Jameis Winston’s arc to the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft is more like a trek through dangerously rugged terrain. That he made it to the other end, smiling, is as much an accomplishment as being taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers first overall.
Winston’s talent was never in question—it was all about his character. And in today’s NFL world of multi-million-dollar investments and politically correctness, character concerns are more damning than if he can read a “Cover 2.”
The Bucs insist they exhausted themselves looking at Winston’s past: the sexual assault allegations, the “stealing” crab leg saga, the yelling an obscenity on campus situation. . . and the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback came out clean.
This is major. Usually, once a player projects the perception that he is drama, it becomes a label, a tattoo, a permanent fixture. Winston has not breached the label plateau, but he hovers on the precipice, especially when he does what he did Thursday night.
After being selected, he posted a photo posing with crab legs, a dig at the naysayers, no doubt. He can take photos with whom he wants. But considering his background, that probably was not the tactful thing to do.
“I’ve got to work,” Winston said Thursday night. “Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have heard. It’s about your actions. Whatever is in the past is in the past. I look forward to gaining everyone’s trust.”
Winston was accused of sexual assault during his freshman season at Florida State but never was charged. “I have been cleared six times,” he said. “I’ve been cleared six times on that situation. So I took that situation so seriously. But, at the end of the day, I’ve got to keep moving forward. That’s why I’m so thankful.”
Jason Licht, the team’s general manager, said they gave Winston the once-over more than once. His take away?
“Not only were we comfortable with him and his character, we were confident with his character,” Licht said. “We think that his character that he brings to the locker room and the building is a strength. That’s one of the things that makes him a great player.”
“I know a lot of things have been said about him,” Smith said. “He’s made some mistakes that young people make from time to time when they’re young. I definitely don’t think that I’ve seen a pattern. Once you get to know him, I just really believe in him. I trust my instincts on people to know who we’re getting.”
They’d better be right. Using the No. 1 pick on a failure can be catastrophic to a franchise. Winston, however, showed something that is hard to measure: With all the questions about his character and legal drama swirling around him, he did not flinch on the field.
He played outstanding football in rallying the Seminoles. He was a leader. He was tough. He was a supportive teammate. He won.
“He’s a champion,” Licht said. “He’s a leader. He’s a winner. He’s got tremendous football character and tremendous intelligence and work ethic. His work ethic was one thing that really put him over the top for us, combined with his leadership and his ‘it’ factor, as well as his ability on the field.”
Cleared of the difficult terrain, maybe now Winston can craft an NFL arc that is devoid of scandal. It’d be nice to see him play without distraction. What a novel idea.