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Jameis Winston's interceptions are a real problem

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Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Jameis Winston threw a lot of interceptions in his final year in college. 18, to be precise.

A few players are usually mentioned when we talk about Winston's interceptions: Dan Marino, who threw 23 interceptions as a senior, Matt Ryan, 19 interceptions, Andrew Luck, 10 interceptions, and Peyton Manning, with 11. Winston's 18 interceptions don't look that bad in that context, but one thing's missing there: pass attempts.

Winston had just 467 attempts to get to his 18 interceptions -- an interception percentage of 3.85%, which is more or less in line with his 2.60% as a freshman with better receiving talent. But Ryan's 19 interceptions came on a whopping 654 attempts or 2.90%, Manning's 11 came on 477 attempts or 2.31% and Luck had 404 attempts for 10 picks, or 2.48%. Only Dan Marino threw interceptions at a ridiculous rate -- 23 picks on 378 attempts, or a ridiculous 6.08%, but that was an entirely different era of football.

So Winston's interception rate certainly stands out, and is not really comparable to that of any other recent highly-drafted quarterback, even if the total number of interceptions is. That said, interceptions always happen in context and looking at raw numbers can only tell you so much. So we really need to go the tape of the picks to understand what happened. Very helpfully, Samuel Gold of NFL Breakdowns already did so, going through each and every one of Winston's interceptions.

A few of those interceptions can be blamed on poorly run routes or miscommunication, and on a couple of plays pressure led to poorly-placed throws, but the vast majority of those interceptions show one consistent problem: Winston fails to properly identify defenders when receivers are covered both underneath and over the top. Winston either misses the presence of an underneath linebacker, or fails to see the over-the-top safety ready to break down on the ball.

That's a common concern for rookie quarterbacks -- in the NFL. In college that happens a lot less frequently, in part because offenses are designed to create safe throws, in part because college defenses aren't nearly as good as NFL defenses at fooling quarterbacks. The fact that Winston consistently displays this issue in college means he'll likely get worse in the NFL, at least at first.

That is not a death knell for Winston. No prospect is perfect, and this is probably his worst trait. But it is an area where he has to improve if he wants to be successful in the NFL. For all the praise Winston receives for understanding a pro-style offense and reading defenses, he has quite a long way to go. That makes him just like any other prospect, but it's something we tend to gloss over a little too quickly.

This means that Winston likely won't come into the league and immediately blow it up -- few quarterbacks do, of course. There's a solid chance he'll instead do something Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck did, too: throw a boatload of interceptions as a rookie, while he adjusts to NFL reads, NFL speed and NFL defenses.