Backed by confidence, savvy and poise beyond his years, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would be a lock for a top-five selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
Sure, projecting a non-draft-eligible player may come off as foolish, especially given that his sample size has only been six games. However, Winston has been so good that it’s impossible not to at least wonder.
As it stands, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCLA’s Brett Hundley are the quarterbacks most likely to make a splash in next May’s draft. But none of them have displayed the NFL-ready skill set that Winston already has.
Only Bridgewater could argue otherwise.
But if it was up to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., Winston would be his guy:
"If he was eligible he'd be the No. 1 pick. We wouldn't be talking Bridgewater or Mariota. We'd be talking about Winston." - Mel Kiper, Jr.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 24, 2013
With Winston under center, the Seminoles are off to a 6-0 start for the first time since 1999. Furthermore, Florida State ranks No. 3 in scoring (53.2 PPG), No. 5 in total offense (551.7 YPG) and No. 10 in passing (341.3 YPG).
This is arguably the best Seminoles squad since 2000. Interestingly, that was the last time the school had a Heisman Trophy winner (Chris Weinke) and landed a berth in the BCS title game.
But while Winston has a chance to accomplish both of those things in 2013, it’s his future in the NFL that has everybody talking about the one they call Famous Jameis.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Back in February, Trent Dilfer predicted that Winston would be both a “rock star” in the league as well as a future No. 1 pick.
Through six games, the current ESPN analyst has looked more like Nostradamus than a former NFL Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
That’s because Winston has put together a mind-numbing stat line, throwing for 1,885 yards, 20 touchdowns and three interceptions on 71.3 percent passing. He’s also registered a quarterback rating of 210.4—second best in the nation.
On the ground, the Bessemer, Ala., native has added another 137 yards and three scores.
But most impressively, Winston has saved his best for third downs:
|Winston's Performance By Down|
If that’s not enough, he’s been sensational during conference play.
In four ACC matchups, Winston has thrown for over 300 yards and accounted for at least four touchdowns in each of his first four conference games this season. That makes him the first player to accomplish the feat in over 10 years.
With all things considered, it comes as no surprise that Winston’s name has frequently come up in Heisman Trophy conversations. In fact, he sits at No. 2 in ESPN’s latest Heisman Watch.
The scary part is, Winston is just getting started.
If You Can’t Take the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen
Every successful NFL quarterback lives for the big moment.
That’s a trait shared by Winston.
This is a guy whose play increases when the pressure does. The same guy whose quarterback rating on the road (217.3) is actually better than it is at home (201.6). He’s even the guy who slept on the bus ride into Death Valley to play the No. 3-ranked team in the nation last weekend, via ESPN’s David M. Hale.
Pressure doesn’t faze him. It motivates him.
Just take a look at how Winston has fared in some of his toughest tests.
On Oct. 5, Florida State took on then-No. 25 Maryland, a team that came in with the No. 6-ranked defense in the nation, allowing 10.3 points while conceding just 165.3 yards per game through the air.
In the end, Winston led the Seminoles to a 63-0 thrashing of their conference foe, throwing for 393 yards and five touchdowns (no interceptions) on 23 of 32 passing over three quarters. He also registered a quarterback rating of 226.6.
Just last weekend, Florida State traveled to square off against then-No. 3 Clemson at Death Valley—a venue the Seminoles hadn’t won at since 2001.
This time around, Winston put on a clinic, tossing for a career-high 444 yards and four total touchdowns on 22 of 34 passing. He helped Florida State toss aside the Tigers 51-14 and end any doubt on who the class of the ACC was.
But the performance that best showcased his poise and calmness in the pocket has to be the Seminoles’ scare at Boston College on Sept. 28.
After managing just a field goal over its first three drives, Florida State found itself in a 17-3 hole in the second quarter. However, Winston didn’t panic, leading the team to three touchdowns on four second-quarter drives.
His numbers in the second quarter: 7-of-7 for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Winston finished the day throwing for 330 yards, four touchdowns and one interception on 17 of 27 passing. The Seminoles eventually pulled away, winning 48-34.
While his competition has crumbled with their backs against the wall—Bridgewater versus UCF, Hundley versus Stanford—Winston has thrived.
A Mammoth of an Arm
Some college football fans may not know this, but Winston was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft.
Fortunately for Florida State fans, he chose to come play football. However, he still pitches and plays in the outfield for the Seminoles’ nationally ranked baseball team.
That explains Winston’s cannon of an arm.
But more impressively, it’s how he’s been doing it.
Already this season, Winston has displayed the ability to fit balls into tight windows with zip and velocity. Not only is he a marksman with his throws, but he has shown he possesses a feathery touch.
Even distance doesn’t seem to be an issue.
In 34 pass attempts over 20 yards this year, Winston has completed 21 of them. That includes eight that have gone for touchdowns.
In comparison, Mariota has only completed 50 percent of such passes (31-of-62) for four touchdowns.
While many college quarterbacks who rack up gaudy numbers throw short dump-offs and screens, Winston has shown the kind of versatility that would thrive at the next level.
Summing It All Up
Quarterbacks like Winston come around only once in a while.
Although he may currently share the college spotlight with several other quarterbacks around the nation, all that changes in the NFL. As Tim Tebow, Vince Young and Colt McCoy have proven in recent years, college success doesn’t necessarily equal professional success.
With that said, if Winston were eligible for the 2014 draft, it’s hard to imagine him falling outside the top five.
Using the current NFL standings, Bridgewater would likely go No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That would leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 2 or the Minnesota Vikings at No. 4 as possible landing spots for Winston.
The freshman has been amazing to watch at the college level; we can only imagine the same holds true in the NFL.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.