Florida State QB Jameis Winston has announced his intention to apply for early entry into the 2015 NFL Draft, and the decision isn't a surprise based on his standing as one of the top quarterbacks in this year's class. However, another season in Tallahassee could have greatly benefited the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Here are four reasons why.
1. Winston would have left Florida State as a college graduate.
If Winston had returned to Florida State for his redshirt junior campaign, he would have been on track to graduate with his class as a fourth-year student. While obtaining a degree wouldn't appear to be a significant factor in his NFL draft evaluation, general managers and head coaches value college graduates on the roster, particularly at the quarterback position, where a premium is placed on intelligence, leadership and judgment.
Winston has been a member of the All-ACC Academic Honor Roll (2012-13, 2013-14) during his time at Florida State and is considered a strong student in the classroom. The study skills acquired through his academics should help him thrive in the classroom as a franchise quarterback. With NFL quarterbacks tasked with learning volumes of information from passing concepts, run checks and pass protections to sight adjustments and hot reads, the ability to take information from the classroom to the field is one of the first things that coaches and scouts observe in meetings. Factor in the need to process and communicate complex verbiage to his teammates and coaches in the huddle, and the quarterback needs to possess the intelligence and work ethic required to obtain a degree.
If Winston had stayed another year and walked away with a degree in hand, he would have eliminated any concerns evaluators had about his aptitude and diligence.
2. The extra year of college football would have reduced his learning curve in the NFL.
It is not a coincidence that young quarterbacks that have enjoyed immediate success in the NFL were three-year starters in college. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Robert Griffin III and Matt Ryan are among the players that entered the NFL with at least three full seasons of collegiate experience under their belts. Although the circumstances vary for each player, there is no denying their readiness for the NFL game was fostered by the extra repetitions received on the collegiate level. From developing a better understanding of coverage and blitzes to refining their footwork and fundamentals, the extra year spent under the watchful eye of a college coaching staff significantly reduces the learning curve for a young signal-caller at the NFL level.
In Winston's case, he had the opportunity to continue that development within the confines of a pro-style offense. This is the same luxury that propelled Luck, Wilson and Ryan to success immediately in the NFL. The trio of Pro Bowlers honed their crafts in offenses that featured a number of NFL passing concepts and protection schemes, which allowed them to walk into NFL meeting rooms and speak the language. More importantly, it accelerated their overall understanding of an NFL playbook and enabled them to feel comfortable in the huddle as first-year starters.
At Florida State, Winston is already given the freedom to make some adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on coverage or anticipated blitzes. Additionally, Florida State features some "hot reads" in its schemes that put the onus on the quarterback to find the designated receiver when opponents bring more rushers than the protection can pick up. Thus, Winston will enter the league comfortable with orchestrating the operation at the line of scrimmage and executing complex tasks in the post-snap phase. Given the challenge of learning these traits on the job as a pro, Winston would have had a decided advantage on the competition by logging more snaps at Florida State.
3. Winston would have been more prepared to be the face of an NFL franchise.
For all of the great things Winston has accomplished between the lines, the jury is still out on whether he can be the face of an NFL franchise due to his off-field exploits. He has been involved in a few incidents that suggest he lacks maturity and awareness at this stage of his career. While some of the mishaps will be dismissed as "boys being boys" by scouts and coaches in meeting rooms, there is no doubt that Winston needs to distance himself from the boneheaded incidents and show better leadership skills going forward.
NFL owners believe franchise quarterbacks should have a regal presence in the room because they are expected to embody the values of the team in all aspects. Thus, they must exude leadership, charisma and intelligence when they stand in the front of the room. From a coaching standpoint, the quarterback needs to be a "take-charge" type who is committed, accountable and trustworthy as the leader of the team.
On the field, Winston has certainly displayed each of those attributes in leading Florida State to a 26-1 record as a starter. He displays exceptional poise, confidence and composure as the unquestioned leader of the team. He is not only a spectacular talent at quarterback, but also a clutch performer who relishes the opportunity to deliver in big moments. Those traits are certainly hard to find, yet the constant chatter stemming from his transgressions overshadow his immense talent. Thus, Winston would have benefited from spending another year on campus and showing observers that he can be a model citizen and leader within the community.
With a trouble-free 2015 season at FSU, Winston would have made it easier for general managers and scouts to convince an owner that he is ready to be the leader of a franchise.
4. Winston would have had another opportunity to showcase his leadership skills and competitiveness as a baseball player.
Coaches and scouts love to see top prospects participate in other sports because it gives them another chance to evaluate their athleticism, competitiveness and leadership skills in a different arena. Winston has been a standout performer on Florida State's baseball team the past two seasons as a pitcher/outfielder. He thrived as the Seminoles' closer in 2014 with 31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings and a 1-0 record. In addition, Winston allowed just four earned runs, seven walks and 18 hits on the season. Considering his role as the finisher of games, the fact that Winston closed out games in spectacular fashion for a title contender confirms his poise and composure in the clutch.
Looking into his background as a standout high school baseball player in Alabama, I discovered that Winston was a switch-hitting outfielder and regarded as one of the top baseball prospects in the country at that time (Winston was selected in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB first-year player draft by the Texas Rangers). With Winston displaying the kind of athleticism and talent to attract the eyes of MLB scouts, NFL evaluators will view him in a different light as a standout two-way performer.
If Winston had played well on the diamond in 2015 and established himself as a premier baseball prospect, he could have enhanced his leverage in future negotiations as a potential two-way star at the highest levels.