After months of intensive research, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the first overall draft pick on Jameis Winston, who is hoping to “gain everyone’s trust” despite his checkered past.
The Bucs drafted Winston to be their long-awaited franchise quarterback, an indication that they don’t believe a series of off-field incidents at Florida State will be a precursor for future behavior.
“I’ve got to work,” Winston said Thursday night. “Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have heard. It’s about your actions. Whatever is in the past is in the past. I look forward to gaining everyone’s trust.”
“If he wasn’t a good guy, we wouldn’t have used the first pick on him,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht added.
Winston was accused of sexual assault during his freshman season at Florida State but never was charged. The Bucs investigated that and other off-field incidents, and apparently came away with the conclusion that Winston won’t have any more trouble.
Winston addressed the allegations Thursday night, saying he is “thankful” that the Buccaneers believe in him.
“I have been cleared six times,” he said. “I’ve been cleared six times on that situation. So I took that situation so seriously. But, at the end of the day, I’ve got to keep moving forward. That’s why I’m so thankful right now. I continue to thank the Glazers, continue to thank Mr. Licht and continue to thank coach Smith for believing in me.”
Licht and coach Lovie Smith said repeatedly over the past two months that they were comfortable with the prospect of taking Winston, who also generated negative headlines when he was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a supermarket and later suspended for one game last season after climbing onto a table in the Florida State student union and shouting an obscenity.
“When we were doing the exhaustive process that we went through, not only were we comfortable with him and his character, we were confident with his character,” Licht said. “We think that his character that he brings to the locker room and the building is a strength. That’s one of the things that makes him a great player.”
The Glazer family, which owns the team, also was on record for weeks as being comfortable with the organization’s vetting process, which included Winston’s daylong visit to One Buccaneer Place in early March.
“I know a lot of things have been said about him,” Smith said. “He’s made some mistakes that young people make from time to time when they’re young. I definitely don’t think that I’ve seen a pattern.
“Once you get to know him, I just really believe in him. I trust my instincts on people to know who we’re getting.”
Winston said he hopes to continue growing as a person in his new community.
“I really would want the city of Tampa to help build me and to help me become a better young man and to become someone they would want in their community,” he said.
On the field, there are few questions about Winston, who led Florida State to the national championship during his Heisman Trophy-winning freshman season in 2013. The 6-foot-3, 231-pound Winston passed for 3,907 yards and 25 touchdowns with 18 interceptions last season, completing a collegiate career in which he went 26-1 as a starter for the Seminoles.
“He’s a champion. He’s a leader. He’s a winner,” Licht said. “He’s got tremendous football character and tremendous intelligence and work ethic. His work ethic was one thing that really put him over the top for us, combined with his leadership and his ‘it’ factor, as well as his ability on the field.”
Winston was not in Chicago for the draft; instead, he was in his hometown of Bessemer, Alabama with family and friends. Winston did tweet after the Bucs made the pick.