Beyond the Bison: Misgivings

Julian Dorey, Senior Writer

With the NFL Draft just weeks away, predicting the acts to the annual drama seems to become more strenuous with each passing day.

It’s true that this is the season of gossip, innuendo, “anonymous” sources, and gamesmanship among the teams and the agents. Certain teams fall in love with a player they don’t think will fall to them—and subsequently spread false reports about “concerns” over “something” having to do with that player. Believe it or not, this method has worked time and time again. With the media scrutiny only increasing with each passing year, front offices take into account the Public Relations (PR) impact of their moves more than you’d think.

There are also always reports of fake trade rumors or potential trade team partners. These scattered reports also gain traction in a bigger way than they should.

But this year, there is one legitimate rumor mill that has swung into high gear over the past few weeks—and it’s the simplest one of them all: the argument over who will go first overall.

The lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in need of help just about everywhere after head coach Lovie Smith’s pathetic inaugural campaign, have long had their eyes set on the most important position of them all: quarterback.

This year’s draft features the past two Heisman winners in stud QBs: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Winston and his Florida State Seminoles won a national title in 2014 and Mariota’s Oregon Ducks came up just short this past year. Both players were unquestionably fantastic for their entire collegiate careers.

But man oh man, are they different.

Winston, until recently, had been the absolute write-in for the number one overall pick. After running a proven NFL offense for two years (losing just one game in the process)—and boasting a 6’4” frame to go along with insane football acumen, “Famous Jameis” looks like a scout’s dream on paper.

Meanwhile, Mariota has some on-field question marks that, frankly, weren’t exactly in his control. While he also has that huge 6’4” frame to go along with sub 4.5 40-yard-dash speed and a strong arm, Mariota has spent his entire career running a frighteningly-obvious college offense. The spread system at Oregon relies on speed, route simplicity—and hash mark wideness that does not exist in the NFL.

Nonetheless, Mariota ran the system to perfection, demonstrated great leadership and mental acumen, and made plenty of plays that signaled “NFL-stuff.”

With his lack of pro-style offense in mind, the obvious choice for number one overall, at least, should be Winston. Based on his history and skill set, he is the safer pick—and that’s why he was the write-in for the Bucs for so long.

But, in the end, Winston isn’t the safer pick. Why? Simple: off-the-field issues.

Winston’s two-year stint as the starter at FSU was marred by several incidents including a long, confusing, very suspicious rape case (in which he was exonerated amid a lot of controversy), a food store theft of crab legs (probably the dumbest crime he could have committed), and an incident on Florida State’s campus where he jumped on a table and yelled offensive profanities—an incident he later got suspended for, for only one game.

This laundry list is alarming, to say the least—especially considering the fact that Winston is a quarterback expected to lead an NFL franchise. After all the latest off-field embarrassments the NFL has sustained including Ray Rice and Aaron Hernandez (who is a “wow” case to say the least), the scrutiny on character is at an all-time high—and rightfully so.

So the Bucs have begun to sway in their commitment to selecting Winston.

And, you know what? They should be reconsidering. Mariota has a record cleaner than a freshly-minted Maserati, he has a mental acumen near the highest levels (he scored a 33 on the Wonderlic test), and he has the arm and work ethic any coach can work with.

Is he as NFL-ready as Winston on the field? No way. But he can get there.

And, with Mariota, a team owner, coaching staff, and security chief can sleep peacefully at night knowing that they have nothing to worry about.

As great as Winston is—I can’t help but think he is a huge mistake waiting to happen. If his red flag question marks come to fruition, how sad it will be to see another mammoth heap of talent wasted. 

I’m not rooting for that by any means—but I wouldn’t have the heart to spend my first overall pick on him.

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