What Can We Reasonably Expect From Jameis Winston in His Rookie Year?
Playing quarterback is one of the hardest positions in all of professional sports. It's no wonder that outside of a few reoccurring names, there is simply a lot of job turnover at the position.
Enter Jameis Winston. He was selected first overall in this year's draft by the Buccaneers to replace the tandem of Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, a duo that struggled both on the field and according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
The Bucs as a whole ranked 31st in schedule Adjusted Passing NEP per play last year. It's a quarterback-depleted league, and the Bucs clearly needed a new path.
Still, big things are expected of Jameis Winston -- both short- and long-term. With a rock-solid pass catching corps of soon-to-be-22-year-old Mike Evans, 32-year-old veteran Vincent Jackson, and emerging tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, some expect Winston to come out of the gate and post great numbers very early.
But should they? More importantly, what does a rookie quarterback's season usually look like?
What History Says
In fairness, professional football is a pretty small sample size sport. With only a 16-game season it is, at times, incredibly tough to make baseline predictions just due to sample size and the fact the league changes and adapts relatively quickly. So, full disclosure here: just for the context of this article, we'll be dealing with very specific situations.
Alas, since 2000 (as far back as our NEP data goes) 11 different quarterbacks have started a full 16-game slate in their rookie season. Barring an injury, most would expect Jameis Winston to be the Week 1 starter and play all 16 games this season. For more detail, four of these signal-callers in this sample were drafted first overall and all but one (Russell Wilson) were drafted in the first two rounds of their relative NFL draft.
Below is the entire single-season sampling of these players' individual statistics for their given rookie year along with their all important Passing NEP per drop back-- which is an efficiency stat that measures the amount of Net Expected Points a quarterback adds to his team's scoring total every time he attempts a drop back.
What's very important to keep in mind here is these quarterbacks all have vastly different skill-sets and were on wildly different teams in terms of surrounding talent and coaching in their rookie season. Our Editor-In-Chief JJ Zachariason previously analyzed how a quarterback's rookie season is pretty significant in terms of predicting future play and that sometimes it's pure bad luck that a quarterback was drafted on a talent-deficient team and subsequently failed to own a solid career.
But just looking at this from a high level historical perspective, rookie quarterbacks typically don't come out of the gate and post massive numbers. Only two quarterbacks (Andrew Luck and Cam Newton) in this sample posted a season of 3,600 passing yards and 21 or more passing touchdowns in their rookie campaign. Why the yardage and touchdown cut-off? Because the collective efforts of Josh McCown and Mike Glennon combined for 3,623 passing yards and 21 touchdowns with the Bucs' in 2014.
Our initial projections expect Winston to throw for slightly more than 3,300 yards but only 17 touchdowns (with roughly 14 interceptions).
Jameis Winston is a clear upgrade over the Buccaneers 2014 tandem, but it would take his joining an upper tier of quarterbacking talent just to beat what his predecessors "accomplished" the prior season. It's entirely possible that Winston has an above-average rookie season in terms of this historical data -- but anyone expecting him to come in and automatically smash records and dominate the playing field is a bit short-sighted.
Outside of Winston's aforementioned receivers, his team around him needs to be much better in 2015. The Bucs' offensive line ranked 29th in pass protection and 32nd in rush blocking last season, according to Football Outsiders. Tampa's run game averaged a paltry 3.9 yards per carry headed up by running backs, Doug Martin and Charles Sims. Plus, their defense managed to finish 24th in Adjusted Defensive NEP last year.
At least Tampa Bay's front office was cognizant of their offensive issues and worked on making the unit better this year. They added two new offensive linemen in this year's draft and hired a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter. Those factors should help Winston right off of the bat.
Even with these additions, it's important to keep things in perspective.
According to Rich Hribar of The Fake Football, just two quarterbacks in history have come out of the gate and thrown 25-plus passing touchdowns, and the highest completion percentage for a rookie quarterback who attempted 500 or more passes in their rookie season was Sam Bradford's 60% mark in 2010.
It's quite alright to think Jameis Winston will have a good rookie year and a bright future. In fact, I actually expect him to -- but those notions need historical context.