The decision we have all been waiting on proved to be rather anticlimactic in the end.
Because there was only one real choice Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston could make. Winston had to leave school early for the NFL. He would have been misguided to go back to Florida State for another year, to endure another season full of scrutiny and toxicity without any guarantee that his draft stock would be as high as it is today.
Already, draft pundits are evaluating whether Winston or Marcus Mariota will go No. 1 overall. Going back to school would have compromised that, potentially throwing millions of dollars out the window. Winston had no reason to become the next Matt Barkley.
Whether he is mature enough to leave or ready enough to lead a professional team after two years as a college starter should not factor into the equation. Winston has enough talent in his right arm alone to make scouts ignore all the red warning flags.
Just look at what has happened to his stock over the past year. In May 2014, ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. had Winston at No. 1 on his 2015 Big Board. But after Winston was cited for shoplifting crab legs and then suspended one game after standing on a table on campus and shouting an obscene and sexually explicit phrase, Kiper dropped Winston to No. 25 on his Big Board re-rank in September.
At the time, Kiper wrote: “Winston has dropped as I feel off-field concerns have become too numerous and would cloud any decision to draft him right now. He has time to prove doubters wrong, however. But he needs to.”
He must have throughout the course of the season. Because Kiper now has Winston at No. 6 overall on his latest Big Board. Fellow ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has Winston going No. 2 overall in his first mock draft.
At least for now, the character concerns have been shelved. So has a redshirt sophomore season that was not nearly as good as his Heisman campaign in 2013. Winston threw for fewer yards and touchdown passes, and more interceptions -- yet his stock is nearly the same as it was after winning the national championship a year ago.
While it is true the NFL has become the land of second chances, it also is true the league has come under increasing scrutiny for player (mis)behavior. But at the beginning of the draft process, anyway, it seems teams might be willing to overlook all the baggage for a chance to secure what could very well be a franchise quarterback.
We all have seen Winston at his finest on the field, where he was 27-1 as a starter. He is a quarterback with confidence bordering on arrogance, holding firm to the belief every single time he drops back that he can make any throw, into any window, to any player. Or that he can make any play he wants, period -- because, well, he believes he is better than the man trying to knock him down.
That belief manifested itself in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, when he pressed so hard in trying to lead a Seminoles comeback in the College Football Playoff semifinal that he flopped backward comically and fumbled on a critical fourth-down play in the third quarter. When he got to the sideline, he and coach Jimbo Fisher got into a heated verbal spat.
That gaffe showed Winston can be a loose cannon both on the field and off. There are no doubts Winston is incredibly gifted. But there are plenty of doubts about whether he can actually pull himself together and harness that talent into a successful NFL career.
Those doubts are not getting much airplay at the moment. Rather than debating whether he can be a model citizen, pundits are debating whether his skill set, work ethic and measurables are enough to make him the No. 1 overall pick.
Had he returned to school and gotten hurt, or thrown another 18 interceptions, or had another sideline tiff with Fisher, or gotten into trouble off the field again, you can bet those doubts would have threatened his draft stock.
Winston weathered a tumultuous two seasons in Tallahassee. But the time has come to say goodbye. He is, after all, in a perfect spot now to start anew.