TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston looks across the field to the New York Giants' sideline Sunday, he'll see a quarterback in Eli Manning who has helped set a standard for what he hopes to accomplish.
Winston has been watching the 2004 first overall draft pick and two-time Super Bowl MVP closely for years, but the two didn't officially cross paths until Winston became a camp counselor at the 2014 Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
"One of the greatest quarterback experiences of my life was getting the privilege to go to the Manning Passing Academy," Winston said. "Getting a chance to meet the head, Archie, Peyton, Eli, and you just think about their family and what their family has meant to the quarterback position in the NFL. [I have] tremendous respect for Eli."
"I got a chance to see him work out there and see the way he carries himself. Seeing him around his family, man, it was amazing," Winston said. "Every time you talk about Eli, something good is coming up. ... The guy is amazing. He wins Super Bowls, he leads his team and he is a Manning. He was born to do it."
The two crossed paths again at the Pro Bowl after Winston's rookie season in 2015. Just like at the academy, what stood out most for Manning, aside from his talent, was Winston's energy and his ability to give teammates a boost.
"[He was] always lifting everybody up, always breaking things down [after the huddle] with the players and just bringing a lot of positive energy to his teammates and the people around him," Manning said. "That's a great quality in a quarterback. He seems to be doing the same thing in Tampa. I've been impressed with his playmaking ability, making good decisions and making some tight throws."
The interesting thing is that when Winston was coming out of Florida State, a lot of NFL draft gurus and even coaches compared him to Manning because of his strong arm but also his tendency to push the envelope a little too far and throw interceptions.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo saw those similarities and still does, although he thinks Winston has started to come into his own in the NFL. He's shown he can do a little more than just be a dropback passer.
"There's some similarities there," McAdoo said. "He's a young man who stands tall in the pocket. He was a pocket quarterback coming out. He has a naturally ability to extend plays and those types of things. It's tough to find a young player coming out of college who's very comfortable in the pocket like he was."
Statistically, the first two seasons of Winston and Manning are similar, especially when it comes to scoring and interceptions.
In Manning's two first full seasons as a starter, he threw 48 touchdowns, 35 interceptions (1.37) with 3.2 interceptions per passing attempt.
As for Winston, he threw 50 touchdowns, 33 interceptions (1.52) and had 3.0 interceptions per attempt.
So if there's anyone who understands the challenges Winston deals with, including the expectations of being the first overall draft pick, it's Manning.
"That's always hard," Manning said. "You want to be aggressive, you want to make throws, you feel you can make certain throws, you've just got to know why a certain play is in and you get the right coverage but you've just got to see how the defense is playing, if he has the right protection and weigh all those options, just try to make decisions."
"Just because a shot is called or a certain play is called where it's supposed to go to this receiver doesn't mean you have to make the throw at all costs," Manning said. "It's [about] good decisions, find check-downs, find completions and getting good down and distance."
McAdoo thinks Winston is on the right track to getting there, not just because of his ability but his bravado.
"I love the way he plays," McAdoo said. "He's an aggressive, talented young player. You see his confidence oozing out of his pores. The youngest guy with 50 touchdowns in the league. Very confident in his arm strength, his arm talent, his anticipation -- that's what I saw when I evaluated him coming into this league."
"You saw a guy who had some anticipation in his game," McAdoo said. "He had some rhythm in his body, some rhythm in his feet. You knew that with training, he was going to come a long way fast. And he has."