By Austin Gayle
Jameis Winston is reckless. He’s an inconsistent, high-variance roller coaster under center, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ faithful along for the ride are well aware of the electrifying highs and damning lows in his game.
Prior to this season, Winston had the third-highest percentage of negatively graded plays and second-highest percentage of positively graded plays among qualifying quarterbacks over the past four years (2015-18). And his 2019 season under Bruce Arians has been no different. He ranks inside the top 10 in positively graded play rate and owns the 10th-highest negatively graded play rate through Week 4.
Getting the best out of Winston isn’t difficult; he puts his best on display in bursts every week (as evidenced by his high positively graded throw rate). The problem is Winston’s worst is on display far too often for Arians and Co. to have any level of consistency.
Winston earned a 43.6 passing grade in the team’s Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers and a 55.4 passing grade in their Week 3 loss to the New York Giants. Conversely, Winston had an 81 passing grade and a 74.3 passing grade in the team’s Weeks 2 and 4 wins, respectively.
Suspect decision-making plays a role in Winston’s up-and-down play, but the root of his inconsistency is his inaccuracy. Looking at all of 2018 and the start of 2019 (Weeks 1-4), Winston ranks 37th among the 47 quarterbacks with 100 or more aimed attempts in said span in percentage of accurate throws, according to PFF’s ball location charting. He also owns the sixth-highest percentage of uncatchable targets among the same group of qualifiers; only Blaine Gabbert, Josh McCown, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have thrown a higher percentage of uncatchable targets.
And that same level of inconsistency rings true on passes 10-plus air yards. Among the 31 NFL signal-callers with at least 100 aimed targets of such depths since the start of the 2018 season, Winston owns the ninth-highest percentage of uncatchable targets.
Without consistent overall or downfield accuracy, Winston will also have roller-coaster production. In his two best games from a downfield accuracy standpoint, Winston earned his two best single-game passing grades and added two tallies to the win column. And his two worst games resulted in low passing grades and losses.
Unfortunately for Arians, he can’t turn Winston into a more accurate passer overnight. What he can do is put Winston in a better position to throw accurately and execute the offense with a higher percentage of play-action dropbacks.
Among the 29 quarterbacks with 20 or more play-action dropbacks, Winston ranks first in passer rating (152.1) and yards per attempt (12.5) when running play action. His YPA average is 5.2 yards better on play-action dropbacks compared to standard dropbacks, and his completion percentage is 9.4 percentage points better, as well. He has also thrown the seventh-lowest percentage of uncatchable targets on play-action passes so far this season. Yet, he has the eighth-lowest percentage of play-action dropbacks among qualifying quarterbacks.
Of course, increased usage of play-action won’t fix all of Tampa Bay’s problems, but it would almost certainly give the Bucs a boost offensively and, perhaps, a drop in lows on the roller coaster that is Winston’s right arm.
For more statistical analysis of the NFL, go to PFF.com.
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