The 2018 NFL campaign has been off to a rough start for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. Following his least productive season during his still young career, Winston needs to put up some of the same numbers of his past as well as improve in a few major areas.
There is no way to talk about Winston, 24, right now without including his off the field issues. The former Pro Bowler is facing a three-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after a March 2016 incident with an Uber driver, where he allegedly groped his female driver in Scottsdale, Arizona. The NFL concluded that Winston “violated the personal conduct policy by touching the driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent and that disciplinary action was necessary and appropriate.” The three-game suspension comes due to a “negotiated settlement” in which Winston will not appeal the ban. Tenured journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, 35, has found himself with another opportunity to prove himself and will be under center for the Bucs’ first three games.
Winston also missed three games, and seemed uncomfortable in others, during the 2017 season. Winston left the Week 6 game at the Arizona Cardinals with an apparent shoulder injury. Winston played through the pain for another three weeks, which turned out to be a bad decision, as he re-aggravated the injury during a Week 9 loss at division rival New Orleans. Winston then sat out the next three games before coming back and finishing the final five weeks of the season for the Bucs.
I’m not going to say that Winston will have a stand out season and 2018 will push him back into Pro Bowl form, but I will say that Winston will establish himself as a legitimate quarterback in the NFL, and people need to start believing. Here are five reasons why:
1. Offensive Line Improved in a Big Way
The Bucs’ struggled on the offensive line in 2017. Second-year player Ali Marpet transitioned from guard to center in order to strengthen the middle of the line. Although Marpet didn’t necessarily do terrible, it was apparent he was uncomfortable. General Manager Jason Licht addressed the issue in free agency by making ex Baltimore Ravens center Ryan Jensen the highest paid player at that position in history at four years and $42 million, with $22 million in guarantees.
The signing allows Marpet to move back to his natural position at left guard. Bolstering two positions with one signing, this was a great move by the Bucs’ front office. Although Winston does particularly well outside of the pocket, the addition of Jensen combined with Marpet and tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, the Bucs are looking to keep the young quarterback comfortable in the pocket.
2. He Didn’t Have a Bad 2017 Season
Last season might have seemed like a bad year for Winston. No, he didn’t throw for 4,000 yards. No, he didn’t have 20 touchdowns. Winston also didn’t play three games, and was arguably injured for three others. What he did have was his best completion percentage (63.8) and quarterback rating (92.2) of his short career.
In addition to improving overall, Winston came back stronger after the injury. He threw nine touchdowns in the final five games opposed to just 10 in the first eight games, throwing for just under 400 less yards during the same time frame. Winston also improved his completion percentage from before the injury of 61.85 to 68.77, as well as his quarterback rating from 83.78 to an impressive 103.98 to finish the season.
3. More Time With His Weapons and the Addition of Ronald Jones II
There is no secret the Bucs front office made a big push to add some offensive talent around Winston. The Bucs signed veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson prior to the 2017 season to stand opposite Pro bBowl wideout Mike Evans. The Bucs also snagged University of Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft to accompany Cameron Brate, one of Winston’s favorite red zone targets. One more season in his books allows for more chemistry and for Winston to get more on the same page as his targets.
In the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Licht and company selected running back Ronald Jones II from the University of Southern California. Jones won first team All PAC-12 honors in his junior year before foregoing his senior season to enter the draft. A solid, dependable run game is something Winston hasn’t had since he took over in Tampa. The fast moving play style of Jones could benefit the quarterback, and open up more options down field.
4. That Defensive Line Got a Huge Makeover
Flat out, the Bucs’ defensive line was arguably the worst single position group on any team in the NFL. The Bucs got to the opposing quarterback just 22 times throughout the entire season. That’s good for dead last in the league, and simply will not do. You will not win games in this league, against today’s quarterbacks, without applying pressure.
Licht addressed this as well as anyone can. In free agency, the Bucs added Mitch Unrein (Chicago Bears), Beau Allen and Vinny Curry (Philadelphia Eagles), Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants), and drafted Vita Vea from the University of Washington. That is a ton of new talent to join six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro Gerald McCoy, in what should make the front four a force with any combination.
A better defense will lead to much more opportunity for Winston, better field position, and less scoring for opposing offenses.
5. He Kind of Has To
Let’s face it, although Winston has been a statistically successful quarterback thus far, he hasn’t been what Bucs fans had hoped for. Yet. His numbers are there, his leadership is there, but his decision making on and off the field have left quite a few question marks. His career lies in his hands from here on out. One more off the field “situation” will doom his career before it ever really gets started.
Winston is set to be a free agent after the 2019 season in case another incident occurs, but also just as important, if he can’t be the number one overall pick the Bucs drafted in the first place. His career clock is ticking.
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