2015 NFL Draft: Jameis Winston better than stats suggest vs. Cowboys

Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
CBS Sports

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After Jameis Winston threw the second interception of the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, head coach Jimbo Fisher stopped his Heisman winner on the sideline and started a conversation.

ESPN's cameras caught the two discussing Winston's ill-advised pass that gave the Cowboys life in a game in which Florida State's defense had largely dominated.  

Fisher had reason to worry. The defending champs were tested by a gutty Oklahoma State squad that took advantage of the big stage to unleash all-purpose threat Tyreek Hill and kept the game much closer than expected.  

As the reigning Heisman winner, who threw just 10 interceptions all season ago, Winston will likely hear it from critics for Saturday night's performance.  He shouldn't. Though Winston was far from perfect in this contest, his interceptions look worse on paper than they did in reality. Upon closer inspection, each was thrown into single coverage and required terrific plays by Oklahoma State's defenders to even get their hands on the ball, much less intercept it. Overall, Winston completed 25 of 39 passes for 370 yards and a touchdown (along with a truly Heisman-worthy rushing touchdown) and the two interceptions.

To be clear, Winston did stare down his targets and ultimately made the dangerous decision of throwing a 50-50 ball in a close game. He looked like a young quarterback adjusting to the loss of star receiver Kelvin Benjamin, however, more than a player panicking under pressure.   

Winston generally makes excellent decisions with the ball and did so throughout this game, peppering the Cowboys with well-thrown short and intermediate routes and driving strikes down the alleys. His receivers had trouble gaining consistent separation and the Cowboys -- especially sophomore defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah -- repeatedly broke through the vaunted Florida State offensive line.

He showed good touch on traditional deep balls, hitting a pair of 50+ yarders in the first half. Winston's first big play -- a 62-yarder to Christian Green on the final play of the first quarter -- was thrown with his prototypical deep ball arcing trajectory.

The 51-yarder to Rashad Greene with 9:06 remaining in the second quarter was Winston's best throw of the young season and one that Pro Bowl quarterbacks would be proud to have on tape.

Taking the ball out of shotgun on the right hash, Winston fired a rocket on a deep post route to the opposite side of the field to hit Greene in stride against tight coverage. With the cornerback in a trail position and Greene running away from his quarterback (and toward the sideline), Winston had a tiny window. He hit it perfectly.

Like his interceptions, Winston's passing touchdown -- a 50-yarder to Greene with just 3:58 remaining in the game -- is deceiving. Winston actually threw a short pass slightly behind Greene, who slipped free to race away for the clinching score. 

Winston's surprising interceptions and occasional moments of brilliance were the dominant storyline in Florida State's first defense of their title. It may be one of the few times that the Cowboys' Hill serves as a complementary story.

Hill, a track star who set the school record in the 60 and 200 meter dashes and helped guide Oklahoma State to their first Big XII track championship, proved immediately that his speed translated to the gridiron, racking up a staggering 278 all-purpose yards against the Seminoles.

Seeing action at punt returner, kick returner, running back and wide receiver, Hill showed off a degree of acceleration that caught even the speedy Florida State defenders by surprise. The 5-foot-10, 185 pound junior sports a compact, muscular build and didn't shirk from contact. He showed good vision to set up blocks and exploded when holes were provided.

The Cowboys (and his future NFL team) will have to determine where Hill fits best but athletes of this caliber don't last long in the draft.

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