CHICAGO — Jameis Winston, the star quarterback from Florida State who played under a swirl of controversy, was chosen first over all in the N.F.L. draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday.
Winston led the Seminoles to a national championship during the 2013 season and was considered, along with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, to have the best chance of being chosen first.
Success has come quickly for Winston, the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy, who was also drafted by the Texas Rangers. But he has been dogged by charges that he raped a former Florida State student, who has since filed a civil suit against him.
Winston’s off-field problems proved to be a source of consternation for the N.F.L., which has tried to clean up its image as a league willing to tolerate violence and lawbreaking off the field. Several weeks ago, Winston met Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his future in the league.
“It’s so surreal; it feels like the championship game in 2013,” Winston said in a brief interview on NFL Network.
Winston edged out Mariota, who played a more wide-open style of football at Oregon. Tampa Bay, which finished 2-14 last season, had been looking for a quarterback to rejuvenate its franchise. Winston, who played just a few hours away in Tallahassee, will become the face of the team.
Mariota did not have to wait long, though. He was chosen by the Tennessee Titans, who had the second pick in the draft. In recent weeks, speculation had swirled that the Titans would trade their pick to a team presumably eager to acquire the Hawaii-born Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2014.
Greeted by a lusty round of boos each time he came on stage at the Auditorium Theater, Goodell announced that Dante Fowler Jr., an outside linebacker from Florida, had been chosen third by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Because Winston and Mariota were not in Chicago, Fowler was the first player to walk across the stage to hug Goodell.
“For me to be part of this and for me to be the first defensive player on that stage, I’ve dreamed about it since I was a kid,” Fowler said.
Outside the Auditorium Theater, the draft had a decidedly Chicago feel to it, as the “El” trains rumbled around the Loop. Thousands of fans gathered, even as temperatures dipped into the 40s, lining up four and five deep in front of the theater as the prospects arrived.
Across Michigan Avenue in Grant Park, Draft Town — part museum and part activity fair — offered its own attractions. Some clustered at the makeshift TV studios for ESPN and NFL Network, chanting, “Let’s go, Bears.”