Buccaneers step out on limb with Jameis Winston

TAMPA, Fla. -- Now, they really have gone and done it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht have drafted Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. They telegraphed for months the move they made with the first overall pick Thursday night.

As they went through the process of talking to scores of people who have known Winston since high school, Smith and Licht repeatedly talked about how they liked what they heard. It all sounded wonderful and foolproof at the time. It sounded the same way after the Bucs made the pick.

"If he wasn't a good guy, we wouldn't have used the first pick on him," Licht said. "When we were doing the exhaustive process that we went through, not only were we comfortable with him and his character, we were confident with his character. We think that his character that he brings to the locker room and the building is a strength. That's one of the things that makes him a great player."

But now comes the reality and the risk. All the vetting the Bucs did on Winston brings no guarantees. The careers of Smith and Licht are now on the line. They've gone out on a limb and drafted a quarterback who is either going to make them look like geniuses or get them fired.

"Somebody asked me if it was like Christmas and I said, 'No, it's more like your wedding day without the cold feet,'" Licht said.

Licht is right. There now is a union between Smith and Licht and Winston.

"He's a good football player, a very good person," Smith said. "I know a lot of things have been said about him. He's made some mistakes that young people make from time to time when they're young. I definitely don't think that I've seen a pattern. Once you get to know him, I just really believe in him. I trust my instincts on people to know who we're getting. Of course, we wanted to get another good football player and another good guy too to come into our locker room."

No matter how the Bucs spin it, drafting Winston is a gamble bigger than any the franchise ever has made. If ever there was a boom-or-bust prospect, it's Winston.

His on-field talents are unquestionable. He led the Seminoles to a national title and won the Heisman Trophy in the 2013 season. He has played in a pro-style offense and can make all the throws. Winston is a charismatic, natural leader.

In short, Winston is everything you want in a quarterback -- on the field. If only that was all that mattered, the risk factor would be incredibly low.

But, when it comes to Winston, you have to talk about off-the-field matters.

The history is well-documented. Winston was accused of sexual assault, although he never was charged. He was charged with shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee supermarket.

Those events put him under a powerful microscope and Winston knew it. Yet, he still ended up in another controversy, showing up in a video in which he repeatedly yelled an obscenity in the student union. Is this a guy who really learns from his mistakes?

The Bucs are banking that he is. They think he's not a bad person and that his transgressions were the product of immaturity.

"I can't let them down," Winston said Thursday in a conference call from his Alabama home.

Winston is going to have to grow up in a hurry because Tampa is a town where a young man with a lot of money easily can find trouble. The Bucs have to surround Winston with a strong support system. They might be wise to rehire the driver they once employed to make sure running back LeGarrette Blount got to practice on time. And they might be smart to hire a full-time babysitter for Winston.

They already took one big chance. They can't afford any others. There is too much at stake here.

If the Bucs handle Winston properly and he has grown up, things could work out splendidly. But, if there's even one more off-the field incident, drafting Winston will look like the biggest mistake in the history of a franchise that has had many.