Winston has completed three years in the NFL, a career thus far marked with inconsistency, not unlike his fellow draft mate, the oft-criticized left tackle Donovan Smith. The two biggest culprits of Winston’s inconsistency are his turnovers and accuracy, specifically his deep ball accuracy. Some point to his decision-making as well but I believe it is generally good, especially given the scheme he plays in.
Thanks to John Kinsley and his Deep Ball Project, which he started in 2014, we can track how Winston’s deep ball has evolved. First, some background. There is inherently going to be some subjectiveness here because Kinsley grades every quarterback’s deep passes and what Kinsley grades may differ slightly from what someone else grades. He collects a quarterback’s completion percentage, sure, but more importantly he grades the accuracy of that pass and for example whether the receiver had to adjust to the ball when they shouldn’t have had to. For the 2017-2018 season he greatly expanded the information he gathered and created an efficiency score for each quarterback. Here’s how he does it:
So how are the points handled, you might ask? Well, the further the accurate pass is thrown, the more points will be handed out. So here’s how each area of the field is handled in that regard:
16 to 19 yards = 1 point
20 to 24 yards = 2 points
25 to 29 yards = 3 points
30 to 34 yards = 4 points
35 to 39 yards = 5 points
40-plus yards = 6 points
One additional point will be handed out if the accurate pass was delivered under pressure or in a tight window (where the quarterback has much less margin for error). If the pass was delivered while under pressure AND in a tight window, two bonus points are rewarded. For instance, suppose a quarterback throws an accurate pass of 40-plus yards. That’s six points already. Making it under pressure or in a tight window adds one point to make it seven. Making that throw under both scenarios adds two points to make the throw worth eight total points.
Three points are docked if:
The pass is completed but the throw is inaccurate and forces the receiver to adjust.
The pass is intercepted and the quarterback is at fault. (Matt Ryan is proof that quarterbacks can throw interceptions that aren’t on them.)
The pass is dropped by the defense and the quarterback is at fault.
After all the passes are tallied up, the final number of points is divided by the amount of downfield passes. That results in the quarterback’s efficiency score.
We’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves. First, let’s look back to what Kinsley had to say about Winston’s deep ball in 2015 and 2016:
Out of any QB I watched from 2015 for the Deep Ball Project, Jameis Winston surprised me the most. Pleasantly.
First off, 111 deep passes for a rookie QB is unheard of, even in today’s pass drunk era. But Winston provided some excellent touch passes and long bombs, making his 2015 season actually pleasant to watch (take note, Fitzpatrick).
If there’s one complaint, it’s that the misses are a bit sloppy, and the decision making isn’t finely tuned. But that’s a small complaint for a QB entering his sophomore season, and Winston’s deep ball was fine in 2015. I expect better things from him in 2016.
FINAL GRADE: B
Kinsley states Winston was 51 for 111 for a 45.9 completion percentage but a 51.4 percent accuracy percentage for 1,271 yards and five touchdowns (4.5 percent) and three interceptions (2.7 percent). Winston’s B grade ranked him 14th on Kinsley’s chart.
The 2015 Bucs had a pretty strong running game and Dirk Koetter utilized play-action to get Winston some easier looks. I don’t believe Winston entered the NFL with a deep-ball issue; it wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t awful either, and his rookie campaign gave him a solid foundation to build upon. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Here’s what Kinsley had to say about Winston’s 2016-season deep ball:
In 2015, Jameis Winston’s deep ball was a pleasant surprise. In 2016 his deep ball was unpleasant torture. To say his placement was on a different planet from the one his receivers were living on is a vast understatement. How can you overthrow Mike Evans, a 6 ft 5 ball magnet? Apparently Winston figured it out.
The inaccuracy is inexcusable, and only a few throws of excellence save Winston from an F-. I’m still having a hard time believing he threw 28 touchdowns in 2016, because without looking at stats alone I could never tell. I’d go on about dropped picks, catches that bailed out ball placement, and missed opportunities, but the Deep Ball Project is generally three pages long.
Frankly, I don’t know what happened. Sure, Winston’s rookie season displayed erratic downfield accuracy, but there was no preparation for this. Winston had the fourth worst accuracy on throws of 20+ last year, and considering how badly he missed on these throws, I’m amazed it wasn’t the worst.
And consider that Winston threw the most downfield attempts of any QB in 2016 with 116 deep throws. When you throw that much yet can’t even be accurate on 33% of your throws, your deep ball is not strong then. Make no mistake, Jameis Winston’s downfield accuracy was atrocious last year.
FINAL GRADE: F
This raises a lot of questions. Why and how did Winston get so bad at the deep ball in 2016? If he was so bad why did he lead all quarterbacks in downfield attempts? Kinsley’s “F” grade ranked Winston 29th. This was the first year Kinsley split 16+ and 20+ yard throws:
For 16+ air yards he had Winston down for 47/116 for 40.5 percent with Winston accurate on 54 of those 116 attempts. That accuracy percentage of 46.6 ranked 22nd. He had 11 touchdowns (9.5 percent) and 6 interceptions (5.2 percent).
For 20+ air yard throws he had Winston down for 18/61 for 29.5 percent with Winston accurate on 20 of those 61 attempts with an accuracy percentage of 32.89 percent that ranked 28th, to go with 8 touchdowns (13.1 percent) and 5 interceptions (8.2 percent).
So how did Winston do in 2017?
Kinsley’s 2017 season Deep Ball Project data was recently featured on Football Outsiders here. As noted above, Kinsley did not give out grades for last season but instead an efficiency score. Winston’s score was 1.28, (perhaps shockingly) good for 11th in the NFL (NFL average 0.99). Here’s what he said about Winston’s 2017 deep ball:
Jameis Winston is infamous for his inaccuracy. Last season he was among the worst downfield passers in the league, constantly missing open receivers and leaving plays on the field.
He was still doing this in 2017, but when he came back from his 3-game injury, Winston played the best football of his career, and his deep accuracy saw growth as well.
The egregious misses are still there, but at the same time Winston has appeared to find some consistency. He was 4th in accuracy on throws of 16-19 air yards, and only threw 1 inaccurate completion on the season, an impressively low number! He was also 8th in tight window accuracy.
The main issues with Winston still lie in his accuracy on throws of 35+ air yards, but he appears to have taken a big step in the right direction.
When Winston is good, he’s really damn good. He does a phenomenal job of sidestepping pressure here and firing into the area of ball magnet Mike Evans for a sensational touchdown.
Lets look at and break down Kinsley’s numbers on Winston.
38/89 for 42.7 completion percent but he was accurate on 48 of those throws, good for a 53.9 accuracy percentage (NFL average 48 percent). He had 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, with 1 inaccurate completion and 11 accurate incompletions (8th most).
His accuracy percentage and ranks:
Total: 53.9% (10)
16-19 Yds: 73.0% (4)
20-24 Yds: 60.0% (10)
25-29 Yds: 42.9% (14)
30-34 Yds: 37.5% (15)
35-39 Yds: 20.0% (25)
40+ Yds: 20.0% (26)
Score: 1.28 (11)
As Kinsley said, Winston only really has a problem with his deep ball 35-plus yards down the field. Per his charting Winston was also the 9th most accurate quarterback when he had a clean pocket (69.7 percent of the time, 12th most) and the 15th most accurate when under pressure. He was also the 15th most accurate when throwing into an open window and 8th most accurate when throwing into a tight window (66.3 percent of the time, 15th most). Curiously, Winston threw with play-action 25.8 percent of the time, just 17th most, but his accuracy was only 39.1 percent, which ranks 29th. This would need more study as by all accounts Winston’s play action mechanics are very good. Unfortunately I don’t have prior-year data on Winston’s accuracy from play action to compare.
I encourage you to read Football Outsider’s piece and all the numbers for other quarterbacks as there’s some interesting nuggets in there. For example, Carson Wentz had the highest percentage of open window throws last season at 51.8 percent.
Of course, no discussion is complete without acknowledging Winston’s injured throwing shoulder. I went back and looked and I believe he originally hurt his shoulder on the last play before halftime in Week 3 (the Bucs’ second game of the season because of the hurricane) vs the Minnesota Vikings. I believe he re-injured it or made the injury worse on plays in the Bills and Cardinals games. I don’t believe he was fully healthy again until the last few weeks of the season. Hopefully Winston can build off those games and stay healthy and show an improved deep ball in 2018. Sometimes progress isn’t linear, but there’s still time for him to figure it out.