With the combine behind us, it’s time to start taking a deep look at prospects. Quarterbacks always generate the most chatter, as they usually result in the biggest boom or bust outcomes. Everyone has an opinion on each specific individual, whether or not it is informed. This year, the highest profile quarterback is none other than Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
Jameis has already made a name for himself, and not in a good way. His off-field exploits have earned him many negative opinions, and there are already plenty of people saying that they would take him off their draft boards. Personally, I feel that judging character and long-term leadership skills is somewhat impossible as a fan, as you really don’t have any idea what a player is like in the locker room, on a day to day basis. Considering that Jameis was the star of a football school, with so much simply handed to him, I have a very tough time projecting his maturity based on a few idiotic choices. So with that in mind, I will choose to project his football skills based only on film.
The first thing I noticed with Jameis was how polished his short to intermediate passing game is; it would be impressive for a QB with 4 years in college. For someone with only two years experience, it’s exceptional. He attacks the entire area of the field under 15 yards: swing passes to running backs, slants and in cuts over the middle, corner routes, and hitches. Name a type of short route that an NFL passing offense runs, and Jameis is likely comfortable throwing it. His accuracy on this throws is impressive, often hitting receivers in stride, and anticipating them being open before they are. What makes this even more admirable is his reluctance to leave the pocket; he demonstrates a desire to hang in there and make the throw, rarely rolling out past his offensive tackles unless he has to.
What I like most about what I see in Jameis’ film is his decisiveness. I can’t say I’ve seen him hesitate on a single throw, regardless of whether or not the pass rush is going to get to him. Take a look at this play: Jameis instantly reads off man coverage, makes the right read, and the ball is out as the receiver makes his cut. Any hesitation on this play would have resulted in a sack or at least a big hit from the free rusher. This may seem like a simple play to make, and it is, but it’s a play that many inexperienced QB’s would feel the desire to roll out right towards space and make the throw on the move. I feel that this replay is a good indicator of an advanced football mind.
Ok, how about when Jameis is under more pressure and tougher opponents? I wanted to see him play against an SEC defense, so I pulled up the FSU-Florida game. This was Jameis’ worst statistical output of the season, with four interceptions and just 50% of his passes completed. Surprisingly enough, I came away from the game feeling more impressed with him. Florida’s pass rush had him under pressure the entire game, and their corners constantly made incredible plays. Three of Jameis’ four interceptions were well above average plays by the defender, and two of them weren’t necessarily even bad throws. With Florida choosing to take away his bread and butter short throws, Jameis settled down after two early interceptions, and instead went for some deeper plays. Here is a nice back shoulder throw on 3rd and long, and later on the same drive, another nice back shoulder for a touchdown.
Both those plays are nice, but they don’t hold a candle to this next one. Take a look at what he does here, late in the second quarter: both edge rushers get a good jump, forcing Jameis to step up. He has no choice but to step directly towards an unblocked rusher, and make an off-balance throw in the face of a big hit. Despite all this, the throw is right on time for a big gain. This play demonstrates everything I look for in a QB prospect; staying composed in the face of pressure, but also staying within the confines of the pocket, and making an accurate throw despite knowing that you will take a hit. For lack of a better phrase, this was a “perfect play” by Jameis, against an outstanding defense no less. This may be just one play, but trust me, the characteristics displayed on that replay are consistently at work throughout all of Jameis’ games.
I have a lot of praise for Jameis, but he is not without some weaknesses. His release time is no better than average for an NFL QB, and perhaps slightly worse. This does give defenders a slight edge when it comes to jumping routes, so he will need to develop a solid pump-fake, something he does not appear to use at all. The biggest complaint on him right now is his tendency to throw interceptions. This is a perfectly legitimate point, as he has shown a slight weakness for missing robber type coverages where defenders hide in the middle of the field, sitting on crossing type routes and slants. However, considering this can be reduced by more experience and knowledge of coverage types, I expect this to improve over time. Beyond that, his decision making is very reliable, and he consistently moves the chains with his intermediate passing game, so his interception rate does not really worry me. If anything, his biggest red flag in my mind is his lower body strength, as I often see him putting his back into deeper throws despite being set in his stance. He very much needs to commit time to the weight room so that his lower body can absorb more of the required force.
Before diving into the film, Brett Hundley was my original #1 QB in this draft. However it took just three game viewings for me to change my mind on that. If you think that Jameis is a bad apple, and should be avoided because of character concerns, I can’t argue with you. But based on his accuracy, reasonable level of athleticism, pocket presence, and cerebral understanding of the game, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he is the top player in this draft. Considering Tampa Bay’s gaping need at QB, I think they would be making an enormous mistake if they chose to pass on him at #1 overall. The only allowable way that they don’t select him would be if another team offered an arm and a leg to trade up for their pick, and even then, I might advise against it. I don’t know if Jameis is going to be a special player, but I feel extremely confident that all his football skills project very favorably, and that he will have a good career as an NFL starting QB.