INDIANAPOLIS - Marcus Mariota may be the better athlete, but Jameis Winston made a strong case for being the top-rated quarterback in this year's draft class.
Both prospects impressed during Saturday's NFL Combine workouts, solidifying their status as the two best quarterbacks in an otherwise questionable crop.
Surprisingly, Winston and Mariota decided to throw at the Combine. Most quarterbacks choose not to do so to avoid hurting their draft status. It turned out to be the right move, though. Each showed off his accuracy and passing ability in front of executives and coaches from all 32 teams.
"I thought they were outstanding," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said after the skill players' workouts were over.
Winston, who is expected to be picked No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Mariota, who has been linked to the Jets at No. 6, arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium this past week knowing they would field questions about their football prowess and their NFL mettle.
While Winston's off-the-field issues took center stage, Mariota set out to convince teams that he is more than just a product of Oregon's offensive system. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner impressed with his 40-yard dash time -- 4.52 seconds -- and his comfort level making throws.
Winston's 40 time (4.97) wasn't nearly as impressive, but he wound up stealing the show. The polarizing Florida State star made it look easy as he worked his way through the drills.
Some wondered whether Winston would throw at the Combine after reports surfaced that he was experiencing shoulder weakness. But Winston downplayed the discomfort on Friday and emerged as the star attraction the following day.
If his throwing shoulder was bothering him, it wasn't evident. The righthanded Winston displayed impressive velocity and good touch on deeper passes.
Mayock and fellow NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci gave Winston high marks during the televised broadcast. Mayock said Winston is doing "very well" in his interviews with teams. Mariucci labeled Winston "the most astute X's-and- O's guy" he's ever sat down with at the Combine.
But concerns about his character might remain.
Winston was prepared to answer questions about a rape accusation that didn't lead to criminal charges, his theft of crab legs from a grocery store and his use of profane words inside the university's student union. And according to Winston, it wasn't at all difficult to open up in those meetings. "It wasn't tough at all. I was just being real," he said.
As for his Combine performance, he appeared very satisfied: "I believe I accomplished what I needed to do."
During his Friday podium session with the media, Winston made it clear that he isn't shy about potentially being No. 1 in the April draft.
"I'm in it to win games and be the face of someone's franchise," he told reporters. " . . . After all this Combine stuff, you're not going to hear no more about Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. I want my name to stay relevant for the next 15 or 20 years of my career."