Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston isn’t that bad. His high end play outweighs the ugly. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The worst narrative in the NFL is the casual fan thinking that Jameis Winston is a horrible quarterback. Most of the public has been brainwashed by the media by the constant bashing of Winston. It’s not hard to see why the common fan falls into this trap. But what about the interceptions? Fans see that and automatically associate that with bad. That’s fine and good. However, there are way more ways to measure how good or bad a quarterback is. Jameis Winston isn’t that bad. In fact, you could make a more than compelling argument that he’s a pretty good quarterback.

Winston isn’t perfect. I won’t deny that. He’s the game’s most volatile quarterback. The highs are real high and the lows are real low. Winston ranks second in the NFL in passing touchdowns (30), first in yards (4,573), and first in interceptions (24). Can someone really be a bad quarterback who ranks first in yards and touchdowns? “BUT THE INTERCEPTIONS!?!” What if I told you there was a smarter way to quantify them. Pay attention.

The goal is to obviously score points. Not just points, but touchdowns. However, NFL teams don’t score them as efficiently as you may think. The average team this year scores a touchdown on less than 25 percent of their offensive drives. Teams get about 12 drives a game and score 3 touchdowns per game. That’s the norm in the NFL. That means 75 percent of the time, it’s either a field goal, turnover, or punt. Are you with me so far?

What we should be doing is quantifying a 3 and out the same as an interception. In reality when you throw an interception, what you’re really concerned about is the average starting field position for the opposition. What we should realize is that a 3 and out is essentially just as damaging to an offense as an interception. In fact, it’s more damaging if the offense has already picked up yards and the interception came down the field. Are you still with me? Pay attention.

Jameis Winston
(Butch Dill/Associated Press)

While Winston is throwing more picks, he’s also really good at avoiding 3 and outs. Tampa ranks 6th lowest 3rd and out rate in the NFL. The only teams ahead of them are Houston, LA Chargers, Dallas, Baltimore, and Kansas City. All very good offenses. If we understand that a 3 and out is the same as an interception most of the time, then we start to realize that Winston’s high end play becomes much more enticing.

Again, interceptions are really about two things. Creating field position for the other team and failing to capitalize on a drive. The Bucs have a below average defense. Tampa ranks 15th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. Just keep that in mind as we move on.

The first one is a double edged sword. Maybe even triple edged sword. The Bucs defense has an average starting field position at the 30.84 yard line. That’s not great and ranks 29th in the NFL. That’s the concerning part about the interceptions. However, more needs to be factored in. Despite the Bucs having a poor defense, the offense has an average starting field position at the 28.62 yard line. That’s not bad and ranks 13th. So despite the defense having their struggles, the Bucs offense isn’t having terrible starting field position. That tells me the offense is moving the ball rather frequently, which happens. Tampa ranks 3rd in total offense.

Of course, special teams is also factored into starting field position. While the Bucs defense doesn’t have great starting field position by league average standards, their punter isn’t helping matters. Bradley Pinion has 52 punts on the season. Not a small sample size. He ranks 30th in average punt yardage and 30th in net yardage. He’s not helping the starting field position which suggests Winston isn’t putting them in as bad of position as the original number may indicate. If you factor in the poor performance of Pinion, the Bucs defense isn’t given nearly as bad of field position in reality.

There’s also another number to factor in here. The goal of any offense is to create a lead. If you give your defense a lead, most of the time you should win games. Jameis Winston is giving his team a lead, his defense just isn’t holding on to it for him. The Bucs defense receives an average lead of 3.14 points per drive. That means when Tampa’s defense takes the field, they are up by more than 3 points on average. That’s the 8th best mark in the NFL. It’s not a fluky stat. The 7 teams ahead of them are all in the playoffs. Baltimore, New England, San Francisco, Kansas City, New Orleans, Green Bay, and Minnesota are the other 7.

Of those 7 teams, 6 of them are VERY good at protecting leads. One isn’t, Kansas City. No, Jameis Winston isn’t Patrick Mahomes, but who is? Winston is giving his team the lead. They just can’t hold it for him. Is that on Jameis too? Last time I checked Winston can’t play corner for the Bucs. Quarterbacks don’t overcome bad defenses (except for Mahomes). In reality, all we can really ask of a quarterback is to give his team the lead. Winston is doing that.

The way we should be looking at interceptions is in conjunction with 3 and outs. Both are damaging. Sometimes more or less depending on where the interception took place. Winston has either thrown an interception or failed to pick up one first down in a drive 29.6 percent of the time. Compare that to Jared Goff who everyone seems to love for no reason. Goff is creating what we would classify as a disastrous drive 33.4 percent of the time. That’s a higher percentage without the big play potential of Winston. Baker Mayfield sits at 31.2% and Kyler Murray at 30% also create worse drives.

The problem is trying to figure out the threshold. When does the bad outweigh the good? Tampa is clearly winning games. They have a 7-7 record in a loaded NFC. They are averaging over 400 yards per game and scoring close to 30 points a game which ranks 3rd in the NFL. Can Jameis Winston really be that bad if his team is doing this offensively?

Jameis Winston
(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Everybody loves Aaron Rodgers. I do too. However, Green Bay gets forced into a 3 and out 25.5 percent of the time. That’s almost as high as Winston in both categories. Rodgers also hasn’t given you the high end play as consistently as Winston either. Rodgers has protected the ball really well. Green Bay is scoring 6 fewer points a game. Where do we really draw the line? Does your brain hurt yet?

Where do you draw the line? Would you rather have Alex Smith who puts up no points but also doesn’t score? That’s worse. We have seen what Jacoby Brissett is doing. He takes care of the ball. He also doesn’t score. That’s worse and the Colts have fallen off a cliff without Andrew Luck. It would be great if Winston didn’t throw as many picks but eliminating them would probably also mean you’re eliminating the high end play. There is no upside with Andy Dalton.

Jameis Winston might have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but he doesn’t have much else. This past week they put up 38 without Evans and with Godwin for a half. Tampa has the 24th best pass blocking offensive line according to Pro Football Outsiders.

Tampa has arguably the worst set of running backs in the league. It’s a combo of Peyton Barber who is averaging 3.1 yards per carry and Ronald Jones who sits at 3.7. I think we forget how important running games are. Baker Mayfield stinks with Nick Chubb. That matters. Jimmy Garoppolo is a different guy with a running game. So was Matt Ryan when he had Kyle Shanahan. Kirk Cousins is a machine with Dalvin Cook. Christian McCaffrey had us fooled that Kyle Allen could play. Lamar Jackson is a new man with Mark Ingram. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t lose when Green Bay decides they want to use Aaron Jones. Same with Dak and Zeke. Then there is the 50 feet of crap Jameis has in the backfield. Running backs matter.

Yes, he has two solid receivers. He also doesn’t have much else. Bruce Arians is clearly helping him. Arians is on record for saying that his quarterbacks usually need 11-12 games to figure out his system. Winston has been on fire Week 14 and 15. Carson Palmer is a great example of this who broke out after a period of time with Bruce Arians. The past two weeks, he’s the first quarterback in NFL history to have over 450 passing yards in back to back games. HE does some things that are historic in a good way. The best isn’t here yet for famous Jameis.

Jameis Winston does a lot of things well. If we start to understand that interceptions need to be quantified better, then we start to get excited about the high end play. Winston leads his team on touchdown drives 26 percent of the time. Russell Wilson, for example, sits at 26.3 percent. Winston isn’t forcing his team to settle for field goals. He puts up points every single week. Jameis Winston has a drive success rate of 71.9 percent. That’s a first down or touchdown. Russell Wilson sits at 71.8 percent. That’s the same guy who might win the MVP Award.

No, Jameis Winston isn’t perfect. Are the interceptions an issue. For sure. We should also recognize they aren’t being properly quantified. Especially given the fact that he is producing such high point production for his team. Brett Favre has thrown more interceptions than any other quarterback in the history of the game. Favre is in the Hall of Fame. Sorry to break it to you, Jameis Winston isn’t nearly as bad as the media tries to portray. Sorry, it doesn’t fit your narrative. I’m just trying to help you be smarter.