PHOENIX - It's no secret the Buccaneers are leaning - heavily - toward taking Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston over Oregon's Marcus Mariota with the first pick in next month's NFL draft. Bucs coach Lovie Smith confirmed the speculation on Wednesday but warned that things could change in the days and weeks leading up to the April 30 draft.
When asked if it would be an "erroneous assumption" to think the Bucs would choose Winston over Mariota - or any other player - Smith replied, "No, I wouldn't say it's an erroneous assumption. 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."
Smith did say the Bucs are likely to take a quarterback at No. 1 overall and already have spent extensive time with Winston and Mariota.
"Odds are, we're going to go a certain direction," he said. "But we don't have to make this decision and you wait until you have to. We would feel very comfortable, though, picking one of the [quarterbacks]."
Both quarterbacks have visited with the team.
"We realize how important that position is and very seldom do you get a chance to have your pick of the litter like that," Smith said of Tampa having the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since 1987 when they selected Vinny Testaverde out of Miami.
Smith said Winston is highly regarded in every area, despite his involvement in several off-field issues while at Florida State. They includes being investigated - but not charged - in connection to an alleged rape during his freshmen year, and last year stealing crab legs from a local supermarket and shouting obscenities at the school's student union.
"Everything checks out on him, too ... the guy can complete every throw," Smith said. "A lot has been said about his football intelligence. He's just a leader."
If there's one area where Winston needs work, Smith said, it's with his conditioning.
"That's one part, you say 'What can improve?' Us getting him on proper nutrition. Lifting. Getting him in the weight room," Smith said. "When I say he's an immature athlete, he hasn't had a chance to really develop his body. You say, 'Jameis, what are you least proud of?' He'll say, 'The 40-yard dash. I was embarrassed.'"
Winston ran a 4.97 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, while Mariota ran a 4.54.