When the Cardinals line up Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will be facing a player that could be the next star quarterback in the NFL.
Jameis Winston was the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2015, and had a terrific rookie season despite being on a poor team. Winston was named rookie of the year, and went to the Pro Bowl, after passing for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. Winston had a dubious start to his first campaign, as his initial pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. His first game of 2016 was entirely different. Last week against Atlanta, Winston threw four touchdown passes, and had a quarterback rating of 122.6.
As you probably recall, Winston had a college career filled with controversy, which left several teams hesitant about
whether to select him high in the draft. However, his ability to play quarterback and win games was never in doubt, which led the Bucs to take him No. 1.
Winston went 26-1 as a starter at Florida State, and won both a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. The numbers and accolades collected by Winston have as much to do with his football intelligence as his physical tools. Tom Luginbill, ESPN's National Recruiting Director (and part of my ESPN/ABC college football broadcast team), rated Winston as the top quarterback in the 2012 high school class. Luginbill says Winston was a late bloomer physically, but always had an incredible feel for the mental side of the game.
Winston was 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds as a senior in high school and now weighs 230 pounds. As he got bigger and stronger, his arm got bigger and stronger. At Florida State under Jimbo Fisher, Winston knew and ran the entire offense as a redshirt freshman. He understood and operated all of the checks and protections. In an age where college quarterbacks often look to the sideline to get calls, checks, etc. from the coaches, Winston was given full autonomy.
He was so superior to all of his peers as a true freshman, the Florida State coaches thought about pulling his redshirt for the bowl game, and benching starter E.J. Manuel, a future first-round draft pick. It was a reflection of how dominant Winston was in practice from the end of the regular season leading up to the bowl game.
During one of our ESPN broadcasts in Florida State's 2013 national championship season, Luginbill had a fascinating story about Winston. Winston was a good basketball player growing up, and was able dunk at a young age. While dunking as an 8th grader, he got one of the fingers on his right hand caught between the rim and the netting. He ended up pulling the entire rim down, and severely dislocating the knuckle.
It was never properly put back in, leaving that finger on his throwing hand noticeably mangled. In fact, it impacts his ability to grip the football. When you watch the ball in the air, rarely will you see a complete spiral. When he gets the ball from center, he will spin it in his hand to get his fingers in the right spot. This helps him compensate for the one bad finger and get the best possible grip. This is, of course, something he's dealt with for several years and overcome.
Winston has succeeded at every level, and has his sights set on a 2-0 start. The Cardinals stand in his way, hoping to stop the rising star on his ascent, and get their first win of the season.