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Jameis Winston's impressive under pressure and in the pocket

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

More and more national media are waking up to the fact that Jameis Winston is quietly having a really good rookie season after a rather disastrous outing in week one. Bill Barnwell in an ESPN article on Winston and Mariota's rookie years (spoiler: they're both doing really well) is the latest analyst to write about Winston in pretty glowing terms, and while he makes a lot of interesting observations, the note about pressure stood out the most to me.

Winston was expected to do a better job of handling pass pressure, and he has. A 26.8 QBR doesn't exactly sound like it's star-caliber, but that's good enough to rank Winston ninth in the league when under pressure this season


Winston, meanwhile, is 11th in the league under pressure with an 8.4 percent sack rate. And in terms of their overall sack rate, Mariota (8.2 percent of dropbacks) is being sacked far more frequently than Winston (5.4 percent).

When people talk of quarterbacks making the players around them look better, it's often justified in vague and largely unverifiable terms: leadership, will to win, the "it" factor, whatever that is. That turns the trait into a story, one we apply to teams that win and not teams that don't win -- a way to paper over deficiencies on the field and explain how teams with (seemingly) poor quarterbacks still manage to pull out some wins.

In Winston's case, we don't need to do that. The way he makes players around him better is obvious, at least when it comes to the offensive line: he's outstanding in the pocket, and helps his linemen -- who get beaten plenty of times -- both by getting rid of the ball on time, and by moving around to give his linemen a little extra time and space to work with. And consequently, he gives himself some extra space and time as well.

That calm under pressure and the ability to navigate the pocket are not traits that we talk about very often in relation to NFL quarterbacks, but they're absolutely crucial. They can make or break a quarterback, especially early in their careers. It doesn't matter how accurate and powerful someone's arm is if all of that evaporates under pressure. It doesn't matter how well a quarterback reads coverage if he can't handle bodies around him. And barring week one's aberrant performance, Winston has consistently showed the ability to operate within the pocket at a high level.

So far, Jameis Winston looks like he belongs in the NFL. That's no guarantee of success -- there were seasons when Josh Freeman and Robert Griffin III looked like future stars, too -- but there's a lot of reason for optimism. So far, it looks like the Bucs have a franchise quarterback.