In his own way Jameis Winston is one of the most interesting, polarizing, and confusing players in the NFL. From the Peyton Manning comparisons coming out of college, to his at times Brett Farve like disregard for giving the ball away, to eating a W, Jameis is a player who always has a story. But that’s the thing, so often with Jameis (like most athletes) its far more about the ‘story’ than about the person or just the player.
The stories then tend to take on a mind of their own and become a narrative. Good narratives tend to be based in fact, but they can quickly become distorted and change the way something is viewed far beyond what the facts tell you. To a degree that has absolutely happened with Jameis Winston in regards to his abilities, tendencies, and potential to be the Saints next QB for the long term (and winning QB at that).
This isn’t a deep dive into the film because we simply don’t have any film of what Jameis looks like in Sean Payton’s offense. Right now, the focus is all on narrative and how it can significantly distort our perception of reality.
If you were to talk to the average fan and ask them about Jameis Winston you’re mostly going to hear things about his 30 interception year, how he makes dumb plays, his looking like a baby giraffe at times, or even just making fun of his hunger for W’s. All of those are things based in reality, but they are also all part of the narrative that somewhat misrepresents who Jameis is as a QB.
Let’s first take a look at the elephant in the room, the interceptions. Everything around Jameis seems to come back to the 30 picks in 2019 and to a degree that’s fair, but if we’re going to assume that 30 interceptions is his ‘norm’ rather than an outlier, we’d have to say every year Tom Brady didn’t pass for 50 TDs was a ‘down year’. If you had Winston throw 20 interceptions in 2019 rather than 30 (a reasonable hypothetical considering Arians offense) he would average right around 15 interceptions a year. Do you know who else averaged around 15 interceptions a year (until the last few years where he turned into Turbo Chad Pennington)? Drew Brees. For the majority of his time in New Orleans Drew was known for taking what a lot of the fanbase had dubbed ‘YOLO’ throws, and he was a QB prone to turnover binge games.
Am I saying Jameis is basically Drew? No, of course not. I’m saying that the narrative around interceptions alone leaves way too much context out, and doesn’t necessarily tell us what he can be. The area where Drew is most different from Jameis, and where I feel the conversation should be centered is accuracy. Drew’s last 2 years in San Diego he was right around 65% completion rate and he spent most of his tenure in New Orleans around 70%. Beyond just the stats, Drew is the most accurate pure passer of a football ever and had near perfect mechanics. Expecting Jameis to be him is ridiculous, but Jameis has never passed 65% and 3 of his 5 years he was under 61%. That’s a real question. Completion % is equal parts mechanical execution and mental execution. It’s definitely a component of what we call ‘talent’, but its scheme and mentality as well.
The conversation around Jameis shouldn’t be about his interceptions, something Brees did with similar regularity. It’s about his ability to consistently execute. He has all the arm talent, has a passion for the game, and is now paired with one of the absolute best offensive minds the game has seen. Jameis doesn’t need to turn into the QB equivalent of a scalpel, but he needs to get as close as he can to that 65% completion rate and become a reliable option for the team. If Sean Payton can center him, as well as give him a good roster to play within (a combination he never really had), can Jameis take that and elevate his level of play slightly.
And it is slight. Jameis just passed for over 5000 yards a year ago. The best player on the Saints roster is Alvin Kamara. We don’t need, nor are we asking him to be, 2014-16 Drew Brees. What the Saints need is for him to not be a liability frequent enough to win games. Eli Manning won 2 super bowls as turnover machine (17+ interceptions a year), its possible to win with a player like Jameis who is much more talented than Eli. The narrative needs to shift to be about his ability to slow down and adapt to Sean’s system and Sean’s ability to help him curb his worst habits.
Will he do it? Who knows, that’s why we watch the games. But it would be nice if we could start talking about the player that is there rather than “Nathan Peterman from Florida”.
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