Fantasy Football: Jameis Winston’s Suspension Does Not Doom the Buccaneers’ Offense

Don't panic; Tampa Bay will be just fine for fantasy production without Winston under center.

I really enjoy writing fun ledes to my articles, but I want to use my space at the beginning of this piece to talk about what happened with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.

Winston allegedly sexually assaulted an Uber driver in March 2016 (not his first accusation of such a crime), and it only recently came to light. The legal system absolved him, and only after he was punished by the NFL with a three-game suspension did he essentially admit to committing the act and apologize.

Before we go on, there are groups serving victims of abuse, educating the public, and helping to influence policy worldwide. Here are a few that you should support if you can and use if you need: RAINN (a national network), Darkness to Light and Wings Foundation (seeking to end child sexual abuse), and 1in6 (for male victims of sexual abuse).

I want to put the issue that caused this incident front and center here. This is important, and like Scott Fish’s Fantasy Cares effort, we can both enjoy the pastime we love -- fantasy football -- while making the world a better place.

There are many ramifications to the incident that occurred, but what effect will Winston’s suspension have on the Buccaneers’ offense in 2018?

The Offense

It’s a reasonable assumption that if one takes away a team’s top quarterback, the passing game will slump. But will the Buccaneers lose any steam in their first three games with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center?

In many cases when a starting quarterback will be out, the backup doesn’t have a large enough sample size for us to really know how they’ll perform when thrust into the starting gig. Even worse, we almost never have a sample of that backup with the team he’ll be starting for. Incredibly, we do get to examine Fitzpatrick in context of his six appearances for Tampa Bay last season and compare the differences in production between him and Winston.

We can compare the two not only with typical box score stats, but by examining their value by numberFire’s signature metric -- Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score production, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below shows Winston's and Fitzpatrick’s per-play rates in completions, passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions, as well as Passing NEP and Passing Success Rate (the percent of plays resulting in positive NEP). Note: the box score statistics are per-attempt, while the analytics are per-drop back.

Player Passing NEP/DB Success Rate Comp% Y/A TD% Int% Sack%
Jameis Winston 0.16 50.53% 63.8% 7.9 4.3% 2.5% 6.9%
Ryan Fitzpatrick 0.10 48.52% 58.9% 6.8 4.3% 1.8% 4.1%

As you look across the board, Winston was clearly more valuable on a per-play basis than Fitzpatrick. Fitz’s tosses earned positive value at a lower rate and made less impact when they did -- likely due to the 1.1 fewer yards per attempt he produced compared to Winston and a completion rate five percentage points lower than the young starter.

Still, it’s not as though the wheels fell off for the Bucs with Fitz under center. He threw touchdowns at the same per-attempt pace as Winston but put up fewer interceptions and took fewer sacks. Essentially, quality aside: Winston is a gunslinger, and Fitzpatrick is a game manager.

Each passer will have different tendencies, however; different receivers they favor, different game plans. What changes for the skill-position players between these two quarterbacks?

The Receivers

We’ve discovered that it’s entirely likely that the Buccaneers’ passing attack will struggle a little bit with Fitzpatrick under center -- despite his added care with the football, Fitz completed fewer passes and threw shorter on average.

So, how will this affect the Tampa Bay pass-catchers’ production?

Using Pro Football Focus’s Receiving Play splits, I compared each player’s per-game production by targets, receiving yards, touchdowns, and standard-league fantasy points with Fitzpatrick and Winston. The table below shows their change in value when going from Winston to Fitzpatrick on a per-game basis.

Fitzpatrick As QB Targets/Game Yards/Game TDs/Game FPTS
Mike Evans -0.7 +4.7 -0.1 -0.03
DeSean Jackson +2.2 -11.9 -0.1 -1.69
Adam Humphries +0.4 +11.3 +0.4 +3.63
Chris Godwin +0.8 +3.3 -0.1 -0.18
Cameron Brate -1.4 -24.6 -0.2 -3.46
O.J. Howard +0.1 +0.7 -0.2 -0.93
Charles Sims +1.8 +11.3 +0.3 +2.63
Peyton Barber +0.1 +0.8 +0.0 +0.08

A few takeaways from this: wide receiver Mike Evans will be fine with Fitzpatrick, so the panic giving him a half-round ADP discount is absolutely unfounded. Evans actually earned more yards per target and yards per game with the Bearded Wonder throwing him the ball, but there was basically no difference in Evans’ fantasy production when Fitz entered the huddle.

DeSean Jackson, on the other hand, saw significantly more targets per game, but he earned fewer yards and fantasy points per game with Fitz. Jackson’s catch rate skyrocketed with Winston out of the lineup, too, indicating that he was possibly used less as a downfield option and more of a speed-slot type on those plays. Jackson could see one of the bigger declines with no Winston for those first three games.

Adam Humphries was the biggest beneficiary of Fitz’s presence, with a per-game gain of 3.63 fantasy points despite adding less than half a target per game. Unless Humphries is unseated in the third receiver role by Chris Godwin, he’s a sneaky-cheap value for the earlier part of the season.

Most surprisingly, since Humphries and even running back Charles Sims benefited from Fitzpatrick’s penchant for short tosses, Cameron Brate could be the biggest loser here. Brate lost more than a target per-game with Fitzpatrick, nearly 25 yards, and totaled almost a drop of 3.5 fantasy points per game. Fantasy players would be wise to just hold onto Brate until Week 4 before assuming he’s a 2018 bust and dropping or trading him.

Will the Buccaneers fall apart with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center? Thankfully, absolutely not; the passing attack will just have a slightly different distribution than normal. Expect short throws and a bigger reliance on the slot receivers and pass-catching runners early on this year.