Jameis Winston is the clear consensus number one pick right now. He's better on the field than everyone except maybe Marcus Mariota, but even there he's generally seen as clearly the better player. And his off-field issues don't seem to bother anyone anymore.
"Bad guy or immaturity? I'm leaning toward the latter," Jason Licht told Peter King of The MMQB. When even the Bucs' general manager downplays those issues, you know they're not viewed as overly serious. But is immaturity really what you want in your quarterback?
The thing with Jameis that worries me is so many chose to ignore all of the warning signs from Manziel last year. Seeing similar signs.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) February 20, 2015
I don't think that comparison is ultimately fair. Manziel's problems in college were often related to a lack of discipline and that showed on the football field and in reports on the work he put in, but that's not the case with Winston. He's had a slew of off-field issues, but his commitment to football and the time he's willing to put in to get better are not part of those issues. That doesn't mean there are no warning signs, however.
Putting aside the rape accusation, which is a different beast entirely, you can spin a fairly convincing narrative that Jameis Winston's career so far has been characterized by immaturity along with remarkable on-field prowess. Aside from the rape accusation, none of his off-field issues are particularly serious -- but they don't speak to a serious young man fully committed to being a professional and a face of the franchise, either.
arrested cited for stealing crab legs, involved in a BB gun battle, shooting at squirrels with a pellet gun, kicked out of practice before the 2014 championship game over a two-minute drill practice (he then won the game in a two-minute drill), made some dumb remarks about women at the Manning Passing Academy and shouted a dumb meme on campus, which got him suspended for half a game.
All of that can be explained away. He's still just 21. College kids do some pretty dumb stuff all the time, and most of them grow out of it. I've done some really dumb stuff, too -- then again, I'm not sure I ever grew out of that. Winston's immaturity doesn't seem to have stood in the way of his on-field success at Florida State, either. That's going to require more of a dedication in the NFL, but there's no indication that he let it affect his play on the field.
Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel ran his annual collection of anonymous NFL scout quotes on draft prospects this weekend, and the quotes he finds are usually pretty harsh -- and often grossly unfair. Which is exactly what we see in some of the quotes he found for Winston.
"Someone will take him in the first round, but how could you even let that guy in the building?" another scout said. "The second law of thermodynamics basically is the more ways something can happen, the more likely it is to happen. That's true of players. The more ways they can (expletive) up, the more chances they (expletive) up. This guy's got a lot of stuff that would lean him more likely to be a bust than a good player." [..] "If he doesn't (mature) he won't be playing football," a third scout said.
McGinn manages to find some of the worst things anonymous scouts are willing to say about any player, so take this with a massive grain of salt. But that critique is not new. Former Philadelphia Eagles personnel man Louis Riddick said something similar to ESPN.
"You know he's good. But you also know it can just go nuclear on you at any moment," Riddick said. "I would rather pass and kind of miss and just be like if he goes somewhere else and does good you hope you just say 'Hey look, you win some, you lose some.' I would rather do that quite honestly, than have all the things that in my gut and my experience tell me this is something you just can't trust, and then have it come back and bite you that way. I would never be able to live with that. Never."
And there's still some reason to be concerned, even this year. Take his abysmal performance at the scouting combine: he tested among the worst quarterbacks in almost every category. He weighed in significantly leaner than he was at the start of the offseason, but still had a body fat percentage of 20.9%, according to Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News. Is that an indication that he didn't take his conditioning and the combine drills seriously, or is that just how his body works? I honestly don't know, but I do think it's fair to at least be a little concerned about it given all of the other tiny red flags his actions keep raising.
At the same time, it's not like he didn't prepare for the combine in other ways. He was working on his throwing motion throughout the offseason, and he certainly put on a clinic in passing drills and blew away both NFL executivesand Steve Mariucci with his football IQ. So he certainly worked on something.
There are plenty of indications that he's more than willing to put in the time to get better beyond the combine, too. Luke Easterling reported that Winston has been regularly seeing a "prominent Tampa pastor/mentor" who is not Tony Dungy or Derrick Brooks. And if you look around the internet, you'll find plenty of examples of Jameis Winston working in the community. And when asked how he was going to earn the trust of a team at the combine, he pointed to his actions.
"My actions. I have to do everything by my actions," Winston said. "It's not time to explain about what I'm going through but when I do get to a city and a team I plan on getting involved in the community and create an image, a positive image, and put everything else behind me."
The Johnny Manziel comparison above may be inaccurate and unfair, but it's worth noting that Manziel also said all of the right things in the lead up to the draft. Actions must speak louder than words, and some of his actions certainly do speak loudly.
To me, Jameis Winston is an enigma. I don't think there's a question that his previous actions were a sign of immaturity, but we have no way of knowing whether that's just minor stuff that will go away, or an indication that this could turn into a long-term problem. I think you can write a convincing narrative for either case, but it's hard to know for sure.
I do know this: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will do everything they can to find out whether Winston's issues will carry over. I just don't know whether they can, or anyone can.