Who should go No. 1 overall in this year’s NFL Draft?
“Me,” says Jameis Winston. “Enough said.”
That type of confidence from the 21-year-old Florida State quarterback should come as no surprise to anyone who has even casually followed Winston’s controversial career. For his fans, that swagger is a prerequisite for any potential “franchise” player to reach the pinnacle of the profession. For Winston haters, that perceived cocky attitude makes the 6'4", 231-pound passer the embodiment of what’s wrong with today’s “entitled” athletes.
Being the No. 1 pick is only the first step of Winston’s long-term plan. The Heisman Trophy and national title winner wants to do it all at the next level. And he wants to enjoy the ride along the way.
“That’s always been a dream of mine, to win some Super Bowls and be in the Hall of Fame,” says Winston. “I enjoy the spotlight. I love it. Any chance that I get to show my smile off or just be around and have fun with other people, it’s awesome.”
To paraphrase a sports cliché: “It’s not the X’s and the O’s. It’s the Jameises and the Joes.” Winston can play. His achievements precede him. So does his reputation, which has been shaped in the media to the point where he became a caricature of himself before his 21st birthday. Now he has to convince future employers that he can be the on-field CEO and off-field face of an NFL franchise.
“I just want their trust,” Winston says. “I believe I am the best player in this draft. I believe that I could be playing in the NFL for a pretty long time. And I just want their trust.”
A laundry list of off-the-field indiscretions includes a Title IX rape investigation (that resulted in no charges being filed) as well as more juvenile run-ins — like shoplifting $32.72 worth of crab legs from a local Publix and standing on a table to yell a tasteless yet popular Internet meme. Comedian Kevin Hart visited Tallahassee and publicly told Winston to, “Stop doing dumb (stuff).” The high-profile ups and downs have certainly made an impact on Winston.
“I just learned that I had to grow up. Everything that happened at Florida State, I feel it made me a better person and a better young man,” says Winston. “My family raised me right and my football family, they know who I am. And they stood beside me. First of all, they knew the truth. And they also knew what type of person I was.”
In the months leading up to the draft, Winston has done everything in his power to repair his image and prepare himself for the NFL. He flew to New York to clear the air with Commissioner Roger Goodell, who Winston says is “a very fun guy to be around.” He trained in San Diego with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr., who also worked with former No. 1 picks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. Winston shined on the field and was charming in interviews at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day.
At Florida State, Winston was able to compartmentalize his stresses and continue a remarkable track record of on-field success — as a star quarterback in the fall and two-way baseball player in the spring. Philosophies learned on the diamond have been a major part of Winston’s formula for success on the gridiron, especially when the stakes are high.
“Baseball is a game of failure. You gotta have a strong mind in that sport. And playing quarterback, we’re the most scrutinized and most praised position in all of sports. So you gotta have a strong mind,” says Winston, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers and finished his career at FSU with a 1.94 ERA, nine saves and 52 strikeouts over 60.1 innings.
“One thing that helped me out was being a pitcher, how relentless I am just trying to take over a game. As a quarterback, sometimes I just try to take over a game. Two-minute drills. Third downs. Situational football is something I take pride in.”
This is the first spring of Winston’s career that the Bessemer, Ala., native has not played baseball. And, in scouting terms, even though his “floor” is higher than his competition due to the pro-style offense he ran under coach Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Winston’s “ceiling” is even higher considering he’s never been a full-time QB.
“I love being a quarterback year-round. It’s amazing,” says Winston. “It’s made a huge difference, especially with my mechanics for football. I never had a chance to just work on the football side of my game. I always watched film. But I never had to work on just my release and my drop and just fine-tuning everything. …
“I don’t even know how good I can be at quarterback because I never worked this much at it.”
Winston is the frontrunner to go No. 1 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team whose fanbase includes a significant percentage of FSU fans and plenty of Seminole alumni — including Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Brad Johnson, to name a few. It seems too good to be true. But Winston could go from the Noles to the Bucs.
“If that’s possible, I would love that opportunity. I just would love the privilege of playing in the NFL,” says Winston. “If it happens to be in Tampa, that would be obviously a blessing.”
As for those who doubt his ability to transition from college to the pros? Well, after everything Winston has gone through, he’s not too worried.
“I don’t got many concerns,” says Winston. “I’m just looking forward to playing football. That’s one thing I love to do, is play football. Whatever may come my way, I’m ready for it.”