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Jameis Winston's draft party marks beginning of NFL test

BESSEMER, Ala. -- Like so many times at Florida State last season, Jameis Winston came through in the final moments Thursday night.

He arrived at his own draft party about eight minutes before taking the phone call from Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht informing him he would be the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. While hustling into a packed living room in a family friend's spacious estate home, Winston failed to see the representative from the Buccaneers' media relations staff who was already there.

It was the ultimate tip of what the pick would be -- though it really wasn't a surprise. The Bucs have been locked in on Winston for months.

Everything about him as a player is what they felt they needed. Every concern about him off the field -- and there were some legitimate red flags -- checked out enough for the coaching staff and personnel department to entrust their futures, and that of the franchise, to the 6-foot-4 passer.

Winston thanked the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, for taking a chance on him. He also said he is going to "earn" his spot and do what he needs to do to fit in with his teammates. That always was his plan. But if he needed a reminder, Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David said earlier this week that if Winston was the Bucs' pick, the former Heisman Trophy winner would have to know his role.

That role is to win ball games -- and prove to be as genuine and solid a person as FSU coach Jimbo Fisher says he is.

Fisher, who was at the draft party, raved -- as he always has -- about Winston's character. To highlight his point, Fisher cited Winston's decision not to attend the draft, which Fisher said was all about being around the people who have supported Winston through his life. That includes the people who had his back when he came under fire for repeated off-field issues and transgressions in college.

Soon, however, that support system won't be there.

Winston's new family will include Bucs coach Lovie Smith, Licht, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. They, along with a long-suffering fan base, will view Winston as a game-changer.

The Buccaneers will downplay that status, but the reality is, Tampa Bay needs a quarterback to build around and sustain the livelihoods of everyone associated with a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2007.

That might not be fair, but Winston will face expectations to succeed right away. When it comes to rookie quarterbacks making an immediate impact, Andrew Luck set the bar in 2012. And while Winston might not be of the same caliber as Luck, he is going to be called upon to lift Tampa Bay from the doldrums, just as Luck did for the Colts as a first-year pro. That's part of being the top pick in the draft. Winston says he's ready.

He's been here before, to a degree. He was The Man coming out of Hueytown High School in Alabama, and he took Florida State to a national championship his redshirt freshman season. He won the Heisman Trophy. He earned the right to be the top pick in so many talent evaluators' eyes.

Winston's representatives, friends and family capped off this portion of his career in a big way. His draft party was more of a draft production.

In the afternoon, there was a cookout, a photo shoot on a red carpet and a DJ playing to a crowd of more than 100. Just a few hours later, a different crowd, clad in formal clothes, replaced the earlier group as they watched the draft on a variety of monitors.

Right now, there is hope in Tampa Bay. But the Bucs don't have time to wait for Winston, as friends and family did Thursday night. He'll need to deliver in a big way from the start.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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