Draft Will Be True Test of ‘New NFL’

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s early in the process for teams to determine whom they want to take in the 2015 NFL Draft, but it appears the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are more comfortable than once thought with one top prospect.

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Head coach Lovie Smith spoke to reporters on Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine and indicated the team is comfortable making quarterback Jameis Winston the face of the franchise, despite the prospect’s well-documented history of off-the-field issues.

“With the information we have right now, we haven’t taken him off of our list right now,” Smith said.

Smith said the Bucs have not yet met with Winston, but intend to meet with him at the combine, as will most other clubs.

The quarterback-needy club has been linked to Winston since he applied for early entry into the draft. The Heisman Trophy winner has done plenty on the field to warrant consideration for the No. 1 overall pick, but scouts and analysts have significant concerns over a series of off-the-field incidents during his time with Florida State.

Winston was investigated for an alleged sexual assault but did not face criminal charges and was cleared in a Florida State code of conduct hearing stemming from the December 2012 incident.

“As far as how we look at it, if a player has been accused of something, and again, they’ve been exonerated of it, you have to go with it,” Smith said. “That’s what our justice system is all about. That’s how we’ll go forward.”

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday during NFL Network’s coverage of the combine that Smith and Bucs GM Jason Licht have done “more than their share” of research into Winston’s history of off-field incidents.

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