Across the board, the No. 1 overall selection in May’s NFL Draft is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s to lose. The 21-year-old has all the on-field qualifications to be the leader and spokesman for a rebuilding NFL franchise.
Blessed with prototypical size, a 6-foot-3, 222-pound frame, decent hand size at 9 3/8 inches and good arm length at 32 inches, based off measurements from this weekend’s Combine, the physical tools are all instilled in Winston.
But before his official workout Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Winston’s stock may have nowhere to go but down, as NFL teams delve further and pick apart his work on the field and numerous troubles off it after two years as the Seminoles starting quarterback. It also didn't help matters that ESPN's Chris Mortenson reported on Friday that Winston had undergone shoulder weakness issues that could have been caused by a nerve problem but is treatable through therapy.
Based off his statistics and success in Tallahassee, Winston would be considered a shoe-in for the top pick in almost any year in the draft. Over the course of 27 starts for the Seminoles, Winston went an incredible 26-1 and captured the program’s first national championship in nearly 15 years.
Running a more pro-style offense under head coach Jimbo Fisher, Winston compiled eye-popping stats as well. He completed 66 percent of his pass attempts for 7,964 yards and 65 touchdowns to 28 interceptions for a career passer rating of 163.3. His best season was his first, tossing 40 touchdowns in 2013 for the Heisman Trophy and the national title in an undefeated run.
In fact Winston didn’t even lose his first game until his final game with the Seminoles, a disappointing 59-20 Rose Bowl letdown to Oregon and his main competition for the No. 1 pick, Ducks signal-caller Marcus Mariota.
Winston’s overall success in college, along with other intangibles like his above-average awareness and instincts in the pocket, have made him the consensus top pick in mock drafts by experts at ESPN, CBS Sports, and Fox Sports.
Most draft analysts are also taking into account the fact that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team in dire need of a franchise quarterback, are reportedly leaning towards selecting the Alabama native or whichever quarterback stands out most during their evaluations leading up to the draft.
After whiffing on five years of former quarterback Josh Freeman, and several quarterbacks before and after their Super Bowl-winning run in 2002, the Bucs have long gone without a franchise quarterback.
Winston fits right in with their needs, both as a passer and pitchman for the team, based off his direct connections with the Florida market and its fans.
The Bucs, or any other team in need of a quarterback like the Tennessee Titans at No. 2 or the New York Jets as far down as No. 6, will also look take a step back and consider Winston’s considerable issues off the field and his training since Florida State’s last game.
A photo of Winston during training went viral last week, showing a noteworthy gut on the quarterback, which many took as a sign of poor conditioning. But Winston’s position coach George Whitfield stressed to USA Today that the photo was taken on the second day of training for the Combine in San Diego, and in the two weeks since he’s shed roughly 12 to 15 pounds.
There are some issues, however, that Winston won’t be able to burn off in workouts or have a coach answer to. NFL teams will undoubtedly ask Winston to explain what happened the night of Dec. 7, 2012, when a former FSU student filed a sexual battery incident report against him with Tallahassee Police.
The police’s failed role in the matter can’t be ignored, with an investigation never really beginning until the Tampa Bay Times started digging into the allegation in Nov. 2013. Winston was never charged with a crime.
But team general managers and executives will put the question to Winston, and his answer might go a long way in their assessment of his character. Following the scandals over the past two years surrounding Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Aaron Hernandez, Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy, the NFL has been wary of the public’s views of their players and who it allows into the most exclusive football league in the world.
Furthermore, no NFL team wants to take on a player, let alone a quarterback and potential leader, who’s perceived as immature or even irrational. As USA Today’s Christine Brennan put it Thursday, in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s eyes, Winston might already have one strike against him under the league’s new policy against players accused of domestic violence.
Winston only furthered perceptions of immaturity when he was infamously cited for shoplifting crab legs at a Publix in April. Five months later, Fisher and the school would suspend Winston one full game for jumping on a table on campus and yelling an expletive-fueled rant based on an Internet meme.
With all that firmly on the public record, Tampa Bay could be very wary in following the Cleveland Browns’ footsteps in drafting Johnny Manziel. Also a Heisman winner know for electric playmaking, Manziel’s partying off the field became legendary and then notorious prior to Cleveland selecting him No. 22 overall in last year’s draft.
After a disastrous rookie year, that ended with teammates calling his debut “a joke” in a scathing ESPN profile earlier this month, Manziel is now in a rehab facility and the Browns are reportedly looking for another quarterback.
While it’s too early to call Manziel a bust, a label perhaps unfairly and exclusively used for young quarterbacks, the Bucs would like to go down a road that leads to success like former No. 1 picks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
It’s really up for Winston to decide.