Expert opinion on Bucs' draft decision: Jameis Winston would be pick

TAMPA, Fla. -- Back in 2011, the Carolina Panthers were in a situation similar to what the Buccaneers face now.

They held the first pick in the draft and there were major questions about one of the players they were targeting. In the case of the Panthers, that player was Cam Newton. For the Bucs, it's Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

Prior to the 2011 draft, there were concerns about Newton's character and maturity. But the Panthers ultimately chose the Auburn quarterback and he has led them to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. Winston also comes with questions after being involved in several off-field incidents.

"The reason you're at the No. 1 pick is because you don't have a quarterback and it's a quarterback-driven league," said Marty Hurney, who was Carolina's general manager when the Panthers drafted Newton. "Any time you draft a quarterback first, it's a bold move. But it's a move you have to make because you have to have a franchise quarterback."

Hurney said the Panthers quickly decided Newton was the best on-field fit for them.

"The first step is to narrow it down to the quarterbacks that have the physical skills," Hurney said. "In that class, you also had Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. The first time we went through the tape, it was apparent that Cam was the one with the best tools to be a quarterback in this league. Then we focused on doing our homework."

The Panthers did extensive research on Newton before ultimately deciding he would be the pick.

"I spent a day, a full day at Cam's house getting to know him," Hurney said. "(Coach) Ron (Rivera) did too. Cam met with our owner (Jerry Richardson). We met with Cam for four hours a couple days before his pro day. We had a private workout with him. Our national and area scouts talked to everybody around Cam. We went as far back as people that knew him in high school. We literally spent countless hours on getting to know everything about him."

Hurney said the Bucs should spend the same energy in getting to know Winston.

"You have to work through the process," Hurney said. "You need to talk to as many people as you can and put the whole puzzle together."

Now a sports radio host in Charlotte, Hurney still is following the draft closely. He has an opinion on Winston, as well as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, whom the Bucs may be viewing as an alternative.

"Winston comes out of the pro-style offense," Hurney said. "He has all the measurables and can make all the throws. Everybody commented on how good his football knowledge was at the combine. The only question is the off-the-field stuff and I haven't gotten into that like I'm sure the Bucs have."

Mariota comes without off-field questions. But there are on-field questions because he played in a spread system in college.

"Marcus Mariota is a very different quarterback than Jameis Winston," Hurney said. "But he's smart and he's a gym rat. Could he be a taller, faster version of Russell Wilson? I think that's possible."

So who would Hurney take if he had to make the call?

"Just because Jameis Winston's skill set is so transferable to the NFL, I'd give him the nod," Hurney said.