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Jameis Winston's the 1 to pick ... so far

Jameis Winston had plenty of reasons to smile after his trouble-free performance at the NFL scouting combine.
Jameis Winston had plenty of reasons to smile after his trouble-free performance at the NFL scouting combine.
Published Feb. 24, 2015

Jameis Winston arrived at last week's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis with plenty of doubters, skeptics and those convinced he's a bad kid who will eventually self-destruct and take an NFL team down with him.

We all have questions, lots and lots of questions. For him. About him. Surrounding him.

Now here we are, a few days later, with the combine over. And what should we think about Winston?

So far, so good.

If you consider the combine to be a job interview, then the former Florida State quarterback, at the very least, is ready to move on to the next round of interviews. Nothing we saw or heard last week in Indy should give the Bucs pause when it comes to taking Winston with the first overall pick in the draft.

On the field, he looked every bit of an NFL quarterback, though he was throwing with no pass rushers diving at his legs and no defensive backs covering his receivers.

Still …

His throws were smooth, relaxed, natural. He threw with uncommon velocity, pinpoint accuracy and exquisite touch. He was powerful, precise and poised.

Forget his recent battles with the weight scale, the supposed weak right (throwing) shoulder, and his lumbering jaunt in the 40-yard dash. Winston dropped back, set up and threw like a big-time quarterback.

Between throws, he showed confidence and emotion, encouraging his fellow quarterbacks the way a leader would encourage his teammates.

Then again, we already knew these things by watching Florida State the past two seasons. A Heisman Trophy and national championship winner who lost only once in two seasons, Winston's abilities as a football player have never really been in question. His gunslinger mentality led to a couple-too-many interceptions, but his skills as a signal-caller and thrower have never been an issue.

Let's face it, the questions about Winston have come off the field — from the very serious (sexual assault allegation) to the immature (yelling something vulgar in the middle of campus) to the dumb (shooting a BB gun where he shouldn't have) to the ignorant (shoplifting crab legs).

We will never know exactly what happened that night when he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman. We will never know if he is lying, if she is lying or the truth is somewhere in between.

While this is in no way intended to downplay what might have happened or to blindly make excuses for him, it should be noted that Winston aced his off-field exams in Indianapolis. He realizes there are those who doubt his character, question his maturity and are hesitant of making him the face of their franchise.

It would appear that he has some smart PR people telling him what to say in an effort to reshape his reputation into one that's more easily digestible to a suspicious public. However, Winston said he knows he has to prove himself.

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"I want to let you all know, I know I've made mistakes, and I know I have a past," he said.

That's a good place to start. You might think that he's merely saying what everyone wants to hear, and maybe that is true. Winston would not be the first athlete to say all the right things one day, then do all the wrong things the next. But at least he didn't question or criticize those who question and criticize him. He acknowledged his doubters by admitting he has baggage.

Not everyone is sold, and you can understand why.

Ultimately, no matter what the Bucs do, they are going to have to take a leap of faith. The question they face is whether to gamble that Winston will be okay off the field or if former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will be okay on it.

Speaking of the combine and Mariota, as much as Winston conducted himself well in Indianapolis, so did Mariota. You knew Mariota would breeze through the off-field stuff, but he went out on the field and looked like a good quarterback who can make all the throws. Anything Winston did, Mariota did just as well. He also ran faster and jumped higher, although if I'm an NFL team, I care way more about the arm than the legs. Like Winston, Mariota certainly did nothing at the combine that would scare you away from him.

But when it comes to Winston, he showed some savvy off the field that we haven't previously seen. He was easy-going, yet confident. He was humble, yet self-assured. He was unpretentious, yet charismatic.

I liked that he wants to come to Tampa Bay. I liked that he said he wants to win a Super Bowl right away. I liked that he wants to be compared not to Mariota but to the greats such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Sure, it's all talk, but it's good talk.

The Bucs still have two more months to sort through all this stuff and determine whether they can trust Winston.

But so far, there's no reason for the Bucs to turn their back on Winston. Quite the opposite. So far, so good.

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