Throughout the season, the Rookie Report Card has covered some of the biggest rookies and not only looked at their performance to date – but also their long term upside. Now that the regular season has wrapped up and fantasy owners are looking towards the future, we have an opportunity to take one last look at the 2014 season and assess the rookies – A final report card if you will.
We covered 25 rookies throughout the season, including two quarterbacks. Let’s put a bow on the season by taking one more look at those signal callers’ first shot under center on Sundays. As well as a quick glimpse into their futures.
Jameis Winston, QB TB
Season Stats: 312/535 (58.3%) passing, 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 54carries, 213 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns
When I wrote the Rookie Report Card on Winston back in week eight, I was impressed at the growth he had shown since his days as a Seminole. After all, while in college Winston played quarterback a lot like Brett Favre did – as a gunslinger willing to make any throw at any time. He consistently threw off his back foot, would make throws into double coverage far too often and insisted on throwing the ball up for grabs when under pressure rather than throwing it away.
Many of those things continued to happen early in his rookie season. Over his first four games as a professional, he completed just 54 percent of his throws and although he was averaging 241 passing yards per game, he threw more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (7) and was making far too many head scratching decisions with the football.
Starting in week five, things started to click for Winston. We started to see far more of the positives that he showed us while in Tallahassee. For instance, the game seemed to be slowing down a bit for him. Instead of locking on his primary receiver and making ill-advised throws into coverage, he started going through his progressions. When he couldn’t find an open receiver, he’d scramble to buy time or simply tuck the ball to get positive yardage.
Winston’s most impressive game (at least statistically) came in week 11 against the Eagles. He completed 65 percent of his passes and threw five touchdowns that day and showed why dynasty owners are so excited about his massive upside. His incredible day included a gorgeous fade for a touchdown to Mike Evans from the four yard line that was placed perfectly where only Evans could catch it, and an absolute bullet to Vincent Jackson on a slant route between a cornerback and a safety for a 13-yard score that showed his rocket arm and the pinpoint precision he’s capable of.
Despite finishing the season as a high end QB2 in most scoring systems, Winston’s rookie season was very up and down from a fantasy perspective. He had six multi-touchdown pass games but that five TD performance against Philly is the only one where he had more than two. What helped his fantasy production though, was that he also ran for six touchdowns.
Going into his second season, dynasty owners should be ecstatic about Winston’s upside for good reason but should keep in mind he still has a few big hurdles to jump before becoming a top fantasy quarterback. First, he’s going to have to be far more consistent to be relied upon as he finished as a QB1 just three times in 16 games. Second, it’s highly unlikely he’ll continue producing on the ground at the level he did as a rookie so he’ll most likely have to do most of his damage as a passer going forward which will require him to continue to improve from the pocket. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he’ll have to navigate a coaching change and depending on who is brought in, potentially learn an entirely new offense which is never a positive for a young signal caller.
Although this may sound like a guy raining on the parade of a strong rookie season, it really isn’t. It’s simply an effort to keep his positive rookie season in perspective.
When I covered Winston back in early November, I concluded that dynasty owners should be, “very encouraged about the progress he’s made” and added that, “although he certainly isn’t perfect and has made some head scratching mistakes, he’s cutting down on the over-aggressive errors that plagued him throughout his college career.”
This still holds true today and if Winston continues his growth and the new coaching staff doesn’t create a set back by forcing him to learn a completely new offense, he should have low end QB1 upside as a sophomore and has the potential to one day be mentioned among the best fantasy quarterbacks in the game. He’s already fifth on my dynasty quarterback ranks behind only Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, and should be seen as one of the top young fantasy assets in the game.
Marcus Mariota, QB TEN
Season Stats: 230/371 (62.0%) passing, 2,818 yards, 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 34carries, 252 rushing yards, two touchdowns
The Rookie Report Card kicked off in week one by highlighting Mariota after he torched the Buccaneers for four touchdowns passes. In that article, I mentioned that I wasn’t convinced that Mariota possessed the skills to develop into a great NFL quarterback and consistent fantasy contributor for the following reasons…
“Coming out of Oregon, I saw him as a bit of a system passer who benefited greatly from an incredible amount of talent around him as well as a simple passing offense that didn’t require him to read the defense very much or go through many progressions. Furthermore, being the unbelievable athlete he is he often relied on his legs to get himself out of trouble when the pocket broke down or his first and second receiving options weren’t open which made me question if he could stand in the pocket consistently and deliver the ball to open targets. Finally, playing nearly exclusively out of the shotgun I also questioned whether he’d be able to transition to a more traditional pro offense.”
After watching Mariota throughout the preseason as well as his 12 starts, it’s safe to say that many of my concerns have been tempered greatly.
Mariota’s transition to a professional offense went incredibly smoothly. Throughout his rookie season he proved to be a capable quarterback from under center, standing tall in the pocket and delivering the ball with great timing. Although he was dynamic as a runner on many occasions, he didn’t depend on his legs too much and chose to run only when necessary. Most importantly, he proved to be effective despite the lack of talent around him in Tennessee and could even be credited with elevated the play of those around him – which is the sign of a truly great quarterback.
Mariota had many highlights in 2015. He had four games where he threw at least three touchdowns, reached 250 passing yards five times and even had a 100-yard rushing game. He was unstoppable at times, both with his arm and his legs, and was especially impressive from the pocket which was a big question mark for him coming out of college.
At this point, the sky is the limit for Mariota. Much like Winston, he must prove that he can continue to grow despite a coaching change– as well as put up numbers despite a lack of talent around him. But with the combination of improving skills in the pocket as well as his improvisation expertise while scrambling, he has QB1 potential and should be considered a top-six asset at the position to dynasty owners.
Although I still prefer Winston to Mariota by a very slight margin (as I did before they were drafted), it’s incredibly close and either would be great signal callers to build a dynasty team around.
Check back next week as I’ll give final grades to most of the rookie running backs with the wide receivers and tight ends coming later in the NFL playoffs.
- Rookie Report Card: Kyle Pitts and Chuba Hubbard - October 14, 2021
- Rookie Report Card: Kenneth Gainwell and Kadarius Toney - October 7, 2021
- Rookie Report Card: Davis Mills and Tommy Tremble - September 30, 2021