In 2019, first-year Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and his aggressive style seemed like a good match for Jameis Winston. But the season was a roller-coaster ride for the fifth-year QB, with a few ups (career-best 8.2 yards per pass attempt) and lots of downs (30 interceptions, including an NFL-record seven pick-sixes).
Now Winston is a free agent, replaced in Tampa Bay by Tom Brady. And the NFL world is left wondering: Who is the real Winston? Is he more the quarterback who led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards in 2019? Or is he really the QB who averaged two turnovers per game?
To answer those questions, I watched All-22 angles of every play from Winston’s 2019 season, grading each one (excluding handoffs) to gauge his true overall performance. By taking into account drops, pressure, throw difficulty, ball placement, down/distance, game situation and decision-making (did the quarterback choose the best option available?), we get a better evaluation of the quarterback’s true performance than from a box score.
I scored each one of Winston’s plays on a 0-to-10 scale. An average play (screen passes, throwaways) received a 5, a brutal play (awful turnovers or should-be turnovers) earned a 0, and the perfect play (flawlessly placed throws into tight windows under heavy pressure) warranted a 10. Most plays fall somewhere in the middle, with “plus” efforts scoring above 5 and “minus” efforts below. Each game’s final score was scaled from 0-100, with 50 being average.
Let’s dig into Winston’s 2019 season.
BEST GAME: Week 15 at Lions (67.5 grade)
Following a 2-6 start, Tampa Bay went 5-1, and Winston’s improved play was a huge part of that turnaround. After averaging a grade of 43.2 over his first eight games, Winston posted a 55.6 over Tampa Bay’s hot streak. Included in that span was his best game of the season, against the Lions in Detroit.
In this game, the box score and film matched up. Winston dropped fantastic fantasy numbers, with season-bests of 458 yards and a 124.9 passer rating, in addition to four touchdown passes.
In the first half, Winston shredded the shoddy Lions’ secondary with deep bomb after deep bomb. Tampa Bay receivers got open downfield with ease, and Winston showed off his ability to find and convert on those opportunities. Here, Breshad Perriman broke wide open on a deep post, and Winston hit him in stride for a 34-yard score.
On this play, Winston showed good awareness as he stepped up from the edge pressure. Watch how he kept two hands on the ball as he pivoted away and then continued scanning the field as he stepped up -– these are things Winston does consistently well. His pocket presence is typically good. Winston scrambled and led Chris Godwin in stride for a 51-yard reception.
Detroit’s secondary played a brutal game, and Winston took full advantage with accurate delivery in the intermediate-to-deep range. This was Winston at his best -– maneuvering the pocket, keeping the ball safe and launching high-velocity strikes downfield.
WORST GAME: Week 1 vs. 49ers (16.5 grade)
Once again, we get an accurate representation from the box score. Winston put up a 45.4 passer rating (league average 90.4) and 5.4 yards per attempt against San Francisco’s elite defense. Each mark was his worst of the season.
Tampa Bay got a glimpse of the ball-security issues that would plague Winston throughout the season. He tossed three interceptions -– although two of those were not his fault -– and threw two other awful passes that should have been intercepted. He also fumbled once, but he was lucky the ball bounced to a teammate.
Winston’s worst play of the game was not only a dropped interception, but a missed opportunity for a go-ahead touchdown on a fourth-and- goal play in the fourth quarter. He released this ball to Godwin much too late, blowing an easy touchdown chance.
In his first regular-season game under Arians, Winston made elementary mistakes such as the one above. He often hung in the pocket too long, missed open reads, processed the field too slowly, and misread zone coverages.
MOST UNDERRATED GAME BY BOX SCORE: Week 13 at Jaguars (61.4 grade)
Winston’s trip upstate was pegged as mediocre by the box score (21-for-33, 268 yards). His passer rating of 89 was his ninth best of the season. In reality, Winston’s performance was much better than that. He kept the ball safe and consistently made sound decisions to keep the offense moving. He also chipped in a handful of money throws, such as this 32-yard bomb to Perriman.
Box scores tend to underrate the value of savvy decision-making. Sometimes, the best play available is a five-yard checkdown for a first down. That play would put a dent in the stat-sheet, but the quarterback actually did his job perfectly by identifying the best option available and executing it. Winston did that at a high level in Jacksonville.
MOST OVERRATED GAME BY BOX SCORE: Week 3 vs. Giants (46.9 grade)
Winston had an excellent stat line against the Giants, throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns on 10.3 yards per attempt and earning his third-best passer rating (112.4) of the season.
But Winston made flabbergasting mistakes that often did not hurt his stats. For example, take this 3rd-and-2 play on the game’s opening drive. Tight end O.J. Howard ran a quick stop route from the left side and was wide open for a first down. Winston never saw him and attempted to scramble. He came up short, a crucial blunder.
Winston read the field poorly throughout the Giants game. As good as his numbers were, the New York defense was so poor that Winston should have produced even more. On this play, Perriman went uncovered on the right side for at least a first down or potentially a touchdown. Winston never looked right and instead attempted a contested throw to Howard that fell incomplete.
Winston showed off his strength -- in his arm and lower body -- on this play against the Colts. On 3rd and 10, Winston stepped up to evade one rusher and then powered through another to get outside the pocket. Scrambling to his left, Winston threw across his body toward the middle of the field while taking a huge shot. He hit Justin Watson in stride for a first down. This is outstanding ball placement throwing from a precarious position.
For every one of his ugly moments, Winston had a special moment like that one. Blend his aggressiveness with high-level arm strength, and you get some impressive improvisational plays.
Winston has an awful tendency of failing to notice defenders dropping into zone coverage in the middle of the field –- whether it be linebackers dropping off the line or safeties dropping down from the deep range.
In this case, Winston didn't notice the Texans rotating out of a pre-snap Cover-2 look, even though the rotation began slightly before the snap. Safety Justin Reid, who is on the offense’s left side, dropped into the robber position. Winston didn't recognize it because he never looked to the left prior to the snap. He tried to hit Ishmael Hyman on a deep post, but he threw the ball to Reid, who returned it for a pick-six. Winston had great protection, to boot.
Q&A: What are Winston’s biggest strengths?
Winston, who has a cannon for an arm, may not be the most accurate deep passer in the world, but he can get the ball where it needs to be in a hurry. This trait worked well for him in Tampa Bay, where he had elite wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Winston trusts his playmakers to make plays and gives them every opportunity to do so.
Winston maneuvers around the field at a level much better than his average speed and shiftiness suggests he would be able. As a runner, he uses subtle fakes and slight movements in the open field to buy himself extra yardage. He is strong in the pocket, showing the ability to shake free from weak sack attempts and get outside to extend plays.
I came away more impressed with Winston’s consistency than I thought I would be. He is willing to check the ball down and keep things moving when the situation calls for it. The mistakes he makes, however, are so glaring that his stability is overlooked.
What are Winston’s greatest weaknesses?
An inability to read the field well, which leads to interceptions. That's unacceptable for an experienced QB. His next coaching staff must work with him on identifying the traps that defenses are trying to draw him into. Also, he must be better at recognizing post-snap movement.
How much did Winston benefit from his supporting cast?
A lot. Tampa Bay had the perfect blend of ingredients, allowing Winston to rack up big numbers. Evans and Godwin form arguably the best wide receiver duo in the league, ranking fourth and second, respectively, in receiving yards per game. They bailed out Winston with a ton of acrobatic catches, as did other players throughout the season. Pro Football Focus scored Tampa Bay with the best receiving grade (84.5) in the NFL. This highlights one of my most interesting takeaways from watching Winston –- he recorded truly exceptional throws at a below-average rate. Many of his flashiest highlights and biggest-yardage plays were because his receivers made terrific catches. Arians was the perfect coach to get the most out of a player like Winston, who failed to take advantage.
Where is the best fit for Winston?
It appears that all starting quarterback openings are filled (or soon will be in the draft), so Winston must find a team that offers a quarterback whisperer. Whether that's a quarterback coach, offensive coordinator or head coach, he needs someone who can eliminate the many flaws in his game as he awaits his next starting opportunity.
I think Winston should find a team that presents the best odds of getting back into the starting lineup quickly. This could be a team in need of a bridge quarterback (Patriots, Chargers), one in flux at the position (Redskins), or one with a cheap, young quarterback they may not be too hesitant to give up on if he struggles (Broncos, Jaguars).
If Winston doesn't mind sitting for a while, Indianapolis would be a good fit. He could back up Philip Rivers, who signed a one-year deal with the Colts, and compete to take the reins in 2020. Rivers and head coach Frank Reich would be great for him. Or he could even stick around in Tampa Bay (if the Bucs would have him), positioning himself to take the job back once Brady retires. Soaking up knowledge from the G.O.A.T and Arians would certainly help him.
I'm confident Winston will get another shot. He may only be a below-average starter (20-to-24 range), but there is no doubt that he is one of top 32 QBs in the NFL.
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