Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston both saw their first meaningful NFL action Sunday -- and the results couldn't have been more different. The second overall pick in the draft clearly outplayed the first, as Mariota led the Titans to a blowout win over Winston's Buccaneers.
Of course, Mariota and Winston are just 48 and 74 snaps into their NFL careers, respectively. But that doesn't mean we can't draw some conclusions from their rookie debuts. The fact is, Mariota is on an upward trajectory heading into Week 2, while Winston is sloping down.
Below, you'll find my thoughts -- with grades -- on how Mariota, Winston and eight other rookies performed in Week 1. I've split the newbies into two groups: those on the upswing and those on the downswing.
David Andrews, C, New England Patriots
Not often does an undrafted rookie free agent start Week 1 on a Super Bowl-winning team, but that's what Andrews did last Thursday for the Patriots, with regular starter Bryan Storkgoing on IR recall and fellow center Ryan Wendell inactive. Andrews played well for a rookie starting a big game at center -- a tough position to learn -- against the Steelers. He didn't allow a sack, and I didn't see him make any mental errors. He was also the only Pats lineman to play every offensive snap. This overachiever should be able to play in this league for a long time, even if he doesn't necessarily operate at a Pro Bowl level. GRADE: A
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans
Mariota made a mockery of fears he wouldn't be ready for the pros on Sunday. He performed like a veteran rather than a rookie starting his first NFL game at the toughest position in football. Mariota used his outstanding quickness, speed, accuracy and arm strength to finish with 209 yards, four touchdown passes and a perfect passer rating (158.3). I was chatting with Titans director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield the other day, and we talked for about five minutes about Mariota. The team is really excited about him; he picks things up so quickly, football-wise, which I think we saw Sunday. He might not be as good as Andrew Luck, but I think he'll have Luck-esque success going forward. GRADE: A
Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Peters showed off his excellent ball skills against the Texanson Sunday, picking off the first pass that came his way and finishing with three passes defensed and seven tackles. He has the kind of great awareness one must be born with, the kind that can't be coached. Peters knows how to knock people off routes and is good at engaging the receiver coming off the line; he plays like Darrelle Revis. Folks like to target rookies in the early going, but I don't think the Chiefs' opponents will be throwing at Peters the way the Texans did last week. GRADE: A
Randy Gregory, DE, Dallas Cowboys
Things are, of course, looking down for Gregory in the immediate future, given that he's expected to miss for four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain. But before he exited Sunday's win over the Giants, Gregory did a really good job pressuring the passer. There were concerns about his size heading into the season, but Gregory really got after Eli Manning. He got off his blocks well and hustled downfield in pursuit of plays, and he played the run a lot better than I thought he would. High ankle sprains can take forever to heal, but long-term, I think Gregory is going to be a heck of a player and a factor on Dallas' defense. He can be the best pass rusher in his draft class. GRADE: B+
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions
Abdullah looks like a clone of Darren Sproles in terms of the matchup problems he'll present to opponents. He can make the first tackler miss and has the quickness to make a ton of plays. This was obvious in San Diego on Sunday, when Abdullah picked up 50 yards on seven carries -- including a 24-yard scoring run on his first carry of the day -- and chipped in a 36-yard pass play and a 48-yard kick return. If he did that well on the grass in San Diego, he should be even better on the turf at Ford Field. He doesn't have the size to play every down, and he doesn't have the speed to run away from people and pop off 80-yard gains, but he'll produce in spot situations. GRADE: B
Vic Beasley, LB, Atlanta Falcons
Beasley made one standout play, knocking down a pass in Monday night's win over the Eagles, but he had a quiet game otherwise. It looked like Philly offensive lineman Jason Peters figured Beasley out after about 10 plays, and the rookie ceased to be a factor from that point on. He's a try-hard guy who is real competitive, but he needs to develop more pass-rush moves to make an impact. Once he's taught that, he'll be better. GRADE: C
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
Backs operating in the Chargers' system should have a relatively big advantage, thanks to Philip Rivers' passing ability, and I expected more out of Gordon than we saw Sunday, when he posted 51 yards on 14 carries and lost a fumble. That said, I saw some good things, including a willingness to bang it up in there on inside runs. He'll get better as he learns the blocking scheme and plays with more control. GRADE: C
Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston had a tough Week 1, throwing two picks and being sacked four times while completing just 48.5 percent of his passes for 210 yards and a passer rating of 64.0. Yes, he was working behind a line that included two rookie starters (Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet), and he was without injured receiver Mike Evans. But Winston just did not show the accuracy needed to win in the NFL. He also did not look as athletic as he had in college, which I suspect is related to the better athletes he's playing against now. He'll improve as his offensive line gels and as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter helps him with his footwork and mechanics. Conventional wisdom held that Winston was more ready for the NFL than Mariota, but Week 1 made it clear it's the other way around. Winston should overcome many of his problems by the end of the season, but he's in for some rough stretches in the meantime. GRADE: C
Phillip Dorsett, WR, Indianapolis Colts
I expected more out of Dorsett than we saw in Week 1. (He finished with two catches on three targets for 45 yards against the Bills, plus two muffed punts, including one that led to a Buffalo field goal.) He's a pure speed player who has a hard time making quick moves to get open, and he did not look good running routes on Sunday. Dorsett's lack of size also showed, and he didn't appear to have great hands. He has a lot of work to do. Dorsett looks like a project to me, someone who isn't ready for the NFL at this time. GRADE: D
Landon Collins, S, New York Giants
Collins had a pretty underwhelming debut against the Cowboyson Sunday night. I just didn't see someone who's going to be special in the passing game. He plays more like a linebacker than a defensive back in space. He's tough and competitive, but he might be better suited as a run defender only, someone who comes out in passing situations. GRADE: D