There is always an immense amount of pressure placed on the #1 Overall pick in any NFL Draft to live up to the expectations and lead his team to the promised land. Now seven games is hardly enough to give a definitive answer, but Jameis Winston is starting to live up to some of the hype.
There may not have been a more polarizing first overall pick in recent memory, as the Florida State product had his share of greatness on the field, as well as off field incidents. Many questioned his maturity, however no one ever questioned his on-field talent. Through seven games in his rookie campaign, Winston has thrown 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions. The interception-per-game rate would be more alarming, if four of them hadn’t been against the Panthers, and he hasn’t thrown an interception since.
In college, Winston displayed as impressive a combination or anticipation, accuracy and arm strength as any prospect since Andrew Luck, and even before then. Pairing his physical talent with Winston’s football IQ is what led to him leading the Seminoles to the national championship in 2013 and becoming the second consecutive Freshman Heisman trophy winner that same year. In 2014, Winston struggled much more than the prior season, due to a few things; increased expectations, less talent, and ultimately, stubbornness. Winston believes in his arm more than anyone and isn’t afraid to test it. Also, Winston has a very high football IQ and if he believes he’s right about what the defense is going to do pre-snap, he’s going to do it, right or wrong. This led to double digit interceptions last season.
It’s very encouraging that Winston has been able to protect the ball better in the NFL, as with increased competition, usually comes more mistakes. There’s also something to be said about Winston finally only playing football and not practicing or playing baseball anymore in the offseason. Completely committing to football appears to have paid dividends already, as Winston just led his team to an impressive win against the Atlanta Falcons last week.
Moving forward, it’s all about continuing to improve his craft and minimizing mistakes. He’s got the pieces around him: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Doug Martin, and an improving Offensive Line. Winston has also shown this season that his football IQ may only be increasing. Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) did an awesome job of giving an example in his article, but I’ll explain it here, and spare you the link.
Winston was lined up under center, and a run play to the right was called. At the pre-snap alignment, Winston recognized that he was out-manned, and his blockers didn’t have a good angle to make their blocks. So he moved a Tight End from outside back into a wing position, making the edge defender move back, and essentially create more space between the two players, giving his blocker a much better opportunity to make a block in a larger area. Ultimately, the run was stopped for a short gain, but Winston allowed the play to have the potential for a long gain by making this adjustment on the fly. Examples like this are encouraging moving forward that Winston will be just fine in the NFL.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as the Offensive Rookie of the Year, especially if the 3-4 Buccaneers can make a playoff push in this historically parity-filled season. Winston was my QB1 last offseason, and he’s validated that opinion thus far. I look forward to further tracking his development in the NFL.