To the casual observer, Jameis Winston had a disappointing 2017 season. He missed three games because of a shoulder injury, and in the games he did play in, the Buccaneers had a 3-10 record.
Did Winston regress? No. In fact, he might have been the NFL's most underrated quarterback, according to Chase Stuart of Football Perspective.
No one threw downfield like Winston last season. On average, his passes traveled farther than any other quarterback's. His production on deep passes (passes targeted 20 or more yards downfield) wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, either. He completed a third of such passes for nine touchdowns and four interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. His 85.5 passer rating ranked 12th among qualifying starters.
Some of Winston's defenders have argued that for him to be more successful, coach Dirk Koetter needs to get more creative with his offense. More in-breaking and timing routes, fewer home-run shots.
Maybe, though, the best approach is for Winston to continue throwing long passes, at least if the Bucs are interested in having him help the team. As Stuart points out, Winston picked up a first down on 40.7 percent of his passes, the highest rate in the league. Ahead of Tom Brady. Ahead of Philip Rivers. Ahead of Matt Ryan.
Winston was particularly effective on third down. Almost half of his passes resulted in a first down. On first down, 38.8 percent of his passes resulted in a first down. On second down, 41.1 percent of his passes resulted in a first down.
The Bucs didn't stumble to a 5-11 finish last season because of Winston and the passing game, Stuart says. He blames "the worst defense in the NFL, terrible special teams and an ineffective running game." Hard to argue with him when Tampa Bay lost both of the games in which Winston posted a passer rating of at least 130. Everyone else, by the way, went 28-3 in such games.
The lesson: Beware of evaluating a quarterback solely on his win-loss record.
"Winston is 24 (he'll be 25 in January), so there's still time for him to improve," Stuart says. "But the writing is on the wall for him to have a much better record in 2018."
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