Interview Process Is Raising Mariota's Stock—but Not Above Winston's

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 24, 2015

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As Marcus Mariota has gone from team to team being probed like an alien held at Area 51, one thing has become clear: He is a man of few words...except when it comes to football.  

Mariota, I'm told, has been extraordinarily quiet when asked about almost anything outside of football. Not secretive or evasive. Just quiet, because that's his personality. Ask him about football, you'll get an expansive, enthusiastic response. Ask him about anything personal, you'll get a short, probably one-sentence answer.

As one scout told me, it's coming across in these meetings that football is obviously Mariota's passion, and that he is protective of family and others. While it's been portrayed by some teams and members of the media that Mariota's quiet nature is a problem, no team I've spoken to believes it will be an issue.

It's the opposite. I spoke to five NFL personnel men about where they believed Mariota would go in the upcoming draft, and all believed he'd be picked by Tennessee. Every one. No hesitation.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The differences in the responses came with how they thought the Titans would select Mariota. Three of the sources believed the Titans would stay at No. 2 and take him there. The other two thought the Titans would trade with Washington, which would take USC's Leonard Williams at No. 2, leaving the Titans to pick Mariota at No. 5—one spot before the quarterback-thirsty Jets.

None of the five were concerned in any way with what were perceived to be Mariota's weaknesses: That he mainly worked in a spread offense in college, and that he isn't a boisterous leader.

What the five personnel men were also certain about was that the Browns weren't trading up to get Mariota. This despite Ray Farmer, Cleveland's general manager, saying he would consider trading pick Nos. 12 and 19 to do just that.

"Sure, why not?" Farmer said, according to The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot.

The belief is that there was no way the Browns would make such a risky move—not after a season in which one of their first-round picks from last year, Justin Gilbert, was average at best, and the other, Johnny Manziel, was an uber-disasterSaid one of the personnel men: "The Browns aren't that dumb to do something like that."

The personnel men said it seems that fewer and fewer people across the sport believe Mariota will land anywhere other than Tennessee. This of course comes with the usual caveat that everyone this time of year lies their ass off.

But where might he go, in the unlikely event it's not Tennessee? Their thoughts:

• "One of the wild-card teams is Washington. If the Titans take Leonard Williams, and Mariota falls, Washington at five is a possibility. But that would still be a surprise, because it would be a tacit admission that (the Robert Griffin III) experiment has failed. I don't think they're at that point yet."

• "Two teams that want Mariota the most are the Titans and the Jets. But from everything I hear, the Jets aren't planning to move up."

• "My wild card is Chicago. That new coaching regime can't wait to get rid of Jay Cutler."

• "I'm going to give you one long-shot team to watch: the Giants. If for some reason Mariota enters into a free fall, watch them. Eli [Manning] is getting older." The Giants pick at No. 9.

One thing that hasn't seemed to change, at all, is the mostly league-wide perception that Jameis Winston is more NFL-ready than Mariota. One of the sources said, "Everyone believes Tampa is locked in on Winston. I would be shocked if they didn't take him."

Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

But the more you speak to scouts about Mariota, the more you hear a tone of almost admiration. Part of this is in remarkable contrast to Winston. The differences between them off the field are staggering. One scout told me his organization couldn't find a single problem in Mariota's background, which is unusual not just for a top pick but for any human being.

The other part of that admiration is that Mariota "seems to put as much effort into being a good person as he does into being a good quarterback. That's important, especially at this time in the league's history."

So where will Mariota go? It looks increasingly like Tennessee, but this is the draft, and no one truly knows. Maybe, at this point, not even the Titans.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.