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Jones: Despite risks, Bucs must draft Jameis Winston

 
In this Nov. 30, 2013, file photo, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up before an NCAA college football game against Florida in Gainesville, Fla. The prosecutor overseeing the investigation of sexual assault allegations against Winston announced a few days later there was insufficient evidence to charge him. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) NY158
In this Nov. 30, 2013, file photo, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up before an NCAA college football game against Florida in Gainesville, Fla. The prosecutor overseeing the investigation of sexual assault allegations against Winston announced a few days later there was insufficient evidence to charge him. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) NY158
Published April 30, 2015

Jameis Winston stands a rock-solid 6 feet, 4 inches tall and was blessed with a right arm that can throw a football like a missile. Playing quarterback for one of the best football programs in the country, the Florida State star put together a college career that ranks among the greatest of all time.

He led the Seminoles to a national championship. He won a Heisman Trophy, given annually to the best college football player in the country. He lost only one game in two seasons.

His football IQ is off the charts. His leadership skills are outstanding. He is considered the best prospect in the NFL draft, which begins tonight.

Jameis Winston is everything you would want in a quarterback, the type of player teams dream of taking. Yet, when the Tampa Bay Bucs go first overall in the draft, they will be taking a giant leap of faith if, as expected, they call Winston's name.

Character issues, off-field transgressions and one serious and disturbing allegation have turned Winston into one of the most polarizing prospects in draft history.

What should the Bucs do?

They have no choice. Take him. Then hope for the best.

Hope that he can turn the Bucs into a winner. Hope that he can become the franchise quarterback that this organization has never really had. Mostly, hope that the telephone of general manager Jason Licht or coach Lovie Smith never rings at 2 in the morning because Winston has done something wrong. Again.

This is what you will have to live with if you're the Bucs. You won't sleep easy. You'll constantly hold your breath. You can't be sure whether your star player will cause you embarrassment or land himself in trouble.

He could end up in the Hall of Fame or he could end up in prison. You just can't be sure and it will be years before we learn if Winston is simply an immature kid who needs to grow up or an evil person who is beyond rehabilitation.

But right now, he is there for the taking and, frankly, the Bucs simply cannot to pass up this kind of talent.

Take him.

There are no guarantees when selecting a 20-something and handing him millions of dollars to lead your team. But with Winston, the issues go far beyond whether or not he can read pro defenses, zip footballs into tiny openings and lead grown men.

While at FSU, Winston made horrible decisions. He shoplifted crab legs from a Publix. He shot BB guns in public. He stood up in the middle of campus and yelled a disgusting and vulgar expression, not realizing it was incredibly offensive.

But those acts feel meaningless compared to the allegation of a sexual assault in 2012. While never charged, arrested or found guilty by law enforcement or FSU, Winston, nevertheless, is guilty by many in the court of public opinion. The allegation alone has many thinking the Bucs should steer clear of Winston and, instead, select Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a talented QB with a spotless reputation.

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As far as the sexual assault allegation, the most we can say is we don't know what happened that night and we likely will never know. Because of that, because Winston is now free to go about his life and career, the Bucs and the rest of the NFL have to proceed as if he is no different from any other prospect out there, including the pristine Mariota.

In other words, he is there for the taking. So take him.

It's not that simple. I get that. This is not a no-brainer for the Bucs. As talented as Winston is, the Bucs do have to consider what Winston will mean to the organization and the community. As the quarterback, Winston would immediately become the face of the franchise. He will be its leader and most recognizable player. When people around the nation think of the Bucs, Winston will be the first person they think of.

Can the Bucs live with that? Can Tampa Bay be proud of that? Are you okay with that?

The answers really don't matter because it could be years before we know if Winston can be trusted with what he is about to be given. Like all decisions in the NFL, right or wrong, it will come down to winning.

If Winston can win games and lead the Bucs out of the latest dark chapter in their mostly sorry history, all that he has done up to now will be forgiven and forgotten. He will be lauded and applauded. If he turns out to be a bust and the organization continues to be a laughingstock, the Bucs will be criticized for messing up another first overall pick.

In the end, the Bucs desperately need a quarterback. You can't win in the NFL without a really good one. The Bucs haven't had one of those in a quite a while, which explains their residence in the bottom of the standings for most of the past decade. They need a quarterback, and one is sitting there.

He is risky. He is controversial. He is no sure thing. But he's loaded with mad skills and is the best chance the Bucs have to build themselves back into a champion.

That's why the Bucs have to swallow hard, say a quick prayer and then take a leap of faith.

After doing all that, there will be only one thing left for the Bucs do to in regard to Jameis Winston.

Take him.