As the 2015 NFL Draft began, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to make a difficult decision. The Bucs were looking for their first true franchise quarterback and someone to lead them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston (Florida State) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon) were guaranteed top picks and by far the best quarterback prospects in the draft. Tampa Bay went on to pick the more “Pro-Ready” prospect in Winston and gave him the keys to the franchise. Some fans were skeptical of his interceptions and off the field issues, but there was no denying his pocket presence, will to win, and ability to make all of the throws. The front office took the slight risk and hoped his winning mentality would translate. Fast forward to 2017 and Winston is turning the franchise around as expected.
In his rookie season, Jameis Winston took a 2-14 team to 6-10 and showed flashes of his potential. Winston threw for 4042 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions with a 58.3% completion percentage. While the stats were up and down, his maturity and leadership in his first year impressed me most. The veteran Pro-Bowl DT Gerald McCoy even stated the team was Winston’s team by season’s end. Jameis even participated in the Pro Bowl, albeit a last minute addition, getting to learn from the best players in the league as a rookie.
After Winston’s second season, it was safe to say that he can win in this league. In 2016-2017, the Bucs went 9-7, their first winning record since that 2007 season. Although Tampa Bay narrowly missed the playoffs, it was another step in the right direction. Jameis (4090 YDS) became the first QB ever to throw for 4000 yards in his first two seasons; he also compiled 28 TDs, 18 INTs, and a 60.8% Completion Percentage. Adding to his stats and leadership, he began to make other players better. Tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Adam Humphries both had impressive seasons as Winston’s 2nd/3rd targets behind star WR Mike Evans.
Quarterbacks usually reveal the type of player they are after three seasons. They’ve been around the league, faced every coverage imaginable, and been in close games. Former #1 overall pick Jameis Winston and offensive-minded Head Coach Dirk Koetter have a chance to not only make the playoffs in year 3 but potentially do some damage. Tampa Bay had a great offseason, improving a rising defense and giving JW some more weapons. The team added WR DeSean Jackson, who can still go deep with the best of them. The Bucs also drafted TE O.J. Howard and WR Chris Godwin who with Jackson can help stretch the field and take coverage away from Mike Evans. The run game will look to improve although Doug Martin is serving a 4 game suspension. All in all, the pieces are there for Jameis Winston. In a make or break season for Tampa Bay, Winston will need to play like a number one pick to lead this team back to the playoffs. As I try not to let my Bucs bias kick in, I truly believe that Jameis Winston will deliver and lead us to a playoff spot in 2017.
Decades from now, we may still be debating who the better quarterback is; Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. Personally, I like both of these quarterbacks and both Winston and Mariota are living up to their potential thus far (I’ll let MJ and Titans fans break Mariota down further). Year three is a vital year for both quarterbacks and their respective franchises. Who knows, maybe there’s a Bucs-Titans Super Bowl down the road with these two leading the way. That would be an incredible game and great for the league.
The Buccaneers open their season September 10th in Miami against the Dolphins.