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The Case Against Jameis Winston

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Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will very likely be the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Should he be?

Understand that these are two very different questions that not everyone is always willing or able to answer. Conventional mock drafts are set up to predict what will happen (though, that’s not what they were originally meant for). Because of this, some people have just blindly followed the pack putting Winston where he will likely go instead of doing their due diligence and asking why exactly Winston and not another player—Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, USC’s Leonard Williams or someone else.

The cumulative effect of this may do nothing to chance what actually happens on draft night, but it has made Winston seem to be the lock-solid, No. 1 player in this draft class when the reality of the situation is that the margin between him and the rest of the class is razor thin.

While Winston may still go No. 1, as all signs point toward the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulling that trigger, there are plenty of reasons he’s not the sure thing he has been portrayed as throughout the process. Personally, if I were handed the keys to the Buccaneers franchise tomorrow, I would stay far away.

Here’s why.

 

The Case Against Jameis Winston

First off, let’s do away with some common arguments and easily-erected strawmen before moving on.

This isn’t about wanting boy scouts as football players. Though, we will touch on Winston’s off-field issues later. Still, there is a healthy amount of “edge” a football player typically needs, and that is alright—even at the quarterback position. Frankly, when we overemphasize Winston’s character concerns, we make it seem as he is a perfect prospect on the field and only has shortcomings off of it. This does the process a disservice and isn’t even close to the truth.

This conversation would also be remiss without some mention of the “anonymous scout.” Every year, it seems, a top quarterback (usually a black one) ends up with a whole lot of mud slung at him from the anonymous scout complex. This year, that barrage came from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn.

McGinn is a pro’s pro, and there’s a world of difference between the reporting he does year after year, getting heaps of opinion—often wide ranges of the same—from around the NFL world and the kind of “reporting” of anonymous scouts that questions Cam Newton’s smile. McGinn’s is separated from that kind of tripe both in the length of time he’s been doing this and also in the quantity and substance of what he obtains.

He’s not looking to make a name for himself. He’s been showing his work on this assignment for decades of quality work.

The biggest piece of “news” (really, again, just an opinion) from McGinn’s piece is that Winston is a less athletic, less talented version of former LSU quarterback/NFL washout JaMarcus Russell. People are going to take exception to this for very good reason. While it almost certainly wasn’t intended this way, the biggest connection the two have is that they are big and black.

Not a great look for the anonymous scout—or, frankly, McGinn for those who don’t know well enough to trust his work.

Lest I get lumped into that fray, let’s make one thing clear: I have no problem with Winston as a prospect and nothing personal against him as a person. This is an objective valuation of his skills and what we know publicly about his character. No one, I repeat no one here is “hating” on Winston. Some of us simply have a job to do, and that involves not looking at every player though the rose-shaded glasses of their fanbase.

 

On the Field, Winston Is Still A Major Work in Progress

Let’s go back to that Russell comparison.

In terms of playing style, Winston is nothing like Russell. Russell was built like a defensive lineman with a cannon for an arm. He didn’t extend plays in any way, shape or form like Winston does. Russell’s delivery was a thing of beauty, and Winston’s is still a work in progress. While both have incredible physical tools, we’re looking at completely different skill sets.

Where the two do line up, though, is in the coach who prepared them for the NFL, which is something pointed out in McGinn’s piece. Jimbo Fisher was at LSU with Russell. Since then, he’s put out prospects like Matt Flynn, Christian Ponder and EJ Manuel. Every single one of those prospects was fool’s gold to NFL evaluators, and none were nearly as ready for the NFL as Fisher, his system and the talent around them made them seem.

This is problematic.

If we stick solely to playing style, Winston is a lot closer to Ben Roethlisberger in terms of extending plays, great but not top-tier arm strength, tendency to get into high-risk/high-reward situations. He’s got a little bit of early-career Steve McNair to his game as well when one compares their running styles. That McNair comparison, too, shows us that natural accuracy can be highly refined with better decision making. The opposite side of that coin is Winston’s interceptions, which put him in a category with players like Eli Manning or pre-draft Matt Ryan, when the tools were clearly there but something was just as clearly “off” about the way they approach the game.

For Winston, though, I’ll take it one step further.

At Georgia, Matthew Stafford was an almost immediate success and tantalized both the fanbase and scouts with his tremendous physical gifts. He had every single one of the tools a quarterback needs, and it was clear he was going first in the draft whenever he decided that would be.

Yet, Stafford continued to struggle with hitches in his mechanics, sloppy execution, poor decision making and an over-trust in those physical tools. I see much the same in Winston as he failed to improve as a passer over the course of his college career. The wins were there, yes, but the incredible talent around Winston at Florida State had something to say about that as well, and he was picked up by his teammates just as often as he put them on his shoulders.

Let’s focus on the good for a second.

Winston sees the field like an NFL quarterback. Yes, there are huge lapses in judgement we shouldn’t just ignore but the good is almost nearly as great as the bad is terrible. He’ll make throws others can’t, even while attempting throws he shouldn’t. It’s evident he has the physical ability to make it at the NFL level, and if he puts the work in and improves where he needs to, he can be truly special. To aid, here: He’s considered one of the smartest on-field quarterbacks we’ve seen in some time, and while his Wonderlic score was middle of the road, he has a tremendous grasp for the concepts of the game.

 

Off The Field, It’s Impossible to be 100% Comfortable With So Many Question Marks

That brings us to the gory details of the program.

If we stopped at the last paragraph, I would have trouble drafting Winston first overall—just as I had issues with Stafford in his draft class. When a prospect isn’t perfect (at quarterback, let’s use Andrew Luck as the example), the questions needs to be: “Do we expect him to reach his ceiling, and if not, are we comfortable with where he’s at?

In an exercise where we’re constantly looking for the “next Peyton Manning” or “next Andrew Luck,” we often forget how rare those moments truly are and how close teams were to making the mistake of falling for lesser prospects like Ryan Leaf and Robert Griffin III.

So, saying that Winston isn’t a Luck-caliber quarterback prospect isn’t exactly earth-shattering.

In short, I don’t expect Winston to reach the highest heights of his potential. For years, baseball and other off-the-field exploits have managed to steal his attention away from doing what he has needed to do to improve. In the fast-paced NFL landscape, one can’t expect that to drastically change. Yes, baseball will be off his plate, but the NFL life has all sorts of nightlife, business ventures and otherwise extracurricular activities that steal a quarterback’s attention away from his craft.

In fact, it’s almost a longshot to expect any quarterback to reach his full potential, because when one looks at what gets the best to where they are, one of the biggest things is always an incredible work ethic that surpasses even all of the draft prospects who wowed their college coaches with their ability to get things done.

Moreover, it would actually be more troubling if Winston has that Tom Brady or Manning-caliber of work ethic and still has mechanical issues and lapses in decision making.

Finally, there’s the grittier off-field stuff: The rape allegations, the theft charge (later retconned into an NCAA violation), the immaturity and the complete lack of self-awareness that his actions have natural consequences that are amplified in the limelight of athletics.

None of this defines Winston on its own, and together it’s still just part of the package. Yet, it provides extra hurdles for Winston to climb before he reaches his potential. Might it just be “boys being boys,” absolutely—though, boys being boys still shouldn’t result in allegations of sexual misconduct (proven beyond a shadow of a doubt or not). For teams looking at making Winston not only their starting quarterback, but also at the wheel of their franchise, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

There’s a huge chasm between allowing that Winston’s off-field behavior might be troublesome to his longterm NFL prospects and what is commonly referred to as “concern trolling.” Again, I’m not asking that Winston be a boy scout, but in comparison to Mariota (who is), it’s worth talking about, especially in light of the NFL’s current spate of off-the-field instances.

Last year, many teams fell in love with Johnny Manziel in the pre-draft process. They bought the “boys will be boys” excuses and trusted that he could put his immaturity behind him. Now, he’s fresh off a stint in rehab and spent an entire year alienating teammates and coaches with his behavior.

Winston is not Manziel. The two are two separate people.

However, it’s not a leap of faith to assume men who were burned by believing in Manziel are hesitant to make the same mistake so soon after. I know it’s not a leap at all, because people inside NFL teams have told me using those exact words. Some of these guys got up on the table and tried to convince others in the war room that Manziel was a changed man, that the issues of his college career had nothing to do with how he would be as a pro.

They were wrong.

Many do not want to be wrong again.

No, Manziel’s past behavior can’t predict Winston’s future actions, but it does color how the league looks at him.

Ultimately, it only takes one team—Tampa Bay—to make him the No. 1 pick and they can shatter just about everything in the preceding paragraphs in one fell swoop on draft night.

Even when drafted, though, Winston is not going to be a sure thing and it’s time more people realized it.


About Michael Schottey

Michael Schottey

Michael Schottey has been covering football in various capacities for a decade and his work can be found in numerous outlets around the globe, primarily Bleacher Report where he is and NFL National Lead Writer. Schottey has appeared regularly on CNN, Headline News, Al Jazeera America, Sirius/XM and countless other national and local radio spots.