Jameis Winston is not a lost cause, after all. Mired in self-induced drama much of his second and final season at Florida State, the former Heisman Trophy winner—thought at one point to be a risk as an NFL high draft pick—has blossomed nicely into the sure-fire No. 1 selection. Turnabout is fair play.
This position for Winston is almost stunning, considering he continually, immaturely raised questions about his stability to run a team, which is the last mark any quarterback wants on him. But being accused of sexual assault, stealing crab legs from a grocery store and shouting an obscenity on campus can put you in that dreaded box. Quickly.
Amazing thing was that Winston continued to perform at a high level as he and his supporters continually fought off the troubles, including facing expulsion over the sexual assault case. Winston claimed consensual sex and a school investigation found that the accuser tried to extort money, had picked up Winston at a bar and overall did not have a case. The woman, in a telling act, participated in a documentary called “The Hunting Ground” about her experience with Winston.
Whatever the case, Winston played on and played well. And as those who looked on after he engaged in one controversy after the next, he always spun it back to being a kid.
Well, he has not only been without incident for months, he has shown marked improvement in his judgment, so much so that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers almost assuredly will take him with the No. 1 selection in the upcoming draft.
That’s a major leap for a player who looked to be falling off a self-created bridge not that long ago.
“I haven’t changed at all,” Winston said on ESPN. “I’ve grown.”
Yes, that’s a contradiction, but his point was made.
“I’ve grown into the person I am now,” he added, “the young man that I am now. And my actions have to speak [to that]. … At the end of the day, all my mistakes make me a better person. I get to learn from that.”
Under scrutiny, what has been learned about Winston is encouraging that he really has become this young man who has learned from past missteps. More than that, he’s as good—or maybe even better—as he played for the Seminoles, and has the leadership qualities to match.
At his Pro Day for NFL scouts, Winston was on the field two hours before he was scheduled to throw, mixing it up with teammates and encouraging them. When he did throw, reports are that he was fantastic. And he threw 100 more passes than necessary.
As a comparison, Sports Illustrated pointed out that last year, quarterback coach George Whitfield designed a pro day for 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel that featured music by rapper Drake and 64 throws in helmet and shoulder pads.
For Winston, Whitfield designed a workout that was devoid of music. Winston threw more than 135 times, including 35 warmup passes. Whitfield and his assistants regularly chased Winston from the pocket, sometimes with tennis rackets or a broom.
“It goes to each man’s idea of how he wants to make his statement,” Whitfield said to SI. “That’s how Johnny wanted to make his statement. You go off how they want to make their statement and you try to engineer something functional around it. This is what Jameis wanted to do. Blue collar, no music, high volume [of throws], stress.”
And it worked.
“He had a great day,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “He threw a full nine innings.”
The Bucs will not commit on the record to Winston, but the QB has visited the team’s offices and met with the owner. Trust that the team has vetted him through-and-through. “It’s just part of the process,” Licht said. “We’re going to use every minute of time that we have here in the next few weeks to make a decision.”
Winston’s decision to grow up has helped him immeasurably. Could he slip up and fall into trouble? Of course, he could. But the feeling is that the falling is over and the only trouble he will be involved in is causing it for NFL teams next year.