Jameis Winston and Plugging In First-Year Quarterbacks

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The latest installment in the seemingly endless circus of NFL draft coverage is actually rather interesting. David Cornwell, the attorney for former Florida State quarterback and likely No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, said the following at a symposium Friday:

“Winston is ready to be a player on the field, but he’s not ready to be an NFL player off the field…The league will chew you up and spit you out and keep going”

Given Cornwell specifically cited Jameis Winston, his assessment is interpreted in a very exact way. There are certain connotations that follow Jameis Winston everywhere: his citation for stealing crab legs from a Publix, his one-game suspension for shouting profanity on campus and, obviously, the investigation into rape allegations levied against him in Dec. 2012.

However, Cornwell’s perspective can be fairly applied to most quarterbacks at either the college for professional levels. Rare is the instance in which a first-year player, whether it be NFL rookie or college freshman, can take over a team’s offense without a season to learn the playbook, grow accustomed to practices and develop rapport within the roster.

Neither Jameis Winston nor Marcus Mariota — the two most coveted quarterback prospects in this year’s NFL draft — played as true freshman. In fact, neither was a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback for his respective team until the week prior to the season opener of their respective redshirt freshman seasons.

Both were immediately electric — Winston so much so, that he became the 2013 campaign’s Heisman front-runner just a few weeks into his college career.

Certainly time to get comfortable with becoming a team’s offensive leader is a positive. However, the instant gratification fan bases demand and team franchises feel pressure to satisfy in the NFL doesn’t allow time to develop — especially not quarterbacks.

NFL.com starts selling replica jerseys the moment players are drafted, and who the hell wants to don the number of a bench jockey? This isn’t my logic, mind you, but the attitude of the NFL seems to have gone this way more in the last half-decade than ever before.

And, as it so often does, NFL attitude is creeping into the college game.

One of the quarterbacks who will be drafted after Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston next month is UCLA product Brett Hundley. Hundley arrived in Westwood amid much fanfare, and in coach Rick Neuheisel’s last year in the program. As the 2011 campaign went off the rails, Neuheisel might have placated his fan base by throwing Hundley into the lineup prematurely.

Neuheisel didn’t, which benefited both Brett Hundley and UCLA in the bigger picture, even if it cost Neuheisel his job. In Oct. 2011, he told Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times he learned the impact playing a quarterback prematurely can have when he did so with Richard Brehaut.

It’s a selfless choice that could be less commonplace in the win-at-all costs culture of football’s top levels.

Neuheisel’s successor, Jim Mora, faces similar pressure in 2015. The Bruins recently opened spring camp with 5-star prospect Josh Rosen vying for Hundley’s old job. His competitors include Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard, two quarterbacks with years spent in the program, learning the playbook and establishing chemistry with other players.

The NFL is a different beast in that rookies are typically between 21 and 23 years old, not 18 or 19. They’ve bulked up in collegiate weight programs and played against high-level competition for a few seasons. Still, there are transitions that players must make to thrive.

Many are on the field, what with the speed of NFL defenders, and the differences in rules and style. Some are learning to be a professional adult, not a college kid, as is the case with Jameis Winston. And it’s not a Jameis Winston-exclusive challenge.