High school state champion, Heisman Trophy winner, first overall pick, Texas Rangers baseball prospect—Jameis Winston’s list of accomplishments is longer than a David Foster Wallace novel. But will he be able to add Rookie of the Year to his resume? After watching Winston play Thursday against the Rams, I can see both sides to the argument.
Winston wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him on some occasions, but he still showed promise in the Buccaneers’ 31-23 loss. So did the Buccaneers, who still have a chance to finish .500 despite losing four of their first six games this season.
Anyone who’s followed football over the last three years is probably well versed in the narrative surrounding Winston. While at Florida State, Winston was arguably the nation’s best college football player. He didn’t lose a start until the last game of his career against Marcus Mariota’s Oregon Ducks.
But unlike the squeaky clean Mariota, Winston’s constant immaturity and off-field baggage weighed heavily on teams leading up to the draft. Before taking him first overall, the Bucs conducted at least 75 interviews with people who had ties to Winston. That’s quite a background check.
But so far, Winston has been as good as advertised and maybe even better in some areas. Winston was not considered a mobile quarterback in college. Only three quarterbacks at this year’s Combine ran slower 40 times than him. Yet Winston has already rushed for five touchdowns this year while showing surprising quickness both inside and outside the pocket.
This clip from Thursday won’t show up in the box score as a rushing attempt, but it’s a good example of Winston’s improved mobility. Here Winston extends the play with his feet and delivers a short pass to Luke Stocker for a gain of 14.
Winston only logged two carries on Thursday. This second-quarter scramble was his longest of the night. With no one open downfield, Winston wisely decides to tuck-and-run for a five-yard pickup.
And man is he fired up. Watch Winston trade barbs with Aaron Donald after the play.
It’s good to see Winston showing a little swagger but it actually cost the Bucs on this particular play. Winston lost track of the play clock, forcing Tampa Bay to burn one of its timeouts. This happened again later and resulted in a five-yard delay of game penalty. As you can see, Winston loses focus and lets the play clock expire, an unforgivable mistake when your team is inside the 10-yard line.
Mental lapses come with the territory when you’re a young team like Tampa Bay. The Bucs’ two biggest contributors on offense, Winston and Mike Evans, are 21 and 22 respectively.
23-year-old tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins may have been responsible for the Bucs’ biggest blunder of the night. He committed a delay of game penalty by throwing the football away after setting the Bucs up with a first-and-goal at the one-yard-line. Tampa Bay had to settle for a field goal after the misstep.
But back to Winston. His passes seemed to be just a little off on Thursday night. For example, this play had first down written all over it. But instead Winston delivered a high throw well over Doug Martin’s head. Making reference to Winston’s pitching career, NFL Network announcer Ian Eagle called this one a “wild pitch."
Winston made the same mistake with a different receiver in the second half. As you can see, Russell Shepard has Lamarcus Joyner beat at the line of scrimmage but Winston sails the throw over his head. Winston wasn’t happy with the route Shepard took but as Trent Green mentions at the end of the clip, Winston has to make a more accurate throw.
Mistakes are part of Winston’s DNA. Only one quarterback in FBS threw more interceptions than Winston during his last year at Florida State.
This one was 100 percent on Winston. A more experienced quarterback might play-fake or use his eyes to put the defense on skates but Winston stares down Mike Evans all the way. Trumaine Johnson picks up on it and immediately jumps the route for an easy interception.
It’s easier to overlook this play when you consider the situation. Even great players like Tom Brady will force the ball to their best receiver one too many times, especially late in the game. It’s a desperation throw and one that Winston probably wishes he had back.
Winston’s supporting cast didn’t do him any favors on Thursday and that’s been a theme throughout the year. This is a play that Donteea Dye absolutely must make. Even with two defenders in his neighborhood, Dye has plenty of room to make the catch. Including this one, Tampa Bay has dropped 32 passes this season.
This botched handoff to Doug Martin in the second half wasn’t entirely Winston’s fault, either. What’s the first thing you’re taught in any sport growing up? Keep your eye on the ball. Martin did the opposite and the result was a turnover.
Let’s not forget that Winston threw for 363 yards on Thursday, the highest total of his career. 314 of the 363 came after halftime. Winston’s longest completion came on this marvelous deep throw to Donteea Dye. Credit Tampa Bay’s strong running game for setting up the play-action.
Dye, an undrafted rookie who is not used to being a featured receiver (Vincent Jackson missed Thursday’s game with a knee injury), actually fumbled on the one-yard line because he thought he had already been touched by a Rams defender. Luckily for Tampa, Luke Stocker was able to fall on it.
Winston’s strong second half is a testament to his resiliency. He continues to be the epitome of a “short memory” quarterback. On this one, Winston steps up in the pocket against heavy pressure and gets his whole body behind the throw. Then he hits Mike Evans in stride for a 20-yard pickup.
Here with less than two minutes remaining, Winston connects with Seferian-Jenkins on a simple fade for his second touchdown of the game. It’s not the flashiest TD you’ll see but it did make Buccaneers history. Winston now holds the team record for most touchdowns by a rookie quarterback. The old mark was set two years ago by Mike Glennon.
Winston is very much, as the old cliché goes, a work in progress. But so are all young quarterbacks. The tools are there and it looks like Winston has cleaned up his act off the field. If Tampa Bay can keep its core together (that would require keeping Doug Martin, who is headed for a free agency), the Bucs should figure into the playoff mix next season. For Winston, the future is as bright as those ridiculous uniforms the Bucs wore on Thursday night. Let’s hope we never see those again.