The Florida State Quarterback Conundrum
By Steven Pipps
The 2015 NFL draft is right around the corner, finding a new home in Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre. It is the first time the draft has not been in New York City since 1965, but that is not the big story of this year. Two quarterbacks are going head-to-head for the honor of being the number one pick overall.
Much like 2012, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went one and two respectively, Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of FSU are expected to take the top two spots. As for who goes first, the experts have held strong with Winston, despite his off field antics, which were a large part of his college career.
Some say Winston is the more pro-ready QB due to his play in a pro-style offense at FSU. He is more accurate on second and third reads, but Mariota is faster and performed better at the combine is almost every drill. Of course we all know how much that really matters in the NFL…
Ultimately we can discuss and predict where players will go, but we won’t know for sure until they don the cap and hold the jersey of the team that picks them on April 30th. What I am here to look at is the trouble FSU quarterbacks have had in the NFL as of late and ask the question if Winston can buck the trend.
Since 1996 Florida State has had four quarterbacks drafted, two in the fourth round and two in the first. We’ll start with Danny Kanell, a name you are probably familiar with because of his sports casting and not his quarterbacking.
Kanell backed up Charlie Ward during his first year at FSU. Ward was a Heisman Trophy winner who opted for the NBA instead of the NFL. Kanell was drafted by the New York Giants and helped lead the team to the NFC Eastern Division Title in 1997, but the team lost in a wild card game against the Minnesota Vikings. 1998 was a down year for Kanell with a 3-7 record. He was let go by the Giants and failed to find his footing with two other franchises, the Falcons and the Broncos.
Chris Weinke was a standout in college. He led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a national championship in 1999. Then in 2000, he won the Heisman Trophy. But his fate in the NFL was no better than Kanell’s. Weinke only has two NFL wins under his belt and has the second longest losing streak with 17 losses behind only Dan Pastorini.
The next two QBs from FSU both went in the first round and fared better than Kanell and Weinke, but have failed to establish themselves in the league. In 2011 Christian Ponder was drafted by the Vikings and had a promising young career that began to go downhill after his sophomore effort when he started all 16 games and led the Vikings to the playoffs. In 2013 Ponder’s starts were cut almost in half and he failed to win three games. Ponder started only one game in 2014, which ended in a loss to the Falcons. He is currently signed with the Oakland Raiders.
Last in the FSU QB canon is EJ Manuel, drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2013 in the first round. Manuel was named the starter for the first game of the season and got his first win during the second week in a game against the Carolina Panthers. He faced an injury that took his out for five games. Overall, Manuel started 10 games in 2013 and posted a 4-6 record. He was benched in favor of Kyle Orton after four starts in 2014.
This all leads to Winston. It’s no easy task entering the NFL starter-ready and holding your own in a game that is much more advanced than the college equivalent. As we’ve seen over the past few years, the QBs who are thrown into games immediately don’t always pan out. RGIII, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and while there are exceptions in players like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, there is no guarantee that a high drafted QB will pan out, even if they have won the Heisman.
*In the current NFL climate, many teams don’t have the option of allowing new QBs to immerse themselves before stepping on the field. They need to throw rookies in as soon as they draft them and hope they quickly develop into a strong starter. If you do have the chance that Aaron Rogers was afforded, to sit behind one of the greats like Brett Favre you take it. Even Tom Brady sat for a year and look where he ended up. It is part raw talent and part having the time to learn the NFL before taking snaps.
No, what Winston has going for him is who is drafting him first. The Buccaneers. Rarely are the Bucs considered a cushy landing spot for a QB, (I’m thinking of Josh Freeman, Josh McCown, Mike Glennon or Bruce Gradkowski). But this year the Bucs have a few weapons including Head Coach Lovie Smith and 2014 rookie standout Mike Evans that can help ease the pain of having tied for the worst record in the NFL last season, (2-14).
Winston already has great skill on the field. He has serious arm strength and solid accuracy. He is mobile and big enough to take a hit. At 6’4”, 231 pounds he can delivery his own stop-you-in-your-tracks hit when he needs to, but with youth comes immaturity.
Everyone loves to tear Winston down in the media, but we need to look at his time on the field to truly try to gauge how he will do in the NFL. Johnny Manziel was the big media boy last season and he struggled his rookie season and ended up in rehab at the end of the season. Winston needs to clean up his act, which is where Smith as his coach is truly important. Smith knows his way around a locker room and as he has stated before he has confidence that Winston’s off-field antics won’t be a problem come next season.
It is assumed that Winston will be the next in a long list of rookie QBs stepping onto the field come opening day, but he has the ability to stand apart from the those who have failed in similar situations. Winston and the Buccaneers organization expect to be contenders while Winston is under center and no matter what he will be exciting to watch.