Free agent quarterback Jameis Winston put away all of the preconceived notions about interceptions and had a nice start to the season for the New Orleans Saints in 2021.
Going 4-2 as a starter before sustaining a season-ending injury in Week 8, Winston showed a lot of the improvements that some people questioned whether or not he was capable of displaying.
A couple seasons after throwing a league-high 30 interceptions, he only threw three in about six and a half games. But more importantly, he only recorded six turnover-worthy plays in that span — compared to 40 in 16 games during the 2019 season, via PFF.
While doing so, he maintained his big play abilities, with 12 big time throws and a 7.1 big time throw percentage, which ranked fourth among 35 qualifying QBs through Week 8.
He managed this despite a group of playmakers that was severely lacking, to say the least. And most importantly, he was finding ways to win the Saints games.
This is a credit to Jameis himself, but also the tutelage Sean Payton provided.
Known as a QB whisperer, Payton managed to go 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater as a starter, 7-2 with Taysom Hill starting and 5-2 in games Jameis started (one obviously ended with Siemian playing) in the past few seasons.
A lot of this is probably just knowing which buttons to press with his QBs, knowing when to instill confidence and when to chew them out about things.
But he also just understands his guys’ skill sets and puts them in positions to succeed.
For example, with Jameis, Sean knew what types of concepts and what levels of the field Jameis thrived and struggled at. So, he changed his play-calling to accommodate this.
In Jameis’s 30 INT season in 2019, 15% of his passes came from the intermediate center of the field (10-19 yards past the LOS and in between the hashes). And out of 94 attempts at this level, he threw eight INTs. He also threw nearly 20% of his passes in the short center of the field (0-9 yards past LOS and in between hashes), of which he threw nine INTs.
He was simply throwing the ball over the middle of the field way too much for a guy who struggled with decision-making as a passer. It’s harder to throw in the middle of the field with so many bodies in the way and moving defenders from both sides.
So, what SP did is limit those throwing opportunities and make Winston’s reads easier. There were more throws to the sideline and more reads that went from short to long or long to short in the progressions.
In 2021, only 8.7% of Jameis’s passes came in the intermediate center of the field, almost half of what it was in 2019. And he only threw one pick. And the throws in the short center of the field were reduced to 17.4% (0 picks).
This not only made reads easier for Winston, but it utilized his massive arm by prioritizing throws to the sidelines and deep down the field.
It also was obviously a big emphasis of Sean’s to get Jameis to use his legs more out of the pocket. His previous season high in rush yards was 281, and in just over six games in 2021, he was already at 166 — on 5.2 yards per carry.
He made positive and smart runs throughout his tenure as a starter when nothing was open downfield.
These are just a couple of examples of how much better Sean made Jameis with just two seasons of experience with him.
So, the question is — should the Saints still try to bring Jameis back in 2022 if Sean isn’t there, considering how important he was to his success?
And my initial answer is: probably.
I just don’t know what other options are better at the moment.
If you can trade for a big-name, franchise QB, that obviously changes things. However, that is unlikely.
And the QB class in this year’s draft is somewhat lacking, compared to previous years. Plus, even if you do draft a guy, you might want Jameis as a bridge-type option.
But at the end of the day, if the price is reasonable and you don’t have any opportunities to acquire a bug-name guy, I don’t know why you wouldn’t try to bring Winston back and build on the success he had with what I would assume will be better weapons in 2022.
Hopefully, some of the lessons that SP taught to the seven-year vet stuck – not only with Jameis, but with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr. If so, that could be a fun offense with some of these guys returning next year.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how things play out this offseason. So many things could look different come the start of the season, Jameis included.
But unless something changes with the QBs currently available on the market, I’d try to get Mr. Crab Legs back in the building.
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