Going into the 2017 season there are a few obvious names that come to mind when thinking of potential MVP’s. Guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are sure to be in the mix for that crown this year. However, there’s a guy who could sneak in as a darkhorse and establish himself as one of the elite players in the game. A guy that has already left his mark on NFL history through his young career. That man is Jameis Winston.
Winston is entering his third year in the league. This is the year that the mental aspect of the game often seems to slow down for quarterbacks. The Bucs are hopeful that this is the case for Winston, as it has been for other top passers in recent years. To help insure this jump from good to great, GM Jason Licht made adding playmakers the front office’s top priority in the offseason. Now, in year three, Winston finally has legitimate weapons to work with.
Despite being the first major piece of a complete rebuild in Tampa Bay, Winston has been one of the most successful passers through two seasons in the history of the NFL. In fact, he is the only quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in each of his first two years in the league. That’s quite a foundation to build on going into 2017. And if recent history tells us anything, it should lead to very big things in the future.
Just for comparisons sake, let’s look at how he stacks up to a few other QBs in the league.
Matthew Stafford, the number one overall pick in 2009, struggled through his first two seasons. He passed for just over 2,800 yards, 19 touchdowns and 21 interceptions over the course of the two injury riddled years. Then, in year three, the light clicked on. Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
We saw a similar progression from the 2012 number one overall pick, Andrew Luck. Luck, who had very similar numbers to Winston through two years, saw his passing stats increase by more than 900 yards and 17 touchdowns from his second season. Statistically and stylistically speaking, these two are very comparable and expectations should be in the ballpark of what we saw from Luck in his third year. Especially when you consider the improvement the Bucs have made to their offense.
Even though Winston has put up excellent numbers for a young quarterback, he hasn’t really had a lot of options to throw to. In 2015 the Bucs leading receiver was Mike Evans who also lead the league in dropped passes. Who was the number two target that year, you ask? Back up running back Charles Sims with 561 yards. Between the unreliable hands of Evans and the lack of depth behind him it wasn’t exactly a feared group of playmakers. This wasn’t much better than what we saw in 2016. Again, Evans led the way with a great bounce back year. Behind him in reciving yards was a pair of undrafted second year players, Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries. This is the reason why getting Winston help was the goal of the offseason. A goal that was very much achieved.
The Bucs started free agency by signing one of the top players on the market in explosive wide receiver DeSean Jackson. In his nine year career, Jackson has had 1,000+ receiving yards five times including three of the last four years. And at just 30 years old he’s still right in the prime of his career and is unlikely to start slowing down in the near future. However, the Bucs didn’t stop with just adding the three time Pro Bowler. They also added three pass catchers in the draft.
No NFC quarterback saw a higher percentage of his yards come through the air (rather than yards after catch) in 2016 than Jameis Winston. pic.twitter.com/e24nwhk8lC
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 24, 2017
On each day of the draft the Bucs added another offensive weapon. Tight end O.J. Howard in the first round, receiver Chris Godwin in the third round and running back Jeremy McNichols in the sixth round. Each guy brings his own strength to the passing game and will be viable options for Winston as early as this year.
Howard is a physical freak. At 6’6” and 250 lbs he ran a very impressive 4.51 second 40 yard dash. To put that in perspective, KD Cannon (who ran the fourth fastest time among wide receivers) ran exactly a tenth of a second faster than Howard. Just one tenth of a second, despite Howard being over half a foot taller and weighing a good 50 lbs more than Cannon.
Godwin was pretty impressive at the Combine himself. He tied for being the fifth fastest wide receiver with a 4.42 second 40 yard dash. However, his greatest strength is something you can’t really measure in a workout. That’s his ability to adjust to the ball and make incredibly difficult catches. That will prove to be very helpful for a quarterback who isn’t know for his pinpoint accuracy.
Then there’s McNichols who was one of the better pass catching RBs in the draft. It’s unclear if he’ll make the team at this point, but he’s sure to give Charles Sims, a guy who missed most of last season with an injury, lots of competition. Even if McNichols just turns out to be a bench warmer this year, he gives the Bucs some insurance so they’re not left without a receiver out of the backfield again this year.
The pieces are all falling into place for Winston this year. He’s got the talent. He’s got the experience. He’s got the weapons. Through his first two years we’ve seen the growing pains of a guy with limited help around him and he still emerged as one of the best ever. Now that he has the playmakers around him the sky will be the limit for Winston this season.