The 2015 NFL draft class was headlined by two quarterbacks who consistently topped the boards as the best overall prospects that season. Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota would alternate as the first- and second-ranked prospects seemingly by the day. Ultimately, Mariota defeated Winston head-to-head in a commanding 59-20 Rose Bowl win. Winston, however, would have the last laugh as he was selected first overall in the draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Tennessee Titans would make Mariota the second overall selection.
For years, Winston and Mariota downplayed the rivalry between them. In 2017, Winston said on ESPN’s First Take that, “The only thing I’ve got against Marcus is he’s beaten me every time I’ve played against him.”
Fast forward to 2022 and both are now saddled firmly in the driver’s seats of one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL. On Monday, Jameis Winston and the New Orleans Saints put in place a two-year deal for him to return to the Big Easy. Within the hour, after the Atlanta Falcons traded away Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, they reached their own two-year agreement with Mariota. Now, the 2015 first and second overall picks are in line to compete twice a year as starting quarterbacks for NFC South rival teams.
If the only Winston animosity Winston harbored about Mariota came down to losing their rare matchups, he’ll look to finally change that fortune this year. Mariota is currently a perfect 2-0 all-time against Winston in both college and the NFL. He was also on the roster for the Titans’ 2019 win over Winston and the Bucs, even though Ryan Tannehill led that victory.
The rivalry everyone wanted coming out of the 2015 draft is finally in place to play out more than ever. All in the midst of a popular NFL rivalry. Both the Saints and Falcons will now focus on putting weapons around their quarterback, though Atlanta could be looking at signal-caller options in the draft as well. If Winston and Mariota do indeed meet again this season as expected, the work their franchises do around them will be the deciding factor as Winston looks to close the gap.