Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota most likely will be the first two picks of the draft on Thursday, and immediately will be looked to as the solution for the biggest challenge of any NFL team: finding a blue chip quarterback who actually produces a career worth of his draft-day stature.
But as far too many teams have learned firsthand, there are no guarantees that Winston and Mariota will turn out to be the next Peyton Manning, John Elway, or Troy Aikman -- or the next Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch or JaMarcus Russell.
Months of speculation finally will be resolved when we learn where Winston and Mariota will be playing; the answer to whether either one will be any good will take a few years to play out.
Both quarterbacks believe they have what it takes to make it at the next level, so confidence is not the issue. It's competence that ultimately will determine whether Winston and Mariota lead their respective teams to playoff contention and possibly a Super Bowl. Or whether either or both wind up on the trash heap of NFL busts where so many first-round quarterbacks have landed, where so many dreams have been crushed.
Their resumes are equally impressive, although not quite perfect.
Winston went 26-1 as a starter at Florida State, finishing with 65 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions. He has terrific arm strength, and is an elite pocket passer who takes full advantage of his 6-4, 230- pound frame.
But . . .
There continue to be questions about his well-publicized indiscretions at Florida State. They include a rape allegation as a freshman that did not result in formal charges being brought (he is currently being sued over the incident in civil court), the theft of crab legs from a local supermarket, and an incident in a school cafeteria when he yelled profanities that led to a brief suspension from the team.
Winston believes he has convinced enough teams -- and really, it only has to be the one that winds up selecting him -- that he's not a risk as he prepares to join the highly scrutinized world of the NFL.
"My job as a quarterback is to be the face of a franchise and [whatever] franchise that is, I've got to do that and hopefully win Super Bowls. I know that's a big responsibility. Whatever is behind me is behind me. I can't talk about situation or anything like that in the past, but what I can do is prove to you and let you watch me grow into being the face of your franchise."
Which franchise will it be?
The pre-draft speculation has focused primarily on the Buccaneers, who have been linked to Mariota for months. But two sources familiar with the Bucs told Newsday in recent days that the Bucs are at least open to the idea of trading the pick and thus foregoing Winston. One source said it appears the team is certainly leaning toward Winston, but would listen closely to a trade offer that would entice them to acquire more picks and address needs other than quarterback.
In other words, the expectation is Winston, but it's no lock he ends up in Tampa Bay.
Mariota is equally intriguing, although his skill set differs markedly from Winston. Where the Florida State star is a pure pocket passer who will only scramble when necessary, Mariota has blazing speed to get out of the pocket and could fill a role similar to two-time Super Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, who often uses his legs to make plays, especially to the outside, where he can get out of bounds quickly and avoid being hit.
But . . .
Is Mariota just another "system" quarterback who thrived because of where he played in college? And will his skill set translate to a highly complex NFL offense from the passer-friendly scheme that Chip Kelly brought to Oregon and that Mariota played in for Kelly successor Mark Helfrich? Or will Mariota meet the same unfortunate fate of other great college passers who couldn't make the transition to the NFL?
The quietly confident Mariota believes he has the tools to make it big.
"Any player would stand in front of you and tell you they're confident in their abilities and I'm no different," Mariota said. "What I've been able to do at the University of Oregon and what I've learned has prepared me for this."
Whatever team drafts Mariota hopes he's right. Same with Winston, whose NFL career will now be linked with his fellow Heisman Trophy winner and whose progress -- or lack thereof -- will provide the latest example of whether a premier college passer can win Super Bowl championships. Or whether he'll be the latest in a long line of failures at the professional level.
The journey continues on Thursday. The final answers are still years away.