Despite struggling to adapt to his newfound status as college football's reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Florida State's Jameis Winston remains a strong candidate to go No. 1 overall in next year's NFL draft.
While a recent shoplifting incident resulted in the 20-year-old being suspended from the Seminoles baseball team and becoming the butt of countless seafood jokes, his physical tools and eye-popping production in Tallahassee will keep on NFL scouts' radar.
Although character concerns will make it easier for NFL scouts and executives to dismiss Winston if he struggles during his sophomore season in 2014, another stellar campaign will leave zero doubts about his ability to succeed at the pro level.
And as Sports Talk Florida's Tampa Bay Buccaneers insider Jenna Laine points out, the bigger the potential reward, the bigger the risk teams will be willing to take:
49ers exercise 5th year option on Aldon Smith. Jameis Winston's back playing baseball. When you're THAT good, the rules are just different.— JennaLaineBucs (@JennaLaineBucs) May 5, 2014
That doesn't mean Winston can continue to make headlines for the wrong reasons and still wind up being the first player off the board next spring.
However, in some cases, Winston's behavior will simply be over-scrutinized, as pointed out by his father Antonor Winston, per USA Today's Rachel Axon: "It's just a different standard for (Jameis) and Johnny (Manziel). He's just got to endure, just make better decisions and he's just got to endure that."
While the polarizing Manziel slid in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft on Thursday, his lack of height and daring playing style were thought to be the reasons why, not his off-the-field persona. Had Manziel brought Winston's build to the table, the Houston Texans would have more than likely snatched him up at No. 1 overall.
What makes Winston's situation so unique is that he possesses the prototypical size (6'4", 228 pounds) coaches love to see, and has the arm strength, accuracy and mobility to go along with it.
And although it's nearly impossible to imagine Winston wrapping up the 2014 college football season with as much momentum as he did as a redshirt freshman, it's certainly not unlikely that he could complete 67 percent of his passes and throw for 4,000-plus yards and 40 touchdowns again.
If that happens, and Winston can avoid running into trouble in his downtime, the Seminoles signal-caller will be the top prospect on every team's draft board heading into the spring.
Winston may be having a hard time adjusting to the fame and constant attention, but so long as he remains a healthy, productive quarterback, NFL teams—especially a desperate one drafting toward the top—will be more than willing to overlook his shortcomings off the field.
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