Checking Up On Jameis Winston (Part 2 of 4)

Jameis Winston is a blessing to the NFL. 

Man. Listen. Us football fanatics get a handful of players whose play encapsulates everything that makes this sport what it is. The ups and the downs, the brilliant decisions and mind-numbing mistakes, the exciting scrambles and pitiful sacks- all complimented by raw emotion and a fiery, even dangerous, will to win. Eight games through is NFL campaign, Jameis Winston appears to be one of those rare specimen.

Before the “Well, Matt Stafford is exciting too” crowd starts yelling, allow me to clear the air: Winston is not a top level quarterback… yet. To expect him to be elite, or any semblance of it, at this age would be absurd. And yet, albeit juxtaposed by some poor decisions early on, Winston’s tape is littered with throws that maybe a handful of other quarterbacks regularly complete or are even asked to make. It is amazing to see from anyone, let alone from a player who is not yet 22 years old.

The last check up on Winston left a looming feeling of uncertainty. The turnover-prone passer he was labeled to be at Florida State was let out of his timeout corner a bit more than he should have, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. The past four weeks, though, have been euphoric to see from a rookie quarterback. Of course, the turnaround from the first quarter of Jameis’ games to the second quarter of games has been centered around protecting the ball.

After a few “mixed bag” games and whatever the hell his four interception performance versus the Carolina Panthers was, Winston snapped into a heightened sense of pre-snap awareness and summoned an infallible pocket presence. While his brains and poise had always been on display during some parts of games, the past four games have surfaced the best parts of Winston. For Winston, a gunslinger through and through, being able to minimize turnovers and poor calculations has made all the difference.

Winston is not playing any less aggressive, though. He is still firing shots down the field and stressing the defenses. The difference now is that he is already understanding what he is and is not capable of at the NFL level.

JameisQ2-2015-3

Take this throw. This throw has to be perfect because of the angle and limited room to work with due to the sideline. If the ball flies a bit too far, the receiver is forced to account for the boundary or the ball may soar out of bounds altogether. On the flip side, an under thrown ball here is the difference between a touchdown and an interception, assuming the linebacker would have gotten his head around at some point if the receiver had slowed down. Winston trusts that he can fit this throw against this match up and attacks. Touchdown Buccaneers.

To match his confidence, Winston’s nuance is unparalleled for someone his age. It is truly special. Winston displays true nuance in that his mental prowess is that of a 10 year veteran’s, whereas many chalk up nuance to mechanics because it is easily identifiable and, as lame as it may be, is a recognizable buzz word topic that sounds like there is substance to it. Nuance is rooted in being able to naturally expose the defense, and Winston already does that at an absurd level.

JameisQ2-2015-9

On the second play, the safety (#21) is rolling to the play side from the jump as if he knows where the play is going, but Winston keeps his eyes focused away from the “dig” route he will eventually throw. This leads the safety to question himself and move slower than he normally might have. Also, both linebackers stick their feet in the ground instead of continuing to flow toward where the ball will be because of Winston’s misdirection. Winston quickly snaps out of his facade and reveals his intention to hit Mike Evans over the middle. By the time the Giants defense can react to Winston’s action, the ball is soaring down the field in Evans’ hands.

Evans is able to rack up as many yards as he was because of Winston’s placement. Had that throw been behind Evans enough to require him to slow his stride, the safety (#21) would have had time to adjust his and make the tackle. Winston’s placement is consistently at this level. Plays in which Winston completely misses a player are few and far between, and nearly every other pass is as well placed as the throw above, whereas most quarterbacks have a wide spectrum of accuracy.

Winston’s accuracy is not route or depth dependent, either. He deals at all levels of the field, most impressively so at the most critical area of the field: within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. The shallow layer of the field is as important as it is because that is where the most room for error is. A few inches can be the difference between a touchdown and an interception because everything is moving so fast. A ball farther down the field will typically hang in the air long enough to allow for some sort of adjustment, but in a compact area like the shallow level of the field, receivers can’t adjust and the throw has to be there. Winston gets it there with ease.

JameisQ2-2015-8

JameisQ2-2015-12

Winston isn’t even on his spot here! One of New York’s pass rushers is breathing down his neck and forces him to move a few steps away to make the throw. Pressure be damned, Winston does not flinch and drills the throw to Evans, against quality coverage, no less. Winston places throws like this play in and play out, maximizing what his team is getting out of each pass play. Accuracy at this level will always go under appreciated, but let it be known that Winston is going to make a career of beating teams with precision underneath.

Much like the example above, Winston is also going to beat defenses with how well he maneuvers the pocket. This has been especially prominent over the past few weeks. Winston’s handling of the pocket has always been impressive, but he has improved on it exponentially in the past few weeks and it is stunning. The subtle movements and adjustments Winston made in the pocket over the past four games have been some of the most impressive displays of poise and control that I have ever seen. That is not hyperbole, either.

JameisQ2-2015-13

A New York Giants blitzer gets free through the B-gap (between guard and tackle) and barrels down at Jameis. Winston does not falter one bit. He trusts his feet to get him where he needs to be, he trusts that his man will be open and he trusts that he will get the throw off in time and to his man. Winston’s confidence is unrivaled. To not flinch at all, knowing he is about to get it, is rare. The written word does not do Winston’s control enough justice; Winston’s demeanor as a player is generational.

For the sake of context, this four game stretch may be Winston’s peak for the year because it was the lowest caliber of defenses they faced, but that does not nullify the things Winston did. Conversely, to show this level of eminence as a rookie should never happen no matter the competition, yet Winston did it. He sustained it over multiple games and situations. Winston is going to show a bit of stumbling over the remainder of the year, but he has made the league aware of him and what he is- an exceptionally rare talent.

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