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Mel Kiper Jr.: Marcus Mariota needs time to develop

TAMPA, Fla. – ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said Wednesday that a team drafting Oregon’s Marcus Mariota would need a “bridge" quarterback.

“You have that in Tampa," Kiper said in a conference call with the national media. “You have that at Tennessee."

The Bucs hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Kiper has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going to the Bucs in his mock draft, but he isn’t ruling out the possibility of Mariota going first.

“I don’t think it would preclude you from taking him if you’re one of those teams, but you have to develop him," Kiper said. “If you want him to play right away and be an impactful rookie and second-year guy, that would probably be asking too much."

Kiper’s logic is simple. Mariota played in a spread offense in college. The Bucs – and most NFL teams – run a pro-style offense. Kiper said Mariota would take time to develop in a pro-style system.

“He’s a runner," Kiper said. “You’ve got to take that running aspect out and just call it mobility. He’s got the arm, the size, the work ethic, the intelligence – all the things you need to fit into pretty much any offense down the road. But if you want to force-feed him, he’s not going to be ready."

In theory, the Bucs have that bridge in place. Veteran Josh McCown was last year’s starter and could stay in that role for the short term in Kiper’s scenario. But Kiper still believes Winston is likely to be the better fit for the Bucs.

“From a pro-style, NFL-ready standpoint, it would be Winston," Kiper said. “But there’s basically some work on him from an intangible standpoint with the off-the-field issues that he had. I think it just gets down to if Winston checks out between now and late April and you can reconcile all that that’s all behind him and he’s matured and it’s not going to happen again, then he goes No. 1 and Mariota goes second, sixth, somewhere in the top 10. Maybe Philadelphia and Chip Kelly (who coached Mariota for two years in college) try to trade up to get him."