Yards Pass TDs Rushing Yards Rush TDs
Andrew Luck 4,831.4 39.2 253.4 3.4
Aaron Rodgers 4,222.7 37.3 254.4 2.1
Cam Newton 4,016.6 28.0 544.1 4.0
Drew Brees 4,442.5 35.5 75.7 1.1
Ben Roethlisberger 4,559.7 34.6 85.7 0.8
Marcus Mariota 3,807.9 25.8 447.6 2.2
Jameis Winston 4,148.8 26.3 193.0 1.9