Is Arians The Key To Unlocking Winston's Promise?

Dave Larkin analyzes how much difference Bruce Arians' arrival could make to the prospects of Jameis Winston in 2019.

Please make no mistake about it: Jameis Winston, one of the most mercurial talents at the quarterback position we have seen in years, faces a reckoning this year. A tipping point in the notoriously up-and-down career of the passer awaits. Entering the final year of his contract, Winston needs to show more to convince Tampa Bay’s brass to invest in a long-term extension.

Winston's current ADP places him firmly atop the second tier of quarterbacks (QB13), an endorsement of new Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians – and, indeed, of Winston himself. The rub lies in Winston’s penchant for the backbreaking error, the unforgivable quarterback gaffe, that has been too often the rule, rather than the exception, in his frequently maddening game.

Increasingly, however, a player's situation is king. Offensive minds like Arians have the nous and creativity to put their quarterbacks in the best position to harness their considerable talents. Look at Patrick Mahomes II in Kansas City with Andy Reid; Carson Wentz with Doug Pederson; Drew Brees’ mind meld with Sean Payton; the intersection of quarterback and head coach is paramount in unlocking the potential of an offense.

After a year riding the pine in commentary booths around the league, Arians’ return dovetails beautifully with the last chance saloon feel of 2019 for his quarterback – and that urgency can produce results that far outperform Winston’s current ADP.

The suspension to kick off 2018, combined with a series of impressive performances by journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, soured the fantasy community on Winston. That uncertainty presents an opportunity to draft Winston in the later rounds, allowing you the freedom to pick off quality running backs and receivers in the early rounds.

In summary, here are the reasons why Winston could be a QB1 in 2019 and anchor championship teams:

  • Bruce Arians is a quarterback whisperer capable of turning a mistake-prone player into one who takes calculated risks. This can reap vast rewards as downfield shots – all too often an afterthought in today’s NFL – are encouraged. Did somebody say fantasy points bonanza?
  • At his best, Winston is a top-tier talent capable of taking over games with his arm talent and improvisational skills. In a year where his career faces a turning point, there is no greater incentive for him to shed his old skin and become a better quarterback.
  • Winston’s supporting cast is among the best in the league – Mike Evans is a superstar talent; Chris Godwin is steadily turning into one of the best No. 2s in the league; O.J. Howard is a mismatch nightmare; Cameron Brate is the envy of many would-be athletes at tight end, not to mention the breakout potential of Justin Watson and Breshad Perriman.

IT’S THE TURNOVERS, STUPID!

Jameis Winston must sit in the air-conditioned film room sometimes after a subpar game, rewinding and fast-forwarding the soundless pictures in front of him, wondering why he decided to make that throw at that moment. Another interception. Another ill-advised throw. Another backbreaking play for a team that can’t afford such mental lapses.

Indeed, Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback has thrown 58 career interceptions, with 41 of them (70.7%) coming with the team trailing. This statistic isn’t a catch-all of Winston’s flaws, but it serves to point out perhaps how much of a risk-taker he can be. Incidentally, the overall percentage of trailing interceptions in 2018 was 59.5%.

If you ask a random football analyst what has plagued Winston’s career thus far, invariably the answer you get will surround turnovers.

JAMEIS WINSTON - CAREER STATISTICS

Year
Games
Comp
Att
PCT
Yards
Yds/Att
TDs
INTs
Rush
Yards
TDs
Rank
VBD
ADP
2015
16
312
535
58.3
4044
7.56
22
15
54
213
6
12
0
21
2016
16
345
567
60.8
4090
7.21
28
18
52
168
1
11
5
15
2017
13
282
442
63.8
3504
7.93
19
11
33
135
1
18
7
2018
11
244
378
64.6
2992
7.92
19
14
49
283
1
21
21
Totals
56
1183
1922
61.6
14630
7.61
88
58
188
799
9
5

Developing a balance between aggressive play and mature pocket decisions will be the pivotal point of Winston’s most defining season in 2019. My colleague Matt Waldman pinpoints Winston’s ‘inefficient footwork’ that is not in sync with his processing of what he sees on the field as a major reason for the quarterback’s lack of sustained success.

Turnovers are the elephant in the quarterback room for Winston, but even a modest improvement in this department can be a major boon to his confidence and, by extension, his value as a fantasy commodity.

AN OFFENSIVE GURU THIS WAY COMES

“I feel like I’ve got a great feel for him, his excitement for the game. His willingness to work is unbelievable. He’s in the office at 5 o’clock in the morning. The whole thing is going to be built around him. I think he can win it all. I mean, he has the intelligence, the toughness, and obviously the arm, ability to lead a team.” – Bruce Arians

The dirty little secret of the NFL is that perfect synergy between coach and quarterback can make all the difference when it comes to not just wins and losses, but on-field productivity. If the comments above are anything to go by, Bruce Arians is all in on the 'Jameis Winston Experience.' In some ways, the former Cardinals coach could not have asked for a better passer to mold into his scheme: a take-no-prisoners gunslinger dripping with talent who needs a little guidance.

Enter the guru.

Arians is not going to shy away from asking his quarterback to chuck it deep:

Somewhere, Jameis Winston is grinning to himself.

Rising star of NFL Network and former NFL player Nate Burleson cites the relationship between quarterback and head coach as the most important on a team, and believes a strong blueprint exists for how Winston can transform his fortunes:

Arians has the example of Carson Palmer to point to, in case Winston needs any encouragement. After a pair of abject seasons in Oakland, Palmer came to Arizona where Arians got the best out of him, including a 35-touchdown season in 2015 that saw the high-flying Cardinals go to the NFC Championship. Winston may not be a reclamation project on the level of Palmer, but time is on his side to buy what Arians is selling, including a virtual reality practice review system.

Former NFL wide receiver Victor Cruz, on ESPN, put the pressure on Winston to deliver – and not to rely too much on the coaching of Arians:

All the league’s best quarterbacks have a symbiotic relationship with their head coach. If Winston and Arians can get on the same page, emphasizing the strengths and dialing back the weaknesses of his game, there could be fireworks (and cannons fired) in Tampa Bay.

SUPPORTING CAST – AND A CHINK IN THE ARMOR

Winston’s ace in the hole as far as his fantasy upside is the talent around him, featuring pass catchers of various shapes and sizes, all of whom present very different but undeniably potent dilemmas for defenses. It is easy to forget that, when you combine the numbers of both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Winston last season, the Buccaneers led the league in passing yards and ‘Tampa Bay QB’ produced 24.4 fantasy points per game, second among all quarterbacks.

The only significant offensive pieces the Bucs have lost are Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson, leaving 15 targets per game from last season unaccounted for. The likes of perennially underrated O.J. Howard, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Cameron Brate should mop up those targets in an offense that may have to come from behind often. After all, the Bucs secondary looks like it could be a fertile ground for opposing offenses to plunder, built as it is on a foundation of untried rookies and question marks. The value of these assets is only boosted by the Bucs’ lack of a quality pass-catching back; downfield targets will be the focus.

The picture looks rosy for the Bucs offense, but there is a significant chink in the armor: the offensive line. Despite missing only one start between the five up front last season, the line gave up 41 sacks and, according to Football Outsiders, performed poorly as run blockers. The tandem of Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones shouldn’t put the fear into defenses, so there is a danger of a blitzkrieg of pressure being sent Winston’s way.

Overlooking this significant drawback in the appeal of Winston would be foolish, especially when the nature of Arians’ offense is taken into account: high risk, downfield, five- and seven-step drops. Finding the sweet spot with a run/pass balance -- something the head coach has had trouble with -- will be the difference between Winston finishing as a top-five quarterback finish or a bottom-of-the-barrel fantasy option.

STATS AND PROJECTIONS

Projector
Games
Comp
Att
Yards
TDs
INTs
Rush
Yards
TDs
FumL
David Dodds
15.6
340
544
4270
29.3
16.7
56
219
1.3
4.1
Bob Henry
15.5
359
565
4460
29.0
15.0
52.0
195
1.0
5.0
Jason Wood
16.0
370
575
4400
30.0
14.0
50.0
200
2.0
5.0
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
349
558
4303
23.7
18.8
74
374
1.9
1.4

FINAL THOUGHTS

The NFL is about matchups, but it is just as much about finding the head coach-quarterback axis to exploit those matchups. Jameis Winston enters a career-defining year with an ace up his sleeve in the form of uber-aggressive quarterback whisperer Bruce Arians calling the shots. With an enviable array of offensive talent to play with, a questionable rushing attack and a coach who never exceeded a run percentage of 45 as head coach in Arizona, the stars are aligning for Winston. The offensive line remains a concern, but even a modest improvement from that unit can take the mercurial Winston from his current QB13 status to a top-five option.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Ian Hartitz of Action Network believes a more stable situation with Bruce Arians pulling the levers could be exactly what the quarterback needs to thrive:

“We saw Winston work as the league’s QB9 last season in fantasy points per start despite constantly having to look over his shoulder to deal with both a flaming-hot backup and coaching staff that was actively attempting to keep their jobs. A better culture and overall offense in 2019 could enable Winston to smash his current average draft position as the QB13.”

Mike Tagliere at FantasyPros.com insists Winston is the best way to buy into a high-octane offense, featuring numerous talented weapons:

“Many have labeled Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard as breakout candidates, and while I agree with them, Mike Evans is still there, too. Instead of trying to figure out which player is going to go off every week, take the guy who's distributing the ball to them. The addition of Bruce Arians is fantastic, as is the horrible defense that'll be out there because you'll watch the pass attempts (and fantasy points) rack up.”

Jeff Ratcliffe at Pro Football Focus endorses Winston as a strong late-round quarterback target:

“Winston was actually very solid from Week 11 on, ranking eighth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. That positive momentum is encouraging, as is the fact that Bruce Arians is in at head coach. Arians’ vertical offense and the Bucs fleet of pass-catching talent bode well for Winston. He screams fantasy upside and is one of the biggest breakout candidates in 2019.”

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