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He’s No. 1: Winston wins again


The Sports Xchange

CHICAGO – Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won again Thursday, getting his stated wish to become the face of a franchise as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Winston, a redshirt sophomore, posted a 26-1 career record at Florida State, won a national championship as a freshman en route to the Heisman Trophy and lost in the CFP semifinals to Marcus Mariota’s Oregon team in the Rose Bowl last season.

Mariota won the Heisman Trophy last season, and the two entered the pre-draft process as the clear-cut top two quarterback prospects in this class. But it was Winston, despite constant questions about character and doubts about his decision-making, who wore the crown on draft night.

“You can’t predict the future. I can’t predict the future,” Winston said at the 2015 Scouting Combine in February. “What I can do is everything I need to do to be the face of a franchise.”

Vindication from scrutiny about his maturity and character is not easily measured in wins and losses. However, he won over second-year general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith, whose program with the Chicago Bears and last season with the Buccaneers was rooted in faith, character and accountability. Licht said last week that some of Winston’s actions were influenced heavily by his company. We can only infer that Licht would be alluding to standing on a student union table to scream obscenities, or possibly shoplifting of crab legs from a Publix grocery story.

The Bucs clearly did their homework. Not only did Winston visit two weeks after the combine – the March sit down included coaches, management, ownership and veteran leaders – the team attended his pro day and tracked him daily.

The Bucs said they questioned 75 people who know Winston and he twice met with ownership to give the franchise a feeling of comfort with making him the first quarterback drafted by the franchise at No. 1 overall since Vinny Testaverde in 1987.

Winston also met in New York with commissioner Roger Goodell at the suggestion of the quarterback. He said he told Goodell the same thing he told media leading up to the draft: “I’ve got so many people to inspire. I’ve got so many people looking up to me. I can’t disappoint them.”

If there are holes in Winston’s game on the field, confidence and fiery leadership are not among them. The Buccaneers have strong leadership in the huddle from wide receiver Vincent Jackson and offensive guard Logan Mankins.

His 2014 interception total (18) jumped from 10 during his freshman season. Winson’s issues primarily were with underneath coverage, but his 65 touchdowns in two seasons put his big arm – as a quarterback and power relief pitcher for the Seminoles – and knack for big plays on display.

Tampa has a decidedly losing history at quarterback. Even the decent finds have only flourished after leaving Florida. After Testaverde, the Buccaneers spent first-round picks on Trent Dilfer (sixth overall, 1994) and Josh Freeman (17th, 2009) and a second-rounder on Shaun King (50th, 1999).

Thursday was a victory lap for Winston. And if he stays between the lines off the field, the Buccaneers might be the lasting winners from the 2015 draft.

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