QB coach: Teams spying on Jameis Winston leading up to draft

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State's pro day was supposed to be one of the final boxes for NFL teams to check off in their ongoing assessment of quarterback Jameis Winston. And now we're starting to find out exactly how deep that evaluation has gone.

Shadowing Winston – in essence, spying on him – apparently has fit into at least one team's equation.

Jameis Winston reacts after completing a pass during pro day. (USA TODAY Sports)
Jameis Winston reacts after completing a pass during pro day. (USA TODAY Sports)

That revelation comes from Winston's quarterback guru, the highly respected George Whitfield Jr., who ran Winston's passing performance during Tuesday's pro day. According to Whitfield, teams have been very aggressive in their vetting process, including watching Winston when he's least likely to be looking.

"They've staged people," Whitfield said. "Yeah, there are teams that have staged people on different flights he had, just to kind of be in the midst – a fly on the wall. No [Jameis wasn't aware of it], but I had a team official tell me that. They were aware of another team that said they wanted to do that."

How could a team know Winston's flight plan?

"When you go to the [NFL scouting] combine, the league has a flight deal, a flight manifest," Whitfield said.

Of course, this wasn't a total surprise for the camp. Winston's attorney, David Cornwell, said he warned the FSU star and former Heisman Trophy winner that NFL eyes – and the glare of the general public – would consistently be upon him.

"I told him to assume everyone is watching him at all times," Cornwell said. "We've told him that. People will always be watching every single thing he does."

Winston's past issues off the field have been well-documented – to the point that FSU coach Jimbo Fisher went on the radio in Tampa late last week and blamed "newspapers" and "major outlets" for what he called "slanting" reporting to fit an agenda. Regardless of Fisher's opinion, the reality is that there has been no other shoe-drop for Winston.

The issues that dogged him heading into the draft process have remained much the same, or even diminished somewhat as personal questions have turned toward draft evaluations. Whitfield says that's because there is nothing more to find – that NFL teams have culled all there is, and have now moved on to focusing on him as a football player.

"[Teams] have had all last year, all this year," Whitfield said. "[They've used] private eyes. I know people have interviewed his elementary school teachers, bus drivers, team bus drivers, people that gave him rides at the Heisman ceremony. Pilots. … Local restaurants. The lady at the Florida State cafeteria. All that stuff. And hey, if that's what they feel they need to do to ensure themselves so come draft day they can get up on the table for him, then that's what you've got to do."

Certainly the football part of the equation will weigh just as heavily, and Winston has appeared to pass through that relatively unscathed. Florida State's pro day was no different. While there was some chatter about Winston's slightly doughy physical appearance at his weigh in, he actually appeared to be slightly thinner than during his passing session at February's combine in Indianapolis.

His passing performance, on the other hand, might have graded out a tad less impressive, but that's also because Winston had a very strong showing in front of teams in February. He ultimately completed 92 of a whopping 102 passes Tuesday – the most attempts of any recorded quarterback pro day. Of those 10 incompletions, at least five (and arguably six) were flat-out drops by a wideout.

Whitfield said it was Winston who wanted the overloaded passing slate, hoping to dispel questions about his conditioning and perceived shoulder strength.

Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith watches Jameis Winston. (USA TODAY Sports)
Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith watches Jameis Winston. (USA TODAY Sports)

"Bryce Petty threw 77 a couple weeks ago, and that was the previous largest number [in a pro day]," Whitfield said. "Cam [Newton], [Andrew] Luck and [Johnny] Manziel were all in the mid-60s. It was something he wanted to do. It's a double workout. And then you tack on 35 of the 102 reps, he is being flushed out or chased or threatened or something. One hundred two is a big deal if you just leave him alone – play it safe, drop and throw, drop and throw, drop and throw."

After the session, Winston had come to a conclusion: "I'm the best player in this draft."

At this stage, it's getting hard to find someone who disagrees. Much like the combine, Winston showed very strong velocity on short and intermediate throws, and plenty of arm strength to complete virtually any deep pass on the route tree. His ball placement was erratic on a few passes and a few of the intermediate and deep passes had some wobble (with one dangerously close to being labeled a duck). But for the balance of the day, he showed the wide array of impressive skill and accuracy that moved him into the draft's No. 1 slot back in February.

What was clearly impressive was his overall stamina. Few left the Florida State grounds without a raised eyebrow over the passing workload and Winston's consistently strong arm right up to the end of the session. When it was over, essentially nobody was questioning his level of fitness, despite Winston being a less-than-sculpted 231 pounds.

"[That workload] maybe puts a little water on that," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, whose franchise owns the first overall pick in the NFL draft. "Puts that fire out. He showed his arm strength from throw one to throw 100-and-whatever-it-was. … I think he was at the same weight. He looked to me a little better than at the combine."

Licht said he arrived looking to see some consistency in Winston's accuracy, leadership and competitive drive. And he left the workout with one word: "Outstanding."

"Today was just part of confirming what you see on video," added Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian. "He's done a great job the last two seasons and has made all the throws on video."

So what's next?

Tampa Bay will work out Winston privately next week. If the Bucs come to the conclusion he's their guy, contract talks will likely begin the week of the draft. Until then, Winston will continue living the new reality. The one where the eyes on the practice field follow him everywhere. Maybe even on that next flight.

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