Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke was considered the best college football player last season and now is prepared to join his second professional sports organization since leaving high school more than 11 years ago. However, to National Football League teams, the 2000 HEISMAN TROPHY recipient was only the 106th best prospect available in the recent draft. His stock had fluctuated greatly since the end of the regualr college season and at one point was thought of as a high second-round pick. But then came his worst performance in more than two years in the season's biggest contest, the Orange Bowl. Then he was forced to miss the Senior Bowl because of a sore foot which had bothered him over the final three months of his final season. "He really needed the Orange Bowl," said a top draft expert, who added that the game would have been a chance to show that his stats weren't all a product of playing, "at Florida State with a quarterback-friendly offense and a great supporting cast."
It is believed that as many as 16 members of the senior class at FSU could be drafted or signed. The sprained foot limited Weinke's mobility, which was suspect to start with. "I played nine games with two sprained ligaments in my foot," Weinke explained. "I feel I can move as I need to in order to be successful at the next level." After being passed over in the first three rounds, Weinke finally heard his name called out on the second day, when he was chosen by the Carolina Panthers.He immediately became the oldest quarterback on the Panther's roster, as he will turn 29 during training camp, joining Jeff Lewis (28), Dameyune Craig (27), and Mark Lyttle (25).
"I figured that would be the case with a lot of different teams," Weinke said. "I didn't take the same road a lot of other players did." Instead, he played professional baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, where he was originally drafted in the second round of the 1990 draft, for six seasons, batting for a .248 average with decent power, before changing direction and enrolling at FSU four years ago. His advanced age and a lack of foot speed caused his NFL stock to dip. "In reality, if I was the typical senior at age 21 with what I've accomplished, I would have been a higher pick," said Weinke, who had led FSU to a 32-3 record as a starter in three seasons and the 1999 national championship. "Yeah, sometimes I daydream about what would have happened if I stayed in school originally, but I don't regret a thing," he stated. Weinke could get the opportunity to play for Carolina quickly. They released Steve Beuerlein after last season and now Lewis will get first crack at the starting job, but he's never thrown a touchdown pass in 12 career games spanning four seasons. Craig and Lyttle have even less experience. Although Weinke's age often has been cast as a negative as it relates to his pro football future, he sees it differently. "I'm as prepared as any quarterback in this draft," Weinke stated. "Because of my age and maturity, my learning curve is a little smaller than a 20- or 21-year-old."
Physically, he said he's no more worse off than the average college senior because of the six years he spent playing baseball. "I'm a 28-year-old guy, turning 29, in a 22- or 23-year-old body," Weinke related. Weinke, who reportedly spent the first day of the draft playing golf in Tallahassee and ignoring the draft, said he wasn't disappointed at being picked in the fourth round. "I really didn't know," he said. "I heard everything from the second to the fifth. What I wanted was a place I would fit in."