Usually in the Rookie Report Card, I try to cover at least two rookies and always include the top performers from that particular week. However, this week there were very few big games from rookies, so I’ll be featuring just one in this edition. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll grade him in three categories: performance to date, 2015 potential and long term upside.
The series continues with a look at Jameis Winston.
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Jameis Winston, QB TB
Week Eight Stats: 16/29 passing, 177 yards, one passing touchdown, three carries, 24 yards, one rushing touchdown.
There were a lot of things to like about Winston coming out of college. A tough competitor with a flair for the dramatic, he was known as a winner at the quarterback position – getting the “w” in each of his first 26 starts under center for the Seminoles. Still however, there was a lively debate during draft season as to which quarterback, he or fellow rookie Marcus Mariota, should be regarded as the best in the 2015 rookie class.
For the record, I was one of those who fell on the Winston side of that debate.
The best part of his game is his field vision. Most young quarterbacks come out from under center or receive the ball in the shotgun and stare down their primary receiver, but not Winston. He moves quickly from one target to the next and uses his athletic ability to move inside the pocket to find passing lanes.
When he finds his target, he has a rocket arm. Although it takes him a tick longer than most to get the ball out of his hands due to a lengthy delivery where he cocks his arm back further than most NFL quarterbacks, he generates great torque with his lower body and has excellent velocity on his throws, even on deep outs. Best when throwing timing patterns like slants and seam routes, he has a great feel for when to rear back and drive the ball between defenders and when to put some touch on his throws.
Despite being thought of by many as the best passing prospect to enter the NFL since Andrew Luck, Winston certainly had some question marks coming into the league. On top of the alarming amount of off the field transgressions he accumulated while in Tallahassee, there were also some things on the field that gave dynasty owners pause when considering Winston – most notably his consistently making risky throws.
Throughout his time in college, he insisted on playing the quarterback position with a gunslinger’s mentality a la Brett Favre. Throwing far too many passes into double coverage, or tossing the ball up to avoid a sack rather than throwing it away, fantasy owners and NFL scouts alike saw that he needs to protect the ball better to become one of the best at his position.
Through his first handful of games a pro, Winston hadn’t been able to move away from his reputation as a gunslinger. He regularly threw off his back foot which took away from his arm strength and gave defenders opportunities to make plays on his passes. While he was able to get away with a lot of those throws in the SEC, much more talented NFL defenders took advantage of many of his mistake throws.
Although he made some of those same bone-headed throws earlier in the year, he appears to be improving of late.
Since his horrible four-interception performance against the Panthers in week four, Winston hasn’t turned the ball over, and has been relatively efficient. Completing 50 of 77 passes (65%) for 685 yards and four touchdowns over the Buccaneers’ last three games, he’s protected the ball while still making plays down the field. On top of the passing production he’s posted, he’s also accumulated 38 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground over that span.
Although Sunday wasn’t the best statistical game of his young career, he still made plays when he had to against the Falcons.
After fellow rookie Kwon Alexander picked off Matt Ryan and gave the Bucs the ball at mid-field late in the first half with a 6-3 lead, Winston drove Tampa Bay into striking range. On first down from the 20-yard line, he looked off the safety to the left before feathering a beautiful pass over the linebackers and in front of the safeties up the seam to tight end Cameron Brate for a touchdown. It was a truly impressive pass that highlighted what he did so well while in college, while also showing his progression since getting to the NFL. Criticized regularly for slinging it into coverage before looking off safeties while at Florida State, Winston showed with that throw that he’s getting better.
Later in the third quarter and nursing a 13-3 lead, he once again side-stepped a potential rookie mistake.
On third and goal from the four yard line, he took the ball in the shotgun with tailbacks to each side of him. After faking the pitch to the runner on his right, it appeared he was going to shovel the ball to Doug Martin up the middle. When the Falcons got penetration though, he instead kept his poise and chose to tuck the ball and run through a crease for another score. While a simple run for a touchdown by a relatively athletic quarterback may not appear to be that big of a play, many young quarterbacks would have stayed with the script and thrown the shovel pass which would have no doubt been knocked down, or worse; intercepted. Instead, he made a big play for his team.
Ryan then led the Falcons back and forced overtime, but Winston took the Bucs down the field on the first possession and kicked a field goal which turned out be the game winning drive after the Tampa defense stopped Atlanta.
To be completely fair, it should also be mentioned that he failed to convert a fourth and one on a scramble with less than two minutes remaining in the game, which would have sealed the win in regulation. He also nearly threw a back-breaking interception when he airmailed a throw to Brate on another seam route in the middle of the field on the game winning drive in overtime, and slightly underthrew a sideline pass to Mike Evans as well as missing a wide open Adam Humphries in the end zone on the same drive, each of which would have ended the game.
Even with all that said, as a Winston owner who has seen most of his throws as a professional and spent countless hours watching him during the draft process, I’m very encouraged about the progress he’s made since being taken as the top overall selection in the NFL draft. 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 and first few games as a pro.
Although this progress is promising, he has a long way to go before becoming a regular QB1 for dynasty owners. However with that said, he certainly has the potential to be a top-ten quarterback in fantasy, and I expect him to realize that potential but most likely not until at least his second or quite possibly third year in the league. His QB1 upside makes him a valuable backup in single-quarterback leagues and extremely valuable in two-quarterback or super-flex leagues.
One final note for owners of Mike Evans. Though it’s started as a frustrating season, keep the faith. He and Winston haven’t been on the same page (although they’ve shown progress of late), but the quarterback showed throughout his time in college that he’s willing to give his playmakers chances to make big plays. That is bound to happen for him as a pro as well. Once they both gain the chemistry they’ve lacked, the sky should be the limit for the pair of them.
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