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Jameis Winston: The face of your fantasy franchise?

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Leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, each day NFL Fantasy will profile a prospect who could make a splash in fantasy next season. Today's subject is former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. So it goes for Jameis Winston, who, according to many pundits is the 2015 NFL Draft's top prospect, or at the very least the top quarterback. Winton has the charisma, physique, on-field work and football IQ to fit the bill as the No. 1 overall draft pick and face of a franchise. Of course, this isn't a fairy tale, and off-field issues have caused many analysts and likely NFL teams to reconsider their initial evaluation. With Jameis likely set to land in the NFL as an immediate starter, I dove into his college tape to see if he could be trusted as a fantasy starter as well.

2015 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:
Video:

Winston's NFL.com draft profile

Full "Prospect a Day" list

Strengths


     » Strong arm, can make NFL throws
     » Confident, will stand in pocket and take hits
     » Very high football IQ
     » Shows good touch on deep/boundary throws

Coming from a pro-style offense at Florida State, Winston looks like a natural in the pocket. He has been praised throughout the draft process for his ability to read a defense and move through his progressions, and that praise is warranted. His football IQ is on full display in the video at the top of the article with NFL Media's Steve Mariucci. Definitely give it a watch to see how Jameis' mind works when it comes to the gridiron.

Jameis might not have an elite arm, but when he can set his feet his throws have good velocity and a tight spiral, usually before hitting the receiver in stide. When he's forced out of the pocket and has to make throws from awkward positions, his arm is still usually strong enough to get the ball to its target. Along with his strength, he also displayed a knack for touch passes on deep throws or along the boundary. He wasn't perfect on these, but the foundation was there for an NFL coordinator to work with.

Weaknesses


     » Prone to bad decisions
     » Not nimble in the open field
     » Mechanics crumble under pressure
     » Off-field issues can't be ignored

A big concern with Winston is how his interception numbers inflated greatly from Year 1 to Year 2 in college. While watching his 2014 tape, it was easy to see defensive coordinators exploiting aspects of Winston's game. For instance, underneath defenders proved to be particularly troublesome, and as Cian Fahey notes in his excellent piece for Rotoworld, six of Winston's 17 interceptions came of this nature. Furthermore, there were times where he'd have too much faith in his arm, or try too hard to make a play, throwing into double or triple coverage with a poor result. These are definitely concerning, but are also coachable. Growing up in Wisconsin and watching Brett Favre sling the rock into herds of defenders, I became accustomed to plays like this. The question will be whether or not Winston can learn to mitigate these risks as Favre did for much of his career, or if fantasy owners and fans will have to get accustomed to weekly cardiological tests after football games.

Winston isn't afraid to stand in the pocket and face pressure, but he's not great at maintaining his fundamental mechanics when the heat is on. While I noted above that I saw him zip plenty of throws accurately from pressure, the more frequent result was an errant pass or bad decision, brought on by sloppy mechanics. Making matters worse, Winston isn't exactly shifty or agile in the pocket or open field, limiting his ability to get into enough space to make proper throws. He is strong enough to shuck smaller defenders off a la Ben Roethlisberger, but his mobility could be an issue in the NFL.

Ideal NFL fantasy fits


     » Tampa Bay Buccaneers
     » New York Jets
     » Chicago Bears

It's only natural to start with the place Winston is most likely to end up, and that's Tampa Bay. His rookie learning curve and accuracy shortcomings could be lessened by the fact that the average height of his starting receivers and tight end in Tampa is over 6-foot-5. Likewise, the Jets could be in the market for a new signal-caller, and while they likely won't land Winston, he'd have a capable backfield in Chris Ivory and Stevan Ridley to back him up, while also slinging the rock to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The Bears aren't necessarily targeting a new QB, but a Winston-Alshon Jeffery tandem could be a fun one to watch for years to come.

Early fantasy draft projection

From everything I watched on tape and have read about Winston over the last two years, he seems like a very good, but imperfect draft prospect (like many). However, I do believe he has what it takes to be a starting-caliber quarterback in both the NFL and fantasy. In 2012, we saw three rookie signal-callers finish in the top 10 in fantasy scoring (Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck). Since then, only three rookies have finished in the top 25 in their given year, combined (Geno Smith, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater). My guess is Winston finishing somewhere in the middle of that, likely as a higher-end QB2. That being said, I also feel he could have a relatively high ceiling in the right situation. For that reason, I'd be willing to take a flier on him as a high-upside QB2 to backup a lower-tiered starter and possibly serve in a matchup-based rotation. As for dynasty, I think Winston could be worth a first-round investment if you have depth at the skill positions and could use a quarterback of the future.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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