Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the 2017 NFL season rife with expectations. And why not? The “Hard Knocks” darlings, their offense featured a generational deep threat artist in DeSean Jackson, a stud rookie tight end in O.J. Howard and perhaps the league’s next great wide receiver in Mike Evans. Best of all? Winston — the former No. 1 overall pick — would be throwing to them. High octane couldn’t begin to describe how dynamic this offense promised to become.
More than halfway through what appears to be a lost season for the 3-6 Bucs however, we are left wondering what went wrong with their 23-year-old franchise quarterback?
One of the more underrated aspects of quarterback play in this league is accuracy, or more specifically, the ability to throw guys open. Throwing windows are not the same in the NFL as they are in college, which is why we hear young quarterbacks harp on the speed of the game. More specifically, the uptick in speed is not merely a byproduct of the pass rush — although that certainly makes a difference — but also the closing speed of corners and safeties in tight throwing lanes.
Winston entered the league known for his strong arm and ability to push the football vertically, relying heavily on a sturdy 6-foot-4, 235 pound frame that could withstand pressure, ala Ben Roethlisberger. (He also entered it known for his immaturity, aloofness and lack of self awareness, a reputation he perpetuated during a recent pregame speech.) Three years into his career though, neither has come to fruition the way his robust talent suggests it should. Case in point: Week 9 at New Orleans.
Before leaving the game with a shoulder injury, Winston — a former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion — missed on all four of his deep throws and connected on just two of eight throws when pressured, according to Pro Football Focus. Far too often, we witness a quarterback unable to correctly identify coverage, which translates into the defense dictating what it wants him to see and feel. Winston looks confused and uncomfortable in the pocket — with slow reads — often holding the ball too long when the right decision is either a check-down or throwing it away and accepting a harmless incompletion.
The results have been a staggering drop in his efficiency throughout 2017, most notably in total quarterback rating. After posing a 59.5 clip just last season, Winston’s QBR has fallen 20 points in 2017, down to 39.5. To put that number in perspective, consider that it slots him behind guys like Blake Bortles, Eli Manning, Drew Stanton, Brett Hundley and E.J. Manuel.
Additionally, Winston — who had lost five consecutive games this season before getting hurt — ranks a paltry 26th against the blitz and in his 37 attempted deep passes this season, he has completed just 10 balls. In fact, on deep throws, he ranks 28th in adjusted completion percentage, and 26th in passer rating, per PFF. Maybe more surprising, is that he is below the league average in both short and intermediate throws.
His struggles have also posed a real threat to head coach Dirk Koetter’s job considering that Koetter — previously Tampa’s offensive coordinator — was hand-picked by Winston.
Make no mistake: Winston surely possesses the talent to become a star in this league. He is after all, the second-youngest player in NFL history to eclipse 10,000 passing yards. Naturally, lofty expectations have undeniably been set, similarly to how they were set in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota, drafted one slot behind him. Apparently, such expectations will not have to wait until 2018: Koetter told reporters on Tuesday that he expects his quarterback to return this season.
While general manager Jason Licht has done a fine job assimilating talent on both sides of the ball, it is Winston’s play that will ultimately become the impetus to the Bucs becoming a consistent playoff team and perhaps a Super Bowl contender. And, while expecting greatness from Winston seems unfair — at least at this point — it is entirely fair to expect a consistent dosage of quality from Jameis, a quality which his robust talent should deliver.
– – – – – – –
Follow Jordan Schultz on Twitter @Schultz_Report
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Vice president’s Colts stunt cost police $14K, showed ‘disregard for ethics’
• President Trump wants a thank-you from the UCLA Three
• Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess caught two touchdowns in honor of a fallen soldier
• Five bold predictions for NFL Week 11, including a rare Jared Goff flop