I've been around the NFL long enough to know that capturing the Heisman Trophy doesn't ensure success at the next level. This is especially true at quarterback, where the likes of Tim Tebow, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith and Jason White failed to carve out successful pro careers despite their remarkable success as collegians.
Now, I certainly respect the fact that Newton is a two-time Pro Bowler, and he is joined by Bradford and Griffin as NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award winners, but the question marks surrounding each of their respective games will prompt scouts to take a long, hard look at whether Jameis Winston really has the stuff needed to be a franchise quarterback. Of course, most of the evaluation and projection will be based on his on-field performance in 2014 (and possibly 2015), but the way that Winston handles the pressure of playing as a Heisman Trophy winner will be a critical factor in compiling his final grade in my mind.
I believe there are five core characteristics (intelligence, leadership, competitiveness, perseverance and clutch factor) blue-chip prospects must have to thrive in the NFL; Winston will have a chance to showcase each of those traits this season while he seeks to become the first back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner since Archie Griffin in 1974-75. While Winston's intelligence and leadership will be revealed through his efforts to guide the Seminoles to another national title, I will have an opportunity to see how well he competes, perseveres and performs in the clutch when he attempts to ward off challenges from Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Melvin Gordon and others for the illustrious award.
I certainly don't expect Winston to voice his desire to win college football's highest individual honor, but I do expect him to raise his game when critics closely scrutinize his every move this season. I want to see how he responds to the endless critiques and whether he changes his style of play to shut up the naysayers on the outside. This is what Johnny Manziel had to endure in 2013; his spectacular play amid the white noise made me a believer in his talent, competitiveness and potential as a pro.
That's why I think Winston would be wise to heed Manziel's warning when he spoke of the pressure that awaits him this fall as a reigning Heisman Trophy winner. From ignoring the chatter from TV scouts (like me) to focusing on his personal development, Winston has to be "process-oriented" instead of results-driven to continue to grow into the franchise quarterback that most evaluators believe that he can be at the next level.
If he can successfully navigate the waters as a reigning Heisman Trophy winner, he can make a convincing case to scouts that he is worthy of being considered as the top prospect at the position.