Jameis Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft and, understandably, that comes with high expectations. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers expected a franchise quarterback who could lead the team to great things.
So far, Winston has just been average. Not great. Not bad. Just average.
That slow start to his career has kept the mercurial former Heisman Trophy winner mostly out of the spotlight in the NFL. Despite being an unpredictable player who’s as likely to run through half a defense for a first down as he is fumble a ball away like a hot potato, Winston has been forgettable.
He finished the 2016 season with 4,090 passing yards (12th in the NFL), 28 touchdowns (seventh), 18 interceptions (second), and an 86.1 passer rating (21st). Along the way he provided plenty of highlights, but had the tendency to make critical errors as well.
And every step of the way, Winston has brought his own brand of unique silliness, positive or negative.
But in 2017, the Buccaneers have a strong chance at seeing real returns from their investment. After an offseason that added DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, and Chris Godwin to his offensive arsenal, Winston is primed to step into the limelight.
Winston has one of the NFL’s best highlight reels
If it wasn’t for the 33 interceptions Winston threw in the last two seasons, he may already be considered one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. At 6’4, 232 pounds, Winston has a blend of size, strength, athleticism, and arm talent that made him the No. 1 pick.
At times, it has shown on the field in spectacular ways.
The play is everything exciting about Winston in a nutshell.
Sure, it required all of his athletic abilities to pull it off, but it happened because Winston is one of the only quarterbacks who would actually be willing to run backward 15 yards, change directions three times, and then hurl a ball up for grabs.
It’s a play you’d never see Tom Brady attempt. And that’s probably a good thing for New England Patriots fans.
Winston’s go-for-broke mentality is part of what has always made him an exciting player and one who is prone for some awful moments. Even during his prolific national championship-winning and Heisman-winning collegiate career at Florida State, Winston still had remarkably bad lowlights.
It’s important to remember that Winston turned 23 less than a week after the end of the 2016 regular season. While he has 32 NFL starts under his belt and another 27 games at Florida State, he’s still a player who graduated high school five years ago.
But now entering his third season, it’s time for Winston to rein it in.
New offensive cast should help cut lapses
So far in Winston’s NFL career, he’s relied heavily on large possession receivers. His leading receiver has been 6’5, 231-pound receive Mike Evans and on the other side was the oft-injured Vincent Jackson, who stands at 6’5, 241 pounds.
With so few other receiving options, Winston has targeted tight ends often in his first two NFL seasons. That fueled a breakout season for Cameron Brate in 2016, and it could mean Winston looks to first-round pick O.J. Howard often in 2017.
But for the first time, Winston also has a legitimate deep threat in DeSean Jackson. There’s reason to question if Jackson’s best days are behind him now that he’s on the wrong side of 30, but he still led the NFL in 2016 in yards per reception and posted his fifth 1,000-yard season.
If Jackson still has gas in the tank, he and rookie Chris Godwin could give Winston the yards after catch he has so desperately lacked over the last two years.
67.8 percent of Jameis Winston's passing yards came through the air in 2016 (as opposed to yards after catch), most in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/ng2jvDjhXF— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 9, 2017
Winston has made more mistakes than he should so far in his career — he’s already thrown 33 interceptions and fumbled 16 times. But sometimes a quarterback needs others to make big plays and take the possibility of turnovers out of the passer’s hands.
A rushing attack that averaged 3.6 yards per carry (29th in the NFL) didn’t do Winston any favors either. With few changes up front and at running back, that will still be a concern for the Buccaneers in 2017. J.R. Sweezy will return from an injury that cost him an entire season and young players like Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet may still be improving, but it will again be Winston leading the way.
His new weapons should help plenty.
In NFL Network’s countdown of the top 100 players in the league, Winston landed at No. 57. That’s probably a tad premature considering Blake Bortles and Philip Rivers are the only two quarterbacks with more interceptions over the last two seasons.
If Winston can continue to grow as a player and a passer, he’s well-positioned to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and take the Buccaneers on a playoff run for the first time since Jon Gruden was the team’s head coach. And just because it’s Jameis, it’ll probably come with some ridiculousness, too.