The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will draft Jameis Winston tomorrow, if all the indicators we have are correct, if all the local beat writers are correct, and if all the national reporters are correct. Simply put: something amazing has to happen. But why will the Buccaneers take Jameis Winston?
Because he's the best player in the draft, in their eyes. Chris Brown of Smart Football fame lays out the case in an extensive look at the top four quarterbacks for Grantland. He breaks down each player by looking at six key traits: accuracy, arm strength, anticipation, decision-making, pocket poise and functional athleticism. And in the end, Jameis Winston comes out on top -- with 23 points, to Mariota's 22.
Here's the key paragraph:
Under Fisher, Winston enjoyed the most straightforwardly pro-style training of any of these QB prospects. "I do not know where the ball is going, but I have taught one man to make that decision. Who is that one man? That is the quarterback," explained Fisher at the clinic. "I teach the quarterback where to throw the ball against whatever coverage the defense shows up in. The other 10 guys just play. You just have to teach one player what you want. Find that guy, and it becomes a lot easier."
That's the key here: it's a trait Winston has displayed consistently in a pro-style offense. Not perfectly -- as with any prospect, he made plenty of mistakes -- but he showed more translatable traits than Marcus Mariota did. Winston is, on the field, a surer thing than the Oregon quarterback. Winston has shown every necessary trait to succeed in the NFL at a high level.
However, Brown eventually chooses Marcus Mariota over Winston anyway, a fairly common choice among draft analysts over the past few weeks. He does so because his evaluation of Mariota and Winston on the field is very close, with Winston coming out on top by a hair. And he prefers to go with the prospect he'll trust more to put in the work, and to be available.
That's not what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will do. Most indicators are that they think Jameis Winston is easily the best player, and the Bucs have gone on record multiple times about his character, calling his issues "immaturity" while saying he's "not a bad guy." And today, Lovie Smith told Dan Pompei that he'd be comfortable with Winston as the face of the franchise, if they pick him. Even with his minor off-field issues, and even with the rape accusation.
Part of the reason they're comfortable with Winston off the field is the fact that the locker room is going to try to guide him. Lavonte David talked yesterday about how veterans in the locker room would tell him to "tone it down," while Derrick Brooks has been long linked to a mentorship role with Winston. I'm not sure how realistic that is, nor how likely those kinds of programs are to work, but clearly the Buccaneers are willing to go to some effort to handle any potential problems.
And that's really what this boils down to. The Bucs see him as the better prospect on the field, and that's a widely-shared view. Given that they're comfortable with his off-field behavior, they have no real reason to pass him up.