This time next year, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston could be preparing for the 2015 NFL draft. He may even be in a position to be the first player taken.
Winston would actually be an intriguing prospect if he could declare for the NFL after his redshirt freshman season. Though he has just one year of collegiate experience, he possesses all the qualities—tangible and intangible—that NFL clubs look for in a first-round pick.
Here's what Charles Davis of NFL.com had to say about Winston earlier this month following the BCS National Championship Game:
If Jameis Winston were eligible for this year's draft, it would be hard to not put him at the top of the prospect list for a lot of different reasons.
He has the requisite arm strength. His decision-making appears to be pretty good for a redshirt freshman. His leadership is incredible. That team follows him like he's the pied piper.
Winston's leadership qualities are transferable across all sports. With a national championship in football and a Heisman Trophy in his rearview mirror, he will be focusing on winning another title this spring—in baseball.
Winston is hardly the first quarterback to be a two-sport athlete in college. As Bleacher Report's Joe Giglio writes, 19 NFL signal-callers, including Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, once split their time between football and baseball.
The college theater allows Winston to play two sports. The Texas Rangers drafted him in the 15th round in the 2012 draft, but he decided to go to Florida State to participate in both football and baseball.
The professional theater, however, does not. The message is simple, then: Enjoy it while you can. There will come a time when Winston will have to choose which sport he will focus on full time.
Put another way, the dedication both sports need doesn't lend itself to successfully being a two-sport athlete beyond college—especially at quarterback. Eventually, one sport is going to take precedence.
Here's what Giglio wrote about that challenge, with Wilson and Kaepernick as the backdrops:
As the NFL spotlight moves to the NFC stars, their work ethic, film study and preparation will be part of the narrative. If Wilson and Kaepernick dedicated time, even a few hours per week during the offseason, to the game of baseball, their sharpness on the football field would suffer. As offense in the NFL becomes more sophisticated by the week, young quarterbacks must refine their game throughout the year.
Baseball has always demanded extreme work ethic. For young players, it can take years to hone a skill set tailored for the game. Winston, as both a pitcher and outfielder, needs reps, innings and coaching in order to become good enough to play in the majors.
Giglio notes that, as a baseball player, "Winston isn't as polished, but few college players are." That doesn't mean Winston doesn't need work as a football player, but they are two completely different skill sets that need improving. That takes massive amounts of dedication.
The timelines for playing are also different. As a likely high first-round NFL draft pick, Winston would be in a position to earn a starting job right away. Even if he's one of the top picks in the MLB draft, he would probably be sent to the minor leagues for development.
Can Jameis Winston be a professional two-sport athlete?
That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the baseball route; in fact, it's quite lucrative. Winston could make way more money and enjoy a longer career. If he is purely driven by salary, dedicating his professional life to the diamond wouldn't be a bad decision.
That simply doesn't seem to be the direction in which he's headed. Still, Winston is idealistic.
“I want to be better than Bo Jackson,” Winston told reporters before the Heisman ceremony last month (via The Dallas Morning News). “Of course, I want to keep doing both. That’s my dream.”
Then chase it. Winston should do it as long as he can. There's going to come a time—maybe in a year, maybe longer—when he will have to let go of one of the sports he loves if he wants to be at the top of his game for the other. That's a hard thing to do as a competitor.
In the meantime, Winston should live it up. And it sounds like he's doing just that.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited otherwise.