Winston Declares, Bucs Have Options

Will Tampa Bay finally land their franchise QB after almost four decades?

It’s now official, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has declared for the 2015 NFL Draft.

Not a big surprise there.

Assuming Oregon’s Marcus Mariota follows suit then that gives the Buccaneers two quarterback options to digest. Or does Tampa Bay and Lovie Smith go in another direction?

This is a storied franchise but mostly for the wrong reasons. Aside from a nice run under Tony Dungy/John Gruden culminating with a Super Bowl win in 2003, the Bucs have basically been the Yucks.

This is the team that started 0-26. Born in 1976 this is a franchise that let Doug Williams go after four seasons in a money dispute. They traded away Steve Young to the San Francisco 49ers. Over the years the Bucs have drafted quarterbacks Vinny Testeverde, Trent Dilfer and Josh Freeman in the first round.

They were world champions with Brad Johnson under center. In 38 seasons Tampa Bay has started 37 quarterbacks. Simply the Bucs have never gotten the position right.

That’s why this next draft is so important for Smith and company in Tampa. To me, unless someone blows you away with a trade you must draft Winston or Mariota.

The question will loom large over the next 113 days; what will the Bucs do?

Mariota is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. He has guided the Ducks into the national championship game against Ohio State. Mariota has played flawlessly all season along, throwing for 40 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has the size, arm talent and athleticism that has pro scouts drooling.

Is he Andrew Luck? No. I think the knock is this – is he Sam Bradford or Colin Kaepernick?

Not that that’s a bad thing. Drafted No. 1 overall several years ago, scouts and draft experts across the board are saying the same things about Mariota that they said about the former Sooners great.

Bradford has not been a bad player. He was drafted by an untalented team in St. Louis and has battled injuries the past few seasons.

Then you see an uptapped Kaepernick. This kid oozes with talent. He has the size, arm, and athletic ability but has struggled throwing the football the past few seasons.

But I think you will see Mariota go through many of the same transition things that you saw Bradford/Kaepernick go through. He’s another spread guy that will have to learn how to play under center and make consistent NFL throws.

There’s no question that Mariota has all the talent in the world and the mental makeup to be an outstanding professional football player. He’s a player that as an owner, general manager or coach, would have no trust issues and be proud to have him as the face of your franchise.

Can the same be said for the last Heisman Trophy winner?

There’s no denying that Winston is a super quarterback talent. On the field he’s a winner, losing only one game as a starter at FSU. He has great size, a big arm, leadership skills and a kid that can make all the throws. Best of all, he’s the most NFL ready signal caller since Andrew Luck.

Coming from a pro-style offense and playing in that system in Tallahassee will give Winston a huge benefit in making the transition from the college to professional ranks.

The question is Winston and how he conducts himself away from the game. The incidents are well documented. Over the next four months his life will be turned upside down and everything he has done will be under the microscope. How he interviews with the NFL brass will be huge. Winston will be more scrutinized than any draft prospect before him. Moving forward, he must pass every test with flying colors.

Then, someone is going to have to make a tough call. And it could very well be Smith and Bucs general manager Jason Licht, deciding between Mariota and Winston.

Or does Tampa Bay call an audible? I guess there’s a chance they could determine that there’s a better player in the draft for them? Maybe they determine that neither Winston or Mariota is their franchise signal caller. Perhaps someone makes them a trade that they can’t refuse? If you are Smith and Tampa Bay would you listen to Chip Kelly and the Eagles if they were going to offer you Nick Foles and a plethora of picks for the top spot in the draft?

Anything is possible and if you are the Bucs, you are so far away, that you have to listen to every offer and consider every option. They really need an offensive tackle. The ‘Tampa Two’ will not work without a pass rush and the Bucs desperately need a defensive end.

The fact is the Bucs have Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and not much else on offense and you have two stars on defense in tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavante David.

But this is a quarterback driven league and the Bucs must select Winston or Mariota. As a franchise they are going close to four decades without a sustained franchise caller. This time they must get it right and pick one of these two.

Winston may be their guy that’s more ready but do you trust him to be your guy? Or is it Mariota and if so, what your timeline before you throw him into the fire?

There’s so much riding on Tampa Bay. I sure hope they get it right.

Related stories: NFL Rosters Breakdown Series
Part 1 - Daddy, where are NFL players from?
Part 2- Where do student-athletes major in the NFL?
Part 3 - Drafted vs Undrafted Players
Part 4 – Positional Breakdowns of the NFL: Where are they from?
Part 5 - NFL Veterans: Where are they from?
Part 6 – Top NFL Producing High Schools

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