Teams to give Winston a ‘fair shake’
Teams are not letting off-field issues scare them away from possibly drafting Jameis Winston.
Or at the least, the franchises in a position to select Winston are not ruling him out because of questions regarding his character and maturity.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans hold the first and second overall picks, respectively, in the 2015 NFL Draft. Both franchises are in desperate need of a difference maker at quarterback, which has led them both to target Winston, who is considered by most pundits to be the best signal caller in the draft class.
Winston is a proven winner with refined technique, and has an uncanny ability to anticipate and make difficult passes.
But the questions surrounding Winston are not about what he can do on the field.
Winston has had several incidents during his three years at FSU, including being accused of sexual assault, although the State Attorney’s office opted not to file charges against Winston after an investigation. He was also cleared by the university following a code of conduct case.
“I understand allegations are against him, I understand he went through the justice system, court system to be exonerated of some allegations against him,” Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “I understand some of the college things that a lot of guys do that you wish you didn’t later on. And I understand some of the things that are on his record right now. We just take all the information we can possibly get at this point, it’s early, keep in mind it’s just at the combine and we have a lot more research and we’ll do that.”
Teams are allocated 15 minutes to talk to players during the NFL Scouting Combine, but that brief meeting will be just the early stages of an extensive probe into Winston’s history.
Winston’s off-field issues have been well documented on national level. Along with the rape allegation, Winston has drawn criticism for his involvement in less serious matters such as being cited for shoplifting — in which he was suspended for a week from the baseball program — and for shouting a lewd comment on campus, which resulted in a one-game suspension from the football team.
“As it comes to any player, Jameis included, you have to do your due diligence and research on them,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. “You have to know what the reality of the situation is and just don’t go along with the perception. Give the player — I don’t want to say the benefit of the doubt — but do your research so you know what the real questions are, what the real answers are and give him a fair shake.
“So for us, we’ve done a lot of work on Jameis, we’ll continue to do a lot of work on Jameis … it’s something I don’t want to go off perception.”
Bucs general manager Jason Licht was reluctant to hint at what he would do with the No. 1 overall pick, but said he was leaning towards keeping it. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock believes Winston will end up in Tampa Bay, although he too questioned whether was mature enough to be the face of a franchise.
Winston is expected to throw for scouts and executives Saturday, as is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is also a top target for the Bucs and other teams atop the draft. That too is a small part of the evaluation process, but Smith said he likes the fact that both players are willing to compete in far from optimal conditions.
“We need a quarterback that can throw the ball and make a variety of throws, we need a leader, a guy who makes great decisions,” Smith said. “We’d like to have a guy who is mobile in the pocket. A guy who has won football games.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know and spend time not only with Jameis but Marcus, also the rest of the athletes this week.”