There is no need to panic about Jameis Winston yet. No, the No.1 pick is not playing better than the No.2 pick Marcus Mariota, but he is playing about as well as should have been expected of him. Winston playing with high variance is normal. Young Winston is very similar to quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, where there is a lot of up and down play, but the highs are absolutely incredible while the lows are pitiful. This style of play only works if the player’s highs outweigh the lows. For Winston, they do.
Winston is a brilliant quarterback and any refutation to that take is null. In just his second regular season game, Winston was calling shifts in the run game that should have lead to huge gains. That sort of maturity should come much later in a passer’s career. Winston is well ahead of where he should be in terms of deciphering and exposing a defense. Most quarterbacks Winston’s age can not hold safeties with their eyes or catch a linebacker out of position because he is one step too wide in his alignment, but because Winston is as savvy as he is, he does this consistently.
Calculated risks are a specialty of Winston’s. If he sees a desirable match up, such as a strong, aggressive receiver facing single coverage, he tends to bite on it. Take this play versus the Saints for example.
Wide receiver Mike Evans is lined up to the bottom of the screen facing what looks to be Cover 6 disguised as Cover 1. Winston sees the lone safety lined up deep and decides to take advantage of the area that the safety is forced to cover. By staring at the receivers near the left hash, the safety has to stay put to seal off the seam. Evans now has single coverage near the boundary and Winston drops in a beautiful pass by throwing him open toward the boundary. The play was not ruled a catch because Evans failed to get two feet in despite plenty of room to do so, but that does not take away from Winston’s display.
Though, as has been a theme throughout Winston’s career, the young Buccaneer struggles more with what he sees than what he doesn’t see. Winston leaves no stone un-turned before the snap, but he likes to lock onto targets he believe will be open. While this works on most plays, sometimes the defense disguises something very well and takes away the seemingly open throw. Winston fails to look away in these situations. He is a stubborn passer, one who refuses to accept that he can not make the throw he said he was going to make. This has lead Winston to a fair share of regrettable throws.
Five games into the 2015 season, Winston has surrendered seven interceptions, four of which came in a single game versus the Panthers. The young Buc needs to show that he can play with control and keep possession of the ball well. Though New Orleans and Jacksonville failed to intercept Winston, those two defenses were the two defenses that Winston threw at the least (21 and 19 attempts, respectively). Winston has yet to have a game of more than 25 attempts without throwing an interception. The sample size is very small right now, sure, but it would be nice to see Winston prove early on that he can take care of the football for extended periods of time. With the run game seeming to gel together and Winston’s chemistry with his receivers is improving, Winston should be able to post a highly efficient, zero turnover game soon.
Speaking of chemistry, the Winston to Evans connection has come together to be much smoother than it was at the start of the season. Their route communication and deep pass connection has gotten much better, forcing defenses to respect it further and open up some room for rushing lanes. Below is a display of the fluidity the two have together on a back shoulder fade.
Winston’s connection with Vincent Jackson, however, is more like Winston treating him like a safety valve. No matter if Winston is stuck in the pocket and must throw into double coverage or is on the move and needs to get the ball out somewhere, Jackson seems to be ready to save the play. Some of the explosive plays between the two truly have been outstanding throws from Winston, but Jackson himself has made a handful of strong plays as well.
These are only a fraction of the impressive plays that Winston and Jackson have made together. Winston proved that he can shine when the chips are down on a given play and deliver the ball to a veteran play maker. Though, it is not the on-the-fly traits that are to be worried about with Winston, it is some of his in-the-pocket traits.
No, the issue is not that Winston has a fear of rushers in the pocket. In fact, he is very good at handling rushers and keeping himself clean. The issue is the fashion in which he moves his feet. Sure, Winston knows where his second or third read is on a play, but his feet do not follow his progressions well at all.
Gross. He is all over the place. Winston’s scrambled movement made him plant his front foot far too wide of his target, altering the way his hips and torso rotate. Due to his foot alignment, Winston’s rotation is much stiffer and he can not control his weight as well, and that is what lead to the ball landing nowhere near the intended receiver. There have been instances where Winston’s timing and resetting looks fine, but he is often too preoccupied on moving his upper body when adjusting through his progressions. Being that he is a rookie and has shown brilliance in a number of other areas, I would not force him synchronize all of these things well just yet. It took him a year of play to tune up his mechanics in college, he may very well need that development year in the NFL as well.
Winston’s highs are unbelievable and his lows are near unbearable. Ideally, Winston will learn to limit how often he hits his low sooner rather than later, but it would be expected to see Winston play out of control a bit for at least his rookie season. Winston will learn what he is and is not capable of doing, then, in theory, we will see less of Winston’s low points. As a young quarterback, Winston’s play at his best is well worth his play at his worst. If there is any adjustment Winston will make later this season, it will be holding back from blatantly terrible throws. Winston will always be high variance, though, to some extent. If nothing else, Winston’s variance will be entertaining for the remainder of the year.
GIF Gallery – Jameis Winston (1 of 4)