The SI 64: No. 6: Florida State QB Jameis Winston
With the 2015 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
As we climb into the higher regions of this year's top 10, it's time to talk about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who brings a series of interesting complications to the NFL.
Bio: Winston won the Heisman Trophy after the 2013 season, and seems to be the consensus first overall pick in the 2015 draft in the media's eyes, but his primary issue is not a relatively high interception ratio (18 in 2014, to 25 touchdowns). Winston is more known for a series of off-field incidents that include (comically) the alleged theft of crab legs from a Florida grocery store and (far more seriously) an investigation into sexual assault allegations that follow him closely despite the close of that inquiry. In two seasons as the Seminoles' starter, Winston completed 562 passes in 851 attempts for 7,964 yards, 65 yards and 28 interceptions. He has nearly every attribute needed to be a top-level NFL quarterback—but a long string of immature and inappropriate behavior should give teams pause.
Winston is trying to build that trust up among the NFL teams that may be considering him, but it could be a tough go.
“One thing that helped me realize about all my mistakes is getting a chance to be around the kids," he said at the scouting combine. "I went to read at this elementary [school] in Tallahassee (Fla.) and when I see how those kids look up to me, I feel bad about myself. The hardest thing is just being real with yourself—letting yourself know you let somebody down. ... I have a seven-year-old little brother at home that’s looking up to me every single day. Right then, I‘m like I just can’t disappoint that little man, because that’s my little brother. I’m his inspiration. In a way, he’s living through me. When I went home, he showed me my high school video and he said, 'Jaboo, that’s me.’ And it was me on the film. I’ve got many people to inspire and I’ve got so many kids looking up to me, not only as a quarterback, but as a person, and I want to be that role model for them."
Winston's off-field history is a complicated one, and justifiably so. On the field, he presents an interesting combination of NFL-level skills and unfinished potential that makes him an appealing—but potentially dangerous—prospect.
Strengths: A dynamite arm with the ability to make every NFL throw, including deep-third vertical throws to the opposite boundary. Has an advanced understanding of routes, protections and defenses. Not a flashy, fast runner, but gets up to speed quickly over time. When running, keeps his eyes free to scan the field and find targets. Throws to second and third reads consistently. Doesn't require scheme-created openings to get the ball downfield—can legitimately throw his receivers open and fit the ball into tight windows. Fearless thrower in the pocket—doesn't bail too early and will stand in to make the throw even when he knows the big hit is coming.
Weaknesses: Functionally athletic, but not in a quick-twitch sense—Winston is not a scrambler/runner, per se. Much more of a pocket quarterback. Deep interceptions and incompletions are mechanical to a degree—he tends to lean on and bow his back leg instead of throwing through his body. Upper and lower body aren't always integrated—Winston uses his arm strength in a negative sense. Mechanics aren't consistent and he can be labored with them at times—as if he's thinking through the throw as opposed to just throwing. Lacks touch on short and intermediate throws; he'll try to take a little off the velocity and just miss the target at times. Struggles to right his body (shoulders to the target) after bailing out of the pocket. Often fails to read converging defenders; he's still learning to see the whole field. Off-field issues will obviously require a great deal of vetting. Interception rate increased and completion percentage decreased in 2014.
Conclusion: In the end, whether Winston was let off the hook by virtue of his athletic potential and value to the Florida State football team is something we may never know. It's something that will hang with him throughout his professional career, and the more he refers to his "mistakes," the more many will believe that he's minimizing a very serious issue. There's probably nothing Winston can say to make it all go away, and that's perfectly understandable.
The team that drafts Winston will need to understand that he's not as NFL-ready as some would like him to be. He's the type of player who possesses a tremendous amount of faith in his raw abilities, and he's going to have to learn that things are more complicated at the next level. Those who question whether he'll ever truly reach his ceiling have legitimate concerns.