Now, I know it's impossible for a young player to know how he will perform at the next level, but the point of the question is to see if the player has the self-awareness to understand the strengths and weaknesses of his game. Additionally, I'm trying to get a sense of whether the player studies the NFL and has identified a "role model" that he can emulate to carve out a successful career as a pro. I touched on this topic in a recent piece for NFL.com in which I identified eight ideal rookie-mentor pairings heading into training camp.
Finally, I'm hoping the prospect offers up a standout NFL player that I can use to help paint a picture of his long-term potential for the head coach and general manager. With a vivid image burning in the minds of evaluators, it's easier to make a convincing case for the prospect with a strong pro comparison.
After reading Jameis Winston's comments comparing his game to Cam Newton, I think the Heisman Trophy winner might be misguided in his comparison to the Carolina Panthers' two-time Pro Bowler. While Winston is certainly a big, athletic quarterback with similar physical dimensions, his playing style is drastically different from Newton's game. Whereas Newton was a run-first playmaker at Auburn (he led the SEC with 1,473 rushing yards), Winston is a traditional drop-back passer who rarely flees the pocket.
He is at his best delivering pinpoint passes to open receivers following a five-step drop (three-step drop from shotgun) or quick play-action fakes. Winston thrives in Florida State's pro-style offense, which features a host of vertical passing concepts that are staples in NFL playbooks.
Newton played in an unorthodox spread offense that made it hard to project his NFL potential due to the simplistic reads and route concepts. Although he enjoyed immediate success as a rookie quarterback (Newton shattered NFL rookie records for passing yards and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback), the Panthers needed to overhaul their playbook to accommodate his skills; he is still learning how to play the game in a traditional manner from the pocket.
Thus, Winston would be wise to offer up a better comparison in the future. Looking at the Heisman Trophy winner's development over the past year, I believe Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens is a more apt comparison. Although Winston is a little shorter (Winston is listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds; Flacco is 6-6, 245), his game closely resembles the former Super Bowl MVP's play in the pocket. From the A-plus arm talent and long delivery to his footwork and sneaky athleticism, it's easy to see Winston developing like Flacco as a pro. Most important, I can envision an NFL offensive coordinator building a scheme around Winston that closely resembles the Baltimore Ravens' system, particularly the version currently being installed by Gary Kubiak that features a host of play-action and bootleg passes on the perimeter.
If Flacco puts up the spectacular numbers that most expect from the seventh-year pro, Winston should tie his game to the former Super Bowl MVP when discussing his pro potential down the road.