See photos from Jameis Winston's Draft Party in Alabama. (AP Images)
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Franchise Changer: It's Winston at #1
Jason Licht called it "probably the biggest draft in the history of the organization;" fittingly, Licht, Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked that draft off on Thursday night in the most dramatic way possible. In an attempt to land the franchise quarterback that has eluded the organization for most of four decades, the Buccaneers used the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
READ: Winston Will Wear #3
The drama of the pick comes not from any surprise factor – Tampa Bay had been widely linked to Winston for months – but from the enormous impact he is expected to have on the team's future. By taking a hugely talented quarterback with pick number one, the Buccaneers hope to duplicate what other clubs have experienced with the likes of former top picks Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, with Troy Aikman and John Elway, with Eli Manning and Terry Bradshaw and Carson Palmer. The Buccaneers hope and believe that Winston will lock down the most important position on the team for a decade or more.
Winston has much to accomplish before he can be compared to an Aikman or an Elway, but the Buccaneers see unlimited potential in the physical tools, football acumen and leadership qualities of the 21-year-old from Bessemer, Alabama. The youngest player ever to win college football's Heisman Trophy, Winston is simply a winner, as his 26-1 record as a starter at Florida State attests.
Picking first overall for the first time in 28 years, the Buccaneers obviously had their choice of any player in the draft class, including another well-regarded quarterback prospect in Oregon's Marcus Mariota. An extremely thorough study of both passers, as well as dozens of other potential number-one picks, led Licht, Smith and the entire organization to a unanimous decision on Winston. The Buccaneers are attempting to rekindle their winning ways from the 1990s and early 2000s, an era that culminated in the franchise's first Super Bowl title, and that is difficult to accomplish without outstanding play at the quarterback position.
Check out QB Jameis Winston in EA Sports' Madden NFL video game.
Winston is the 22nd quarterback to go first overall in the 46 NFL drafts since the 1970 merger. He is the first to do so in the past three seasons, but from 2001-12 the top selection was a QB in 10 of 12 years. Winston is the fifth passer the Buccaneers have drafted in the first round in their history, joining Doug Williams (1978), Vinny Testaverde (1987), Trent Dilfer (1994) and Josh Freeman (2009).
Winston is surely the most highly-touted quarterback prospect to join the Buccaneers since Testaverde was the first overall pick in '87. And while those previous four first-round passers enjoyed varying levels of success during their Buccaneer tenures, Winston has the opportunity to establish a new standard for the quarterback position in Tampa. Few doubt that he has the raw skills to excel in the NFL, from his powerful throwing arm and toughness in the pocket to his field vision and unshakable confidence.
That confidence has been earned on the gridiron. The 6-4, 230-pound passer guided the Seminoles to the national championship during his 2013 Heisman-winning campaign, earning consensus All-America honors and a slew of additional awards, including the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year Award. He capped that season with an MVP performance in the national championship game, throwing for 237 yards and two touchdowns and directing a clutch 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minute of a 34-31 comeback win over Auburn.
Winston was impressive again in 2014, guiding FSU to a series of second-half comebacks to remain undefeated up to the College Football Playoff Semifinal game against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Along the way, he led the ACC in passing yards (3,907) and completion percentage (65.3%) and compiled seven 300-yard passing games on the road. Winston was at his best with the game on the line, leading the nation with 1,981 second-half passing yards and compiling a combined 157.0 passer rating after halftime.
In just two seasons at the Seminoles' helm, Winston completed 562 of 851 passes (66.0%) for 7,964 yards, 65 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He also ran 145 times for 284 yards and another seven touchdowns. He played behind a gifted offensive line in Tallahassee but also showed an ability to avoid and shrug off would-be tacklers that invited comparisons to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger.
A gifted all-around athlete, Winston also earned two letters on the Florida State baseball team as a relief pitcher and outfielder. He saw his most extensive work on the mound, pitching 60.1 innings while compiling an ERA of 1.94 and an opposing batting average of .209. During the Seminoles' 2014 baseball season, Winston made 24 appearances out of the bullpen, saving seven games, leading the team with a 1.09 ERA and allowing just 18 hits in 33.1 innings pitched.
Winston is undeniably a rare prospect on the basis of his statistics and college record alone, but the Buccaneers also believe he has the drive, work ethic and competitiveness necessary to succeed at one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports. The opportunity to draft a quarterback prospect of this caliber comes along very infrequently for any franchise, and the first pick in the draft is an incredibly valuable asset.
The Buccaneers haven't been in a position to make a pick of this magnitude for decades. By using that pick on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, they believe they are launching an era that moves far away from the first pick in the draft, and towards more championships for the franchise instead.