Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s entry into the 2015 NFL Draft is a “certainty” despite investigations by the school into a pair of off-field incidents, sources told CBS Sports. Moreover, character concerns that have dogged the redshirt sophomore throughout his collegiate career won’t necessarily affect his status as one of the football’s top quarterback prospects.
“[NFL] scouts do not study underclassmen until/unless they declare,” ESPN analyst and former player agent Andrew Brandt said in an email. “Once he does, they will study everything and [Winston] will be quizzed and interrogated at all the scouting events, as [Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel] was this year. I am sure he will be well coached in what to say and how to handle past incidents.”
As with Winston, concerns about Manziel’s character – such as a penchant for broadcasting his party exploits on social media and rumors that he was ejected from the Manning Passing Academy for being hung over – led some to speculate that his stock in the 2014 NFL Draft would suffer. With the help of close advisers, Manziel made a concerted effort to repair his image and prepare for interviews with team executives ahead of last year’s NFL Combine.
Ultimately, the Cleveland Browns made Manziel the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. This year, Winston is arguably the best pure passer in college football, and is considered by some to be a strong candidate to be a No. 1 draft pick.
But the NFL's landscape has changed drastically in recent months. The bad publicity generated by former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence incident and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse saga led to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent vow to revamp the league's personal conduct policy by Feb. 1.
While this renewed focus on player behavior could cause some teams to shy away from Winston on draft day, a strong performance in pre-draft interviews would go a long way toward convincing an NFL team that he’s overcome his extracurricular problems. “As I often say, he doesn’t need 32 teams to like him; he only needs one,” Brandt said.
All of this is contingent on whether Winston officially declares for the coming draft. Sources familiar with Winston’s thinking said Florida State’s investigation into past sexual assault charges against him, coupled with an NCAA investigation into allegations that he was illegally compensated for autographs, have led him believe that he has worn out his welcome in college football. “There is no upside in waiting to go to the NFL now, after all of this,” a source told told CBS Sports’s Jason La Canfora.
A fellow Florida State student accused Winston of using “physical force” to sexually assault her during a Dec. 7, 2012, encounter. But prosecutors in Tallahassee declined in December 2013 to pursue a criminal case against Winston, citing a lack of evidence. Despite that decision, Florida State officials revealed in September that they would pursue their own investigation into the incident.
Florida State announced last Friday that it would investigate an ESPN report that James Spence Authentication had certified more than 2,000 autographs allegedly signed by Winston. The school has yet to find evidence that Winston violated NCAA rules by accepting money for the autographs.
Winston has maintained his innocence in both cases and continues to turn in strong performances on the field. He has thrown for 1,878 yards and 13 touchdowns while leading the No.2-ranked Seminoles to a 7-0 record, including a 31-27 win over No. 7 Notre Dame on Saturday.