John McMullen - NFL Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Jameis Winston is hardly a can't-miss prospect, but comparing the former Florida State star to this generation's ultimate draft bust is as lazy as the work ethic that essentially doomed JaMarcus Russell.
"With Jameis Winston, I see JaMarcus Russell," a unnamed, longtime NFL personnel executive told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn. "Isn't it interesting?"
The similarities the executive alluded to were as thin as his thesis.
Russell had a penchant for throwing picks and Winston certainly threw too many interceptions at FSU, especially last season. Meanwhile, Winston has been photographed looking out of shape at times, admittedly a concern and something that certainly plagued Russell, the No. 1 overall selection in 2007. Finally, the notion that both players learned at the feet of Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher is somehow supposed to be relevant.
And I'll add both Russell and Winston are from Alabama because that meaningless piece of trivia is probably more germane when comparing the two.
"Lack of focus by JaMarcus is what I see in Winston," the personnel man continued, according to McGinn. "They're physically talented, but during the course of a game, they kind of lose their focus and just put the ball up for grabs. I see the body. I see the lack of focus."
And then there's Fisher, who was the man in Tallahassee during Winston's three-year stay and was first quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator during Russell's four-year sojourn at Louisiana State.
"I see the same coach and system," the exec opined. "Only Winston's not as good an athlete and his arm isn't as strong as JaMarcus."
Russell was a physical freak and his triangle numbers (size, speed and strength) were the siren's song that wooed NFL scouts. He was hardly a consistent performer in Baton Rouge, though, and his stock was like a junk bond, exploding after his far more talented LSU team dominated an overmatched Notre Dame club in the Sugar Bowl after the 2006 season.
It's not that Russell was a bad player in college. In fact, he was very good, but he was competing for honors like All-SEC, not the Heisman Trophy.
Conversely Winston was at the top of the college football universe for two seasons and is natural quarterback with an innate pocket presence. The physical gifts are there with him as well, but he's also an anticipatory thrower, understands how to recognize defenses pre-snap and his default settings as a signal caller point toward success, namely the ability to keep his eyes downfield when things are breaking down.
Yet, despite those significant differences on film, the unnamed executive pounded the square peg into the round hole of what is at its core, a tortured analogy.
Admittedly Fisher's history when projecting quarterbacks to the next level is spotty. Besides Russell and Winston, Fisher mentored Rohan Davey, a fourth- round selection in 2002, along with Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel, both first-round picks.
Here's the thing, though. Fourth-round picks aren't supposed to succeed at the QB position in this league and the fact that Ponder and Manuel were both chosen in the first round is more of a black mark to the teams that drafted them because most observers had them rated as second-round talents. Russell himself was a lesser-regarded prospect until taking off late in his college career.
Winston, on the other hand, is the only Fisher student who has always been at the top of the food chain despite acting like an idiot at times off the field because his strengths as a player demand it.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room, Winston's shaky track record as a human being.
There are no analytics or burgeoning form of sports science that can predict a prospect's moral compass. One general manager explained it to me when talking about a different player with some previous off-the-field issues: "There is a difference between being immature and being a bad guy. Our job is to figure out what's really behind the problem."
Tampa Bay has a right to be very concerned about Winston's behavior and pointing that out is fair. Masking that criticism by juxtaposing his style with a player that had no feel for the position is not.
"We're looking at another guy (Winston) that's a product of the system and has tremendous athletes around him," a second personnel man told the Milwaukee paper. "Oh, my goodness.
"Is this guy really going to be the first pick of the draft? You'd be drafting a quarterback that can't run, has off-field problems, has no power in his legs and makes bad decisions on the field.
"Somebody's going to make a horrible mistake."
Perhaps, but the game of football itself won't define Jameis Winston's ultimate legacy in this sport, his behavior will.
And that's the only real link between he and Russell. Dressing up in any other way is as disingenuous as it gets.