A few people in the past month have asked me if I foresaw what Jameis Winston did as a redshirt freshman for Florida State, becoming the second consecutive first-year starting quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. I’m pleased that I get to answer in the affirmative.
We did see it coming at Insider, beginning with word out of FSU’s spring camp that Winston had a prodigious arm and projected to have a mind to accompany it. He clearly followed that up throughout the summer and fall. Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota deserve some credit, because it trained us to think that first-year QBs could become some of the biggest stars in the game. It’s why Max Browne at USC is one to watch in 2014.
My only regret is that I had Winston No. 3 on my breakout players list in August and not No. 1, as my gut urged me. I didn’t put him atop the list because, simply, I had not seen him play. Michigan’s Devin Gardner seemed the safer choice, because he had established himself to some degree.
The lesson: Go with your gut. That first instinct doesn’t lead you wrong, until it does.
Looking back at my ranking of the top 50 breakout players, there were some decided hits, a few misses and a few players who merited an inclusion in hindsight. Here’s where they stack up and what to expect from them in the future, whether it’s another year in college or the NFL.
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State Seminoles
Preseason breakout player rank: No. 3
2013 stats: 68 percent completion rate, 38 passing TDs, 10 INTs; 193 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs
After seeing his prodigious debut against Pitt, it became obvious that Winston was something special, just as coaches and those close to the program had suggested to me throughout the year. When I visited campus in August, I received a lot of knowing looks from FSU coaches and the team’s support staff when I inquired about Winston. I soon understood what they knew.
Winston remained consistently special throughout the season. His decision-making ability and overall accuracy were not the norm for a 19-year-old first-year starter, and that’s why he won the Heisman with ease.
Manziel was outstanding in his follow-up season, getting back to the ceremony as a finalist; Winston will get a shot at one-upping him. But will his coaching staff be present, or in Austin?