INDIANAPOLIS – Jameis Winston wanted to make a few things clear when he faced a massive media audience at the NFL Scouting Combine Friday.
One, his off-field problems are in the past.
Two, the former Florida State standout quarterback wants to be the “face of someone’s franchise.” Preferably, that franchise will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who own the top pick of the draft.
Three, he’s thrilled to have a first offseason where he can concentrate solely on football. Winston has always spent this time of year playing his other favorite sport, baseball.
There was no mistaking that his time in front of dozens of cameras and microphones at Lucas Oil Stadium was devoted to repairing an image that is seen as the potential reason he wouldn’t be chosen No. 1 overall. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is generally seen as having less talent than Winston, but possessing a much better image.
If Winston isn’t the first pick, most draft analysts think that Mariota will be. However, Winston made a point of saying that he’s not interested in any pre-draft competition.
“This is no competition between just me and Mariota, because one thing about me, I plan on winning the Super Bowl next year so it’s going to be me versus Peyton Manning and Jameis versus Tom Brady,” he said. “I want to be viewed like that. After all this Combine stuff, you’re not going to hear no more about Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
“I want my name to stay relevant for the next 15 or 20 years of my career.”
Winston referenced being the “face of a franchise” no fewer than six times during the news conference, a blatant attempt to show that he understands the responsibility that goes with being an NFL quarterback – especially one entering the league in such a high-profile manner. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Bucs’ Lovie Smith is on record as saying he would be comfortable with Winston being the “face of the franchise” he coaches.
“I didn’t see what” Smith “had to say, but my job as a quarterback is to be the face of a franchise and” whatever “franchise that is, I got to do that and my job is to win game and hopefully win Super Bowls,” Winston said. “And I know that that is a big responsibility. This is a job up here and whatever is behind me is behind me. This is a new face.”
In confirming that he planned to take part in throwing drills today – which tends to be rare for a quarterback projected at or near the top of the draft – Winston said, “I want to let you all know I know made mistakes and I know I have a past, but right now it’s about me moving forward and earning the trust of all these 32 teams out there. And, by saying that, I’m a competitor and I know what I’m capable of doing.”
He dismissed reports that his right (throwing) shoulder required extra medical examination, saying that he underwent an MRI “just like everyone else” and that his shoulder felt “great.” He also showed some personality when addressing a photo that showed him working out shirtless and displaying a large gut.
“A lot of people thought I was fat, but I’m here,” he said, smiling and looking trim as he stood at the podium. “I’m proving everybody wrong. I look good and I know it.”
Although the Buccaneers and other NFL teams will speak or have spoken with Winston during customary Combine player interviews, and will ask or have asked the difficult questions about his transgressions – including 2012 rape allegations – Winston said he understands that his words don’t mean as much as his actions. If he is truly going to be the type of citizen that will stay out of trouble, it’s not about making promises.
It’s about showing that he can remain on the straight and narrow.
“I have to do everything by my actions,” Winston said. “It’s not time to explain about what I’m going through, but when I do get to a city and a team, I plan on getting involved in the community and create an image – a positive image, and put everything else behind me.”
Taking part in throwing drills is another way Winston is attempting to show NFL teams that he is serious about his pro career.
Coaches and scouts prefer that quarterbacks throw at the Combine, even though they expect the marquee prospects to only do so at their college pro days, where they’re much more comfortable with familiar receivers and surroundings.
“I don’t look at any part” of the pre-draft process “as being more important, because this is our first job interview,” Winston said. “Of course, I want to make a first impression because impressions last a long time, but I also want to be about what I’m saying. I’m a young man and I’m going to the next level to take a grown man’s position. That’s important to me.
“Football is my passion. I’ve been doing this since I was young and I know the responsibilities that I have taken upon when I’m going to be the face of someone’s franchise.”
Winston’s on-field performance drew some criticism last season when, despite leading Florida State to the College Football Playoffs, he threw 18 interceptions (eight more than he threw in 2013) to 25 touchdown passes (15 fewer than he threw the year before). He cited reducing turnovers as the main area of his game he intends to through his first offseason dedicated solely to football.
That certainly will play well with NFL teams, especially one, such as the Bucs, that is in position to make the largest investment in him.
“I think it would just be a privilege to play in Tampa, period,” Winston said. “With the Florida State fan base and everything I’ve been involved with in the state of Florida and by coach Smith speaking highly of me, that lets me know if I’m a part of their program, I already have a trust factor in with him and now all I have to do is accept his trust and gain his trust to help him out.”