NFL Draft Scouting Report: Jameis Winston

Breaking down the top pick in the NFL Draft. What should we expect to see from former FSU QB Jameis Winston?

Jameis Winston has all the physical traits of a prototypical NFL quarterback, but it’s his mental makeup that really distinguishes him as a prospect. Much has been made about how intelligent Winston is, and he has rare ability to digest an offense and work from intuition.

But as I covered his two seasons as the Florida State starting quarterback, the thing that stuck out the most is his combination of natural leadership qualities and the pathological, almost psychopathic need to win that all the truly great players in every sport share.

Put another way, Winston shares the pathology and mental makeup of legendarily clutch athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Tom Brady. He is driven not only to win but to be great, and as he pursues greatness he demands the others around him match his intensity and high expectations. And in the process, he gains the trust of his teammates and gets them to believe both in him and themselves.

Winston is the type of player you want on your team when the game is on the line. He’s the guy you want taking the clutch shot (or deciding to pass it up in favor of a better shot for someone else). He’s the guy you want on the mound to close a one-run game with the bases loaded. And he has repeatedly shown that he is the guy you want with the football in his hand on a one-minute drive with the game on the line.

Those types of personalities are not common—and they are especially uncommon in the same package as all the physical traits necessary to excel at one of the most important positions in sports. I have no doubt Winston will be successful at the next level—and I have no doubt that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be right at the top of the NFL before long.

Obviously Winston’s character has come under great scrutiny after numerous episodes of immaturity and one significant criminal allegation. The details of the latter, however, suggest that Winston is guilty of a common fault of many of the pathological winners on the above list: foolish womanizing (yes, I know, that’s redundant, but perhaps it should say especially foolish womanizing). But as we have previously addressed (and three previous investigations have concluded), the evidence does not suggest that Winston is guilty of what he is accused—it rather suggests that he has been a cad. And that characteristic will be shared by quite a few of his fellow teammates in Tampa.

If I were in charge of personnel for an NFL team, I would look for several red flags when considering prospects and would apply them all the more to quarterbacks:

First, I would look for evidence of a substance abuse problem. Alcohol and drug problems have sunk more promising careers than nearly anything else. This, for example, would have ruled Johnny Manziel out last year.

Second, I would look for any evidence that the player has a tendency toward off-field violence. Domestic abuse or other violent behavior (bar fights, etc.) are significant red flags and indicate the kind of character I don’t want on my team.

Third, I want players who love the game and who are driven to be great and hate to lose. Some players (especially by the end of their college careers) play for what football can give them. I’m more interested in the guys who want to be great.

Winston passes all of these character tests with flying colors, though that does not mean I would want him dating my daughter or elected mayor. It does, however, suggest that he is more likely to wind up a great football player than he is to commit a violent crime or wind up a total bust.

Then, at the quarterback position, I have a hierarchy of qualities that I look for (it’s a remarkably similar list to Chris Brown’s):

(1) Arm strength/release quickness: This is a sine qua non, but anything beyond “good enough” is not especially important. Bottom line is that guys like Danny Wuerffel and Kellen Moore could check all the other boxes but simply lacked the requisite physical tools to be great NFL players. And by arm strength, I mean the ability to get the football from Point A to Point B before a defense closes. This is more evident on intermediate throws than anything else, and it is interrelated with release quickness, since a slower release negates arm strength to some degree.

(2) Accuracy: A strong arm does no good if the throw is off target. Unlike arm strength, this is a quality with much more of a range, and more accurate is always better (and still matters). In this category I also include “hand talent,” or the ability to vary the speed of the throw to the route to throw a more catchable football. Throwing a more catchable ball is a component of accuracy.

(3) Anticipation: Once a quarterback has the requisite arm talent, the single most important trait I look for is anticipation. To get a sense of what this means, think about how the best point guards seem to be able to see everything a moment before it happens, allowing them to make passes other players wouldn’t even see. That’s anticipation. A QB with great anticipation diagnoses defenses very quickly and throws confidently to open space before the receiver breaks, with the end result being extra separation and receivers running free through the secondary. Good QBs need some anticipation, but all the great ones have excellent anticipation.

(4) Decision Making: This is simple: does the QB make the right decisions—and even more importantly—avoid the really bad decisions? Every QB will make mistakes, but just like with golf, there are good mistakes and bad ones. Great QBs miss in the right spots.

(5) Pocket Presence/Dynamism: How does this quarterback handle pressure? How well does he throw from a dirty pocket? Can he respond dynamically when the play doesn’t go according to the chalkboard? How well does he move and slide to minimize pressure that’s there, and how quickly does he get rid of the football to avoid pressure?

(6) Escapability: How well can he extend plays, take contact, throw on the move, etc.

Winston is very good or outstanding in all six of these categories. I’d give him a rare 5/5 in the anticipation and pocket presence categories and a 4 in the rest.

The final category is that nebulous intangible with which I started the article. And that’s one that really distinguishes Winston, despite his faults and the fact that he has been a “knucklehead” off the field. When it comes down to his football temperament, I’d compare him to a Tom Brady. That may be surprising for some to hear now, but give it three years.

Production

Winston had arguably the most productive passing season by a freshman in college football history on his way to the 2013 Heisman Trophy and BCS National Championship. After losing receivers Kelvin Benjamin (first round pick) and Kenny Shaw, center Bryan Stork, and running backs Devanta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr., the Seminole offense took a significant step back in 2014, with Winston’s stat line looking less impressive as a result. Nevertheless, despite significant protection issues through most of the season and inexperience at the receiver position, Winston still demonstrated the skill that will make him the top pick in the draft, with the biggest difference being a higher interception count (18) in 2014.

Passing
Year G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
2013 14 257 384 66.9 4057 10.6 11.5 40 10 184.8
*2014 13 305 467 65.3 3907 8.4 7.7 25 18 145.5
Career 562 851 66.0 7964 9.4 9.4 65 28 163.3
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2015.

Scouting Report

Strengths

Anticipation as good as any college quarterback I’ve ever seen. Innate feel for timing and spacing. Reads coverages and anticipates openings faster and better than all but a few NFL quarterbacks, let alone his collegiate peers.

Winston also has elite hand talent and can vary his arm and release speed to alter trajectory and location. Again, think basketball: Winston is like an elite shooter who displays a soft touch from everywhere on the floor and from multiple body angles. Can hold onto the ball just a split second longer to control from the fingers, giving him especially good touch on verticals and bucket throws.

Very accurate when throwing horizontally on bubbles (one of the tougher throws to locate perfectly) and in the short zones, again showing the ability to take power off the throw to keep it catchable.

Plus size at 6’4, 230 and very good movement skills in the pocket. Not a true dual-threat but more of a Ben Roethlisberger type who can keep plays alive and throw on the run. Very strong in the pocket and does not go down easily. Keeps plays alive with strength and short-area quickness. Shows a elite pocket sense and naturally evades pressure. Because of his hand talent and touch, can throw accurately from bad body angles. Very good with pressure in his face and has made incredible throws in that circumstance. Witness:

Combined with his terrific pocket sense and stature, Winston is outstanding from messy pockets and on the move. Does a reasonably good job squaring his hips to throw when outside the pocket, but has an odd tendency to stumble when on the move.

Big time competitor who relishes pressure and enjoys hostile environments. Had full grasp of an NFL-style offense and was responsible for keeping the offense in the right play at the line of scrimmage. Demanding of teammates without being overbearing. Likeable presence in the locker room. Genuine, is who he is.

Student of the game and film junkie who is obsessive about working at the craft. Gets stir crazy if not working on the game.

Natural born leader with charisma and magnetism that is difficult to quantify unless you’ve been around him. Will instantly gain the respect and trust of his teammates and will demand that they live up to his expectations. A clear alpha leader who still remains likeable among his teammates.

Weaknesses

Has had a tumultuous two years off the field. A goofball who enjoys being the center of attention, has had to learn when to tone down due to being in the public eye.

His terrific anticipation sometimes works against him as he throws into spaces that should be there and doesn’t always see underneath coverage. About half his 2014 interceptions were the result of this phenomenon.

Can get lackadaisical and sloppy with the football when not challenged—seems to need to be hit in the mouth (sometimes literally) before going into the zone and performing at an elite level. It was no coincidence that his two good drives against Florida came immediately after he took a punch on the Florida sideline. Winston got angry, turned up the intensity, and led the Seminoles to two scores. He came out more lethargic again after the half and never got back into that zone again. The challenge for him in the NFL will be to sustain that kind of focus week-in-week out.

Can get greedy and force throws downfield. Needs to take the check-down options more consistently. Was slightly less effective against coverage than against the blitz in 2013 partly because of this tendency to over-aggressiveness.

Footwork is below average for a top prospect. Has heavy feet and tends to shuffle when on the move. Hops around in the pocket and does not consistently retain a stable base, though that was somewhat improved in 2014. Does not always adequately drive back from the LOS or maintain rhythm with his feet when coming from under center, though again showed improvement here in 2014.

Still throws more like a baseball pitcher (for good reason) with too much of a wind-up and too wide of a base, causing him to sail throws on occasion—that tendency to sail still showed up on his pro day, despite his work with alleged QB guru George Whitfield. Often throws “all arm,” getting away with it because of arm/hand talent. Needs to stay better balanced and transfer his weight from the ground through his hips rather than swaying and throwing from his arm.

Ball position in the pocket was too low in 2013, slowing his release down. Showed significant improvement in this regard in 2014 and further improvement on the workout circuit.

Significant room to improve ball handling in play action.

Gained a lot of weight in college and lost some of the “twitchy” qualities he had in high school. Played significantly overweight in the BCS National Championship, thanks to the awards banquet circuit that led to Winston gaining over 20 pounds. (He jokes he’s learned to eat only salads at such banquets for the future.) He did, however, drop that weight over the summer and has shown he’s capable of managing his weight. Would probably be best around 230, as he was a “twitchier” athlete coming out of high school than he has become. Only slightly above hand size means he may be more affected by fatter NFL ball than QBs with larger hands.

Combine/Pro Day Results

Combine Results

Ht

Wt

Arm

Hd

40y

10y

Vert

Broad

SS

3Cone

6’4

231

32”

9 3/8

4.97

1.74

28.5

103”

4.36

7.16

Winston’s NFL Combine numbers are below average for a typical QB prospect, but his game has never been about athletic numbers, so they should be taken with a grain of salt:

The one positive is that his short shuttle is pretty good for a quarterback his size, matching with the agility in the pocket and short area quickness he shows on tape.

Winston put on a passing clinic in his position workout at the Combine, confirming the great passing qualities that show up on tape. Clocked 55 MPH on the gun during that workout, well within the expected range of a quality NFL starter. Did not have an especially impressive pro day workout, in part because Whitfield did his best to put Winston in situations that did not showcase his strengths.

Floor/Ceiling

Winston could become one of the all-time great quarterbacks in league history. His combination of work ethic, mental traits, leadership qualities, and physical tools put him in rare company in terms of ceiling.

Winston’s on-field floor is essentially an average NFL starter who never figures out how to harness his anger/intensity on a consistent basis, winding up hot and cold and turning the football over too much. One cannot help but mention the potential of an off-field transgression (or series of them) that could submarine his career as well, though I find that far less likely in an NFL environment.

Overall

Winston is no choirboy, but neither are many NFL greats. In my view, Winston will be a top five NFL quarterback by the time his first contract runs out, and I think he will be a multiple Super Bowl winner. Some guys are natural born winners, and Winston appears to be one of those guys. He will work tirelessly until he’s on top of the mountain and won’t be satisfied only getting there. His skillset translates extremely well to the pro game, and I think he’ll wind up closer to his ceiling than his floor. I have him graded as highly as any QB coming out in the last decade—only Andrew Luck was a better prospect, and that’s debatable as well.

Grade: 9.0—Elite player, worth the #1 pick.

Compares To

Ben Roethlisberger

Overview and Draft Prediction

Potential Range: Winston will be the first pick in the draft.

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