Now that Jameis Winston has officially been selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s time to take a look at Winston’s game and how it actually projects to the next level. What are his strengths? His weaknesses? How will NFL defenses play him?
Right off the bat, the first thing you notice about Winston is his mechanics. They were awful at times in 2013 and although he improved in 2014, he still had some poor moments. The worst offenders are his footwork and his long release due to playing baseball.
The good news here is that even though he’s got work to do, it shows that he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet and can become significantly better and more consistent by cleaning up those sometimes sloppy mechanics.
Winston has already seemed to do just that since the end of the 2014 season, showing cleaner, more fluid footwork and a quicker, more compact release. Another factor here is now that baseball is out of the way, Winston will be solely focused on football for the first time in his life.
It’s worth noting that Winston is very much a pocket quarterback and struggles throwing off a platform outside of the pocket. He’s better running to his left since it forces him to square his shoulders to the target but when running to his dominant right, he often relies on his arm to drive the football instead of his base and can miss high. High throws in the NFL get intercepted.
Another issue for Winston in 2014 was his tendency to focus on seniors Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary over other, more open targets. It’s pretty clear Winston didn’t trust some of his younger receivers but ran into trouble since the older duo were usually blanketed by opposing defenses.
As the season wore on, it became clear that teams had spent significant time specifically prepping for Winston; several teams saved certain packages for their game against the Seminoles, often showing Winston more complex looks and baiting him into poor decisions.
On the flip side, Winston began to trust his younger targets more as the season went on. The silver lining here is since teams saved their defensive looks for Winston, he didn’t get to prepare for them yet still made the plays down the stretch to win the games. That experience should serve Winston well at the next level.
In 2013, the FSU offensive line was excellent and routinely gave Winston forever to throw, so he would often hold on to the ball too long and get sacked. It was very much the opposite in 2014; the offensive line under-performed for the first 10 games often giving up immediate pressure right in Winston’s face.
Forced to get the ball out quicker, Winston was sacked much less but also made more poor decisions and sometimes threw off his back foot. To be fair, he also made his share of ridiculous plays, often deftly avoiding pressure with his pocket awareness and getting rid of the ball with anticipation. It’s worth noting that Winston often made great throws off his back foot while falling away from pressure, lessening the damage of potentially dangerous hits.
Winston’s ball placement, football IQ, anticipation, field vision, pocket awareness, movement and arm strength are all outstanding and already above-average to elite for the next level.
Winston has the ability to process information quickly, allowing him to identify open holes in the defense and use those holes not just to throw to his receivers, but to throw his receivers open. He also often spots the ball where only his guy can get it, or where his receiver has room to run or to save him from taking a hit. Winston had significant freedoms within the FSU offense to make audibles or checks or adjusting the pass-blocking schemes as well.
Winston sometimes relied too much on his arm and his anticipation. He’s fearless and will attempt to throw the ball into the tightest of spots. His aggressiveness can be very boom or bust. There were times where he relied solely on his arm to make a throw, causing it to be inaccurate. Other times, Winston would diagnose the defense pre-snap and lock on to the receiver he knew would be open. As discussed, teams started to bait Winston and often caught him.
Other times, Winston would be focused on the intermediate part of the field and would miss an underneath linebacker sitting in zone coverage. This is likely his biggest flaw but is not fatal. Expect defenses at the next level to do this until Winston adjusts and learns what he can and can’t get away with. If he does, and he cleans up his mechanics, Winston could be very, very good and for a very long time.