I'm going to do the unthinkable, the thing that will give every Bucs fans some nasty flashbacks: I'm going to compare the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new franchise quarterback to Josh Freeman, that player who everyone thought was going to be the next big thing in the NFL before his rather spectacular collapse. That's the player who I'm going to compare Jameis Winston to -- blame the comments on this article. Have no fear, though: this will be a favorable comparison.
Freeman left a bitter taste in Bucs fans' mouths. He played in Tampa for five seasons after being drafted in 2009, but he was a good player only in 2010. Outside of that one season, he was frustrating to watch -- teasing you with a few spectacular throws in each game, but those few throws could never make up for the inaccuracy and boneheaded decisions he made. And Freeman's falling out with the team was as spectacular as it was toxic, a pretty good summary of the quarterback's career.
Amidst all of that, it's easy to forget that Josh Freeman once looked like that franchise quarterback the Bucs now hope they have in Winston. Back in 2010, Freeman threw 25 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions, orchestrated five fourth-quarter comebacks and had a few spectacular moments in every single game, with very frustrating moments we've come to associate with him. Just watch the highlights below, featuring an eerily prophetic soundtrack.
More than a few of those plays are the kinds of things we saw out of Jameis Winston last season. Skip to 5:06 and you'll see a scramble drill eerily similar to Winston's touchdown pass below, for instance.
More than that, the two share a lot of similarities: they both have big arms, though Freeman had a better one. They both have the ability to make aggressive, anticipatory throws. Both of them can stand and deliver in the face of pressure, or maneuver inside the pocket to create space for themselves. Both have somewhat sloppy mechanics, which can lead to inconsistent accuracy. And neither is a great athlete, but both have the ability to shrug off pas rushers and enough speed to escape the pocket and create time or run for a first down, when necessary. Oh, and both are frequently compared to Ben Roethlisberger.
Of course, no comparison is perfect. Freeman had accuracy issues throughout his career, while Winston is consistently accurate -- even with mechanical inconsistencies, he's nowhere near as scattershot. Although this is difficult to judge, Winston seems a little more advanced in his understanding of NFL passing concepts: Freeman had a tendency to lock on to one read, and scramble if that player wasn't open, while Winston did a good job of going through his progressions in college.
The biggest difference lies in consistency, though. With Freeman, even in 2010, those positive traits remained limited to flashes -- hints of what may come, a future that never arrived. With Winston, those traits are already consistent. That's not to say he has nothing to improve on, but many of the things that Freeman struggled to cultivate after the 2010 season are things that Winston has shown the ability to do, consistently, in college.
I'm not sure we'll ever know for certain what happened with Freeman to stall his development, but the consensus seems to be that his work ethic faltered. That's not something we'll have to worry about with Winston: everyone who was involved with him in college raved about his focus on football, the time he put in to understand the game, and his general approach.
Don't be afraid of the comparison: the fact that one player failed does not mean that the next will, too. And one player's failures shouldn't blind us to the positive traits in him, or others.