With the 2015 NFL Draft nearly one month away, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to be, at least, leaning in one direction on what they want to do with the No. 1 overall pick. Earlier today, head coach Lovie Smith spoke with the media at the NFL owners meeting and as expected, the master of the smokescreen kept things fairly down the middle when discussing Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.
“I think you have to keep your options open though,” Lovie said, echoing the comments he made in his interview with the NFL Network‘s Steve Wyche. But then, for a few brief moments, the Buccaneers head coach let in a few peaks of sunlight, cluing us into what he is thinking about doing with the top pick.
After the Tampa Bay Times‘ Rick Stroud asked Smith if it would be an “erroneous assumption” to think the Buccaneers would take Winston over Mariota, he responded:
"“No, I wouldn’t say it’s an erroneous assumption,” Smith said. “I would say when people make that assumption, we haven’t had the pro workout (for Winston) yet. But we’ve done a lot of research, have watched a lot of video and had both of them in and talked with them individually and had them on the board. But the process, the game isn’t over yet. I think you can have a leader, but you have to let the game play out and we’re doing that.“We’re excited about this final stage almost to decide exactly which direction to go.”"
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Aside from that pretty glaring confession, Lovie did drop other subtle hints about Tampa Bay preferring Winston. When asked about Mariota, Smith would say things, like “He’ll have a lot of success in the league” and “We’ve done a lot of research on him and he’s going to be a good player in the league.” However, while speaking about Jameis and improving his conditioning, Lovie said, “That’s one part, you say what can improve? Us getting him on proper nutrition. Lifting. Getting him in the weight room.” That specific quote by Smith suggests that he’s already talking about him as if he is going to be on the roster, further supporting the belief that Lovie is leaning towards taking the former Seminoles quarterback.
Ever since the Combine, it appeared that Lovie favored Winston, but it was still very early in the process. The Buccaneers’ coaching staff needed to see how both guys performed at the Combine, schedule each person for a visit to One Buc Place, have ownership sign off on their preference, get an up-close look at them with a private workout, etc. Now that we have cleared nearly all those hurdles, it looks like Smith’s opinion hasn’t changed and why should it? Winston has thrown well, impressed in interviews and has the Glazers’ approval. Barring a serious setback between now and April 30, expect to hear Winston’s name called by commissioner Roger Goodell with the No. 1 pick.