ESPN's annual ranking of quarterbacks is out, based on some vague point and tier system which is mostly just a way to quantify the gut feeling of all the NFL front office personnel and coaches they polled. Everyone reading this will want to know how Jameis Winston, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback, did. He was ranked 26th -- in the fourth tier, which is filled with unproven starters.
Winston matched Mariota with 20 votes in the fourth tier, but he got only one in the second tier. Four voters put him in the fifth, and one of those, an offensive coordinator, was betting Winston would be a bust.
"He threw so many bad interceptions in college where everybody is wide open," this coordinator said. "That is not scientific. He was just so inconsistent in college, turned it over all the time and was on the best team in college. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. That is my gut feeling. Not that I think Mariota is the cat's meow, but he will be accurate, precise, efficient. The other guy is gunslinger plus bad decision-making, and that equals bad."
A head coach said he thought Winston would get the turnover problems under control.
"I bet you he throws 15-20 picks this year," a personnel director said. "He is very talented, very smart and he sees it. Has to work at it and protect the football. They will help him. Whether they can protect him or not, I do not know. They will do everything they can by running the ball and scheming."
I don't have any issue with ranking a rookie low simply as a matter of principle -- they are largely unknowns, of course. That's why Ron Jaworski ranked Winston and Mariota 31st and 32nd on his list of starting quarterbacks. The offensive coordinator's comment interests me a lot more -- or worries, rather. Because the turnovers are absolutely an issue: at times, Winston just didn't seem to see underneath defenders, and that's only going to be a bigger problem at the NFL level.
At the same time, aggression is absolutely a desirable trait in a quarterback. You don't want a paint-by-the-numbers guy who doesn't take any risks at that position. Unless you really like Alex Smith, that is. To be a truly successful quarterback you have to be willing to make risky throws -- and it's usually easier to hold someone back from making too many than it is to teach someone to start making them in the first place if they've never done so. See also: Sam Bradford.
I tend to agree with the personnel director on this. He'll throw a bunch of picks as a rookie, just as Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck did in their rookie years. But the Bucs will help him as much as they can, and those picks will be nothing but growing pains. In the long term, Winston's play should be fine -- after all, Brett Favre made a ton of risky throws as well.