This year's NFL draft is finally history. After all the mock drafts and media frenzy, the picks are finally locked into place. For teams that didn't find their preferred quarterback in 2014, they may have to look no further than 12 months down the road when Florida State's Jameis Winston is likely to take his chances at professional stardom.
Winston led the NCAA in passing yards per attempt (10.6) and passing efficiency rating (184.8) in 2013, according to Sports-reference.com. He went undefeated in his first year as a starter, won the BCS National Championship, the Heisman trophy, and he has even found time to play baseball for Florida State now that the season is over. He's also highly regarded for his leadership skills and intangibles, as this video demonstrates.
Despite his weekly heroics, Winston may not even be the top quarterback in the 2015 NFL draft. That honor could belong to Oregon's Marcus Mariota. According to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, one NFL scout would have taken Mariota over Johnny Manziel had he entered this year's draft. Via Thamel:
"I'd take him over [Johnny] Manziel. He's more accurate. He's bigger and I think he's faster, not as elusive, but more durable. A lot of upside there," said the NFL scout.
Mariota has an extra year of starting experience under his belt and his numbers are impressive, but they still fell short of Winston's in 2013.
|Mariota vs. Winston, 2013 Passing Statistics|
One area where Mariota does outpace Winston is running the football. Mariota racked up 775 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013. Winston managed just 215 yards and four touchdowns on a 2.5 yards per carry average. Mariota may be a more effective runner, but Winston still has the mobility to move around in the pocket and buy time for his throws.
Unlike Mariota, Winston benefits from running a hybrid offense that contains elements of both spread and traditional offensive systems. Mariota will have to convince scouts that his numbers aren't the result of the unique, high-octane spread offense he runs at Oregon.
Winston's numbers aren't purely the result of a high volume passing attack that leaves quarterbacks ill-prepared for NFL schemes. In this way, Winston is unlikely to suffer the same fate as prolific college passers who played in gimmick offenses like Colt Brennan or Vince Young.
In fact, EJ Manuel, Winston's predecessor at Florida State, once stated the Buffalo Bills' offense is less complex than Florida State's. From a May 2013 interview with Sirius XM Radio, via ESPN.com's news services:
"I've done great. The learning curve for me is a lot shorter simply because of what I had at Florida State. [The Seminoles' offense is] more complex and a little bit harder to catch on and learn. This offense is very simple. I've done a great job with it."
This bodes well for Winston, who is working in a similar system under head coach Jimbo Fisher. In fact, Manuel did much more running than Winston in spread-option packages, which means Winston has likely spent more time working on pass plays that translate better to the NFL.
Of course, Winston may not even enter the 2015 NFL draft, according to Coach Fisher. Via Tim Linafelt of FloridaState.247sports.com:
“Everybody says he’s going to stay one year and leave,” Fisher said. “Which I don’t think that’s true. I think it will be two."
It would be interesting to see how Winston might justify coming back for a junior season barring an injury that keeps him sidelined for an extended period of time as a sophomore.
Winston is a likely top-10 draft pick should he continue his dominating performances and enter the draft after his sophomore season. He has the size, skills and intangibles to compete at a high-level in the NFL. His 2014 season should give him ample opportunity to prove to NFL scouts that he is capable of performing in a traditional NFL offense.
Another quarterback Winston may have to outperform ahead of the 2015 NFL draft is UCLA's Brett Hundley. The Bruins' signal-caller has performed well in Westwood and will have three years of starting experience under his belt should he declare for 2015 as well.