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View from the O-Zone: Winston worth the effort – and the selection


TALLAHASSEE – This was worth the three-hour drive.

For a legion of NFL types and national media types, you had to figure what they saw Tuesday at Florida State University was worth the distance they traveled, too.

And if the scene that was FSU quarterback Jameis Winston's 2015 Pro Day didn't qui-i-i-i-i-ite match the extravaganza that was Johnny Manziel's 2014 Pro Day …

Well, nothing was going to match that.

But if ex-Presidents didn't attend the FSU Pro Day to watch Winston – as was the case last year when George H.W. Bush endured an R-rated soundtrack to watch Johnny Football throw passes at Texas A&M – Winston drew more than his share of national attention Tuesday.

ESPN. NFL Network. Yahoo Sports.

Sports Illustrated.

Fox Sports Network.

And, oh yeah … representatives from all 32 NFL teams and well-staffed contingents from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, the teams that hold the No. 1 and No. 2 selections in the 2015 NFL Draft. Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith and General Manager Jason Licht were there, as were Titans Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt and General Manager Ruston Webster.

It was the Titans who had Winston's attention shortly after his very extensive workout Tuesday. After speaking live to the on-site ESPN and NFL Network sets, Winston and FSU officials told the rest of the gathered media Winston had five minutes to speak with them, and to please respect that time.

Winston's question-and-answer session included him speaking for pretty much exactly those five minutes. It also included him telling the media "he did great" and answering why the Buccaneers should select him with the No. 1 overall selection on April 30.

"Because I'm the best player in this draft," he said.

Winston then hustled off to meet with the Titans. That has significance, though perhaps not as much as the lengthy visit Winston already had with Tampa Bay earlier, because it's increasingly hard to find anyone that believes Winston won't be the No. 1 overall selection by the Buccaneers.

Not that they're saying it, of course, because they have no reason to say it yet.

And Licht, speaking to the media shortly after Winston threw, offered little hint about whether the Buccaneers would select Winston or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, but he did state what was obvious to anyone watching Tuesday: Winston has an NFL arm, NFL talent, NFL ability.

The guy is very impressive.

"He showed his arm strength from Throw 1 to 100, whatever it was," Licht said.

The actual number was 102, which was how many passes Winston threw Tuesday. That was an unusually high number for a Pro Day, with Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles having thrown 65 at his Pro Day last year and Mariota throwing 65 at his Pro Day earlier this month.

That drew some raised eyebrows and some criticism from analysts Tuesday, but that's nitpicking. There's little players can do to do differentiate themselves at a Pro Day. If a prospect wants to throw a bunch of passes, is that so bad?

What you want to know if you're reading this is how Winston's Pro Day affects the Jaguars at No. 3 overall, and the reality is not much. The Jaguars had a contingent there, including defensive line coach Todd Wash and offensive line coach Doug Marrone. But as their titles indicate, they were watching linemen, not the quarterback. The Jaguars drafted their Top 5 quarterback, Bortles, last year, and quarterback isn't on the radar this year, certainly not in the early rounds.

Winston's day also changed little about the conversation in front of the Jaguars later this month. Listening to ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski and NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner, Winston wasn't perfect Tuesday. He struggled with accuracy while throwing on the run, but his performance also wasn't close to poor – and certainly shouldn't hurt his draft status.

"When his mechanics are right, he's perfect," Jaworski said. "He can make every throw without any sort of problem at all."

Winston entered Tuesday as the likely No. 1 selection overall to Tampa Bay, and nothing that happened Tuesday should change that. Barring a significant draft-day shock, look for Winston to be No. 1.

That leaves the Jaguars storyline the same as before: will the Titans or some other team draft Mariota at No. 2 and leave the Jaguars a tantalizing choice of any non-quarterback in the draft or a potential trade down? That's an intriguing, franchise-altering topic, but it's also one that can be discussed at a later date – as likely will be the case daily around the Jaguars during the next four weeks.

The topic in Tallahassee Tuesday was all-Winston, all-the time, and it is testament to his star power/ability that that was the case. This was a talent-laden FSU Pro Day, with at least three potential first-round selections and double digit draftable players, and yet …

And yet, Winston was the main attraction and from a national sense, the only attraction.

As was the case at the NFL Scouting Combine, he showed himself comfortable in that environment. If he wasn't perfect on the field, he was impressive. He was impressive, too, speaking to the media afterward. If Winston isn't a star in the NFL, it won't be a self-confidence issue.

Is Winston right? Is he the best player in this draft?

Time will tell, and the time frame on that is years, not weeks, but there's no doubt he was worth the drive.

And after Tuesday, it's still hard to imagine the team holding the No. 1 choice later this month won't think he's worth that, too.

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