Jameis Winston's ceiling already among NFL's best
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston may already be past the point of a breakout.
The former Florida State Seminole, in fact, may already be a great quarterback, but one whose play is punctuated by the occasional disastrous game. Last season, Winston’s first NFL game was one of the ugliest performances you are ever likely to see, earning a 25.7 grade. In fact, the only game with a worse grade from PFF last year was Peyton Manning’s disaster against Kansas City, in which an injury contributed to four interceptions before he was benched for his own good.
Winston also has another game with a grade under 40.0 to his name, but then, on the other end of the scale, he has three over 85.0, topping out at 93.1.
His opening performance of the 2016 season was another game above 85.0 (86.6), and his passing grade of 87.7 was bettered only by Andrew Luck and Carson Wentz.
If you look at the best eight games from Winston’s rookie season, they were on an elite level. What separated him from the best QBs in the league—even as just a rookie—were the poor performances. None of the top QBs had a performance as bad as Winston’s poor games during the regular season. When Tom Brady and Carson Palmer had poor games comparable with some of Winston’s, it came in the playoffs and ended the season of both guys.
If the Bucs could rely on the good version of Winston turning up every game, they would be looking at a top-five NFL QB already. For example, look no further than the passes he threw for touchdowns on opening weekend; Winston threw four TDs against the Falcons, and while two of them were shorter, more routine plays, two were perfect deep bombs.
Both had to beat pretty tight coverage, and both had just enough air under them to drop over the defender and into the hands of his receiver.
Again, though, the highs were never Winston’s problem. Last season was full of high-level throws like that, but his issues were more when things went wrong around him. When kept clean in the pocket last season, Winston’s passer rating was 95.1, and he completed 64.0 percent of his passes at 8.3 yards per attempt. When pressure was applied, however, his numbers tumbled across the board. His passer rating fell to 63.3, he completed just 47.8 percent of his throws, and they went for an average of just 6.1 yards per attempt.
In Week 1 against Atlanta, at least those numbers were far better. He was pressured on 11 of his 34 dropbacks, but completed 60 percent of his throws for a passer rating of 122.1 and 8.8 yards per attempt. In fact, his passer rating under pressure was actually two points higher than his passer rating when kept clean. That’s not a sustainable level, and to some extent, the product of small sample sizes, but the crucial point is that he avoided the big mistake when pressured in this game, and was still able to make the big play.
When PFF visited the Buccaneers’ camp this past offseason, Winston showed the same kind of inconsistency and ability to catch fire all within one practice. He began the day seeming off, missing on routine warmup throws with no defender even in the route. As the practice went on, though, he got in a groove, and during red-zone drills, it seemed like every pass he attempted was a touchdown.
Winston appears to have a streaky nature to his play, but it’s not necessarily just in-game, or even over a month of play. He seems like the kind of QB that could go on a hot streak for an entire season, playing at a Pro-Bowl—or even All-Pro level—avoiding the ugly performances that have so far marred an otherwise excellent start to his career.
I think Jameis Winston has already well and truly broken out as a high-level NFL quarterback, the only question remaining is whether he can maintain this hot streak and avoid a performance that brings him and the Bucs crashing back down to earth.