There are plenty of reasons to be bullish on Jameis Winston heading into the 2017 Fantasy Football season. Maturing as a signal caller, he’ll be entering his third year coming off a 4,000 yard 28 touchdown season. He’ll have some impressive assets to work with as well, after the Bucs spent their offseason gathering assets to support him through free agency and the draft. No doubt, the needle is pointing up on his fantasy stock.
That said, the question for early drafters isn’t whether or not he’ll be effective this season. It’s whether his current draft stock will pay dividends from September-December. According to FantasyPros he’s being drafted as the 9th QB off the board, #80 overall (a mid-seventh round selection) following a season where he finished with 256.5 standard league points. That total was good enough for 16th overall among Quarterbacks, trailing the number nine spot by roughly one fantasy point per game. It’s not a significant hill to climb, but certainly there are names with less hype who performed just as well in 2016 or better.
One of the most significant reasons for optimism around Winston has been the addition of DeSean Jackson as a big money free agent. Jackson will be paired with Mike Evans at receiver and TE O.J. Howard who came to the team via the 19th overall selection. On paper, the addition of one of the league’s premiere deep threats is a great fit for the prospects of the strong-armed young QB.
Indeed, Winston threw for 4,090 yards last season with Vincent Jackson sidelined and without a lot of success with the deep ball. In fact, according to analytics website SharpFootballStats.com Winston was a considerably below average deep ball passer last year. His numbers are below.
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Winston actually closed the season quite well on deep passes, but still finished under 40% completions on passes over 15 yards. Moreover, he was intercepted more than once every 20 attempts. It’s an area where the Bucs hope he can grow for their own prospects, and an area where incremental improvement can produce significant fantasy results.
His QB Rating is also well below the league average in this area. Sharp Football Stats breaks that down for us as well:
You’ll see that Winston is right around the average in throws between 0 and 15 yards in the area, but when the ball traveled more than 15 yards his numbers are well below the overall league Quarterback Rating. Meantime, DeSean Jackson is known to be one of the best deep ball receivers in the league. He was targeted just 33 times over 15 yards a year ago in Washington, but reeled in 52% of those balls. Kirk Cousins threw for an impressive 115 QB Rating when targeting Jackson on those 33 throws. Mike Evans, meanwhile, was targeted 58 times on balls over 15 yards. He caught just 38 percent of those, and Winston’s rating was a dismal (by comparison) 78.
That’s not to say, necessarily, that the pair don’t work well on deep balls. Just that they weren’t particularly effective. One reason for that: opposing defenses may have known it was coming. The next most targeted Buccaneers pass catcher was Russell Sheppard who saw 15 looks on passes over 20 yards. Jackson is a new tool for the offense, and both he and Howard will bring some needed diversity.
He shouldn’t be expected to cure what ails Winston all on his own, of course, as the QB’s deep passing accuracy and its translation to the pro game has been a subject of discussion throughout his career. That said, it’s clear that the 30-year-old receiver was brought in to fit a specific need on the Tampa offense. His presence should negatively effect Evans’ share of the overall targets, but it may have a net zero effect on the number one receiver’s own prospects as defenses will be kept honest all over the field. What’s clear is that the speedy Jackson should give Winston more options. For their part, the team has no concerns in sharing that they have high expectations for the significant signing.
Ultimately, there is a lot of growth required to propel Winston into fantasy’s upper tiers at his position, but the elements are in place for significant growth entering his third year. Owners willing to pay an admittedly expectant price should find themselves with a fairly low floor and intriguing ceiling option for the cost of a 7th or 8th round pick.
Per USA Today, the 3rd year QB is looking forward to the season and his owners should be too:
[W]e’re just looking forward to working more with [DeSean Jackson]. I don’t know who we will be taking in the draft, but I know it’s going to be someone good. I’m excited. I’m just ready to get this team finalized and get ready for the season