A few shorts months ago the pro football world was a relatively sane place. Jameis Winston, a talented QB with highly suspect character, was widely viewed as a troubled player some NFL team might gamble on well down the draft, but certainly not a top 5 pick. Fast forward to today, and Winston is suddenly the draft’s celebrated darling and the odds-on favorite to go #1 overall to my beloved Bucs, with NFL pundits gushing about his intelligence and skill set. How in the hell did that happen, you ask? Great question. How is that many informed football fans—and most of the respected, alleged NFL “experts”—are turning a blind eye to the kid’s off-the-field antics? You with the good questions again.
Let’s take a quick look back at some of Winston’s conduct-related highlights:
• Accused of raping a young woman in his college apartment
• A second woman later alleges sexual abuse
• Stole soda from a fast food joint while mocking the manager’s protests
• Along with friends used pellet gun to cause $4K in damage on campus
• Stole merchandise from a local Publix store
• Skipped a code of conduct hearing related to the rape case
• Jumped on a table in a public area screaming sexually charged expletives…while rape charges were pending
• Investigated for accepting money for autographs (but never charged)
• Accused of shaving points in Louisville game to help friend win a wager
• Defied a suspension by dressing out and taking the field against Clemson
Where there is smoke there is usually fire, folks.
Beyond the crappy conduct stuff, Winston raises a host of other red flags. He has left the door open to drop football for a baseball career, something that has traditionally made NFL front offices very leery. He is not a great athlete, with a soft, strange build and an awkward, lumbering gait. He threw far too many numb-skulled interceptions at FSU, posting 28 picks the last two seasons—including 17 over an 11-game stretch, and staggering three against the Florida Gators this past season…in the first quarter alone. In fact, he led the entire FBS in picks on intermediate-distance throws. And though his mechanics are OK, he has a slow, almost casual windup that I believe pro DBs will read like a book. To top it all off, he has a strange personality and is prone to bizarre emotional tirades.
So I ask: how did Winston go from pariah to hyped franchise savior seemingly overnight? Well, some might question whether skin color is a factor. Consider that Johnny Manziel, who had a fraction of the character concerns surrounding Winston, had already begun his slide down draft charts by this time last season, and ended up near the bottom of the first round on draft day. Yet Winston, whose track record makes Manziel’s seem like childsplay, is seemingly immune from repercussions. Could it be that we’ve unwittingly cultivated an atmosphere in which a simple truth can’t be expressed for fear of being labeled a racist or a bigot? Point is, if a kid is a big character risk or a jackass his skin color should be irrelevant. And don’t waste my time talking about Winston’s impressive interviews during the combine. Manziel charmed most teams during his pre-draft interviews, too, and has been an abject failure so far in Cleveland.
But I digress. Two factors are working in Winston’s favor, in my opinion:
The NFL combine has become a circus of sorts where draft prospects are poked and prodded like cattle, and where awed attendees collectively gasp over fast 40 times and high vertical jumps. Amid the hoopla far too many folks—including not a few NFL coaches and front-offices types—lose sight of the fact that nothing trumps what a college player actually did against competition. And that’s what happened with Winston. By all accounts he looked very good throwing passes in shorts to uncovered receivers without a pass rush in his face, leading some scouts to compare him to Peyton Manning. I shit you not. Yet game film reveals a QB who whined, pouted, knocked heads with coaches (another huge character flag) and threw too many stupid picks.
Supply and demand
Though recent hype has clouded this issue, not so long ago the “experts” seemed to agree that there was not an elite, franchise-caliber, just-add-water QB (the caliber of Rodgers, Luck, etc.) in this class. And they were absolutely correct. But the media hype machine never rests, and Winston (and to some extent Mariota) have seen their stock artificially elevated. Never mind the fact that decision-making is the biggest common denominator among successful pocket passers, or that spread-option QBs invariably struggle as pros. There’s a draft to hype, dammit, and that means we need players to gush over, no matter their limitations.
Listen, Winston has undeniable talent. He has a big arm and a large frame, and made some impressive throws in crunch time for FSU. He ticks many of the boxes that make NFL teams breathe heavily, including a college career spent in a pro-style scheme. Yes, he may defy the odds and end up being the face of a franchise. Yes, the Bucs need to add another QB to the mix and yes, concerns about Mariota’s ability to make the transition to the pros are somewhat legit, if overstated. But NFL history is littered with the discarded bodies of immature, over-hyped young QBs who bombed out of the league in short order, many of them with track records not nearly as spotty as Winston’s. As the old saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Wanna know what’s refreshing? Seems most fans agree.
Come on, Lovie and Licht. Defy the pressure and the predictions and make a wise choice by scratching Winston off your draft board, then either drafting Mariota or a productive, high-character non-QB who fills a glaring need like Florida DE Fowler or Texas A&M OT Ogbuehi. Or, maybe trade down and get some extra picks. Regardless, you’d be wiser to take a promising signal caller with no glaring character issues in the mid-rounds (SE Louisiana’s Bryan Bennett, for example) to push the inexplicably underrated Mike Glennon than you would be to burn this unique opportunity on Winston.
My guess is that you both know that already.