WILL JAMEIS WINSTON FUMBLE AWAY HIS NFL FUTURE?
Synopsis: In the 2015 Rose Bowl, Florida State’s chance for a second consecutive FBS title ended with a humiliating 59-20 loss to Oregon. Although only a semifinal game in the first College Football Playoff, the match-up between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will provide an interesting backdrop as these two Heisman Trophy winners move on to the NFL. As a college superstar who likely will be a top 10 overall pick, Winston will be eligible for consideration as a Top 10 Bust when his career ends. Should I start the betting at five years?
Note: I wrote a new post after Winston’s rookie year. As of now (February 2016), it appears the he has a better chance of becoming a star instead of a bust. Regardless, the information in this post provides a good background for that one. Click here to read the update.
PROJECTED TOP 10 BUST: JAMEIS WINSTON
Even if doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results is not the actual definition of insanity, it does describe persistence. Sometimes persistence can be good (e.g. the New England Patriots’ commitment to Belichick and Brady) and sometimes it can be bad (e.g. the Cleveland Browns’ commitment to a revolving door strategy regarding coaches and quarterbacks). While some people may argue that the Browns have shown a desire to minimize their mistakes and are proactive regarding change, perhaps the lesson should be that never-ending change is also recipe for failure.
In my post titled Top 10 NFL Draft Busts – Conclusion, I identified seven lessons to avoid a potential all-time bust. By highlighting these lessons, I hope to be able use them to predict such a bust before he’s even drafted. Otherwise, what’s the use of all of the analysis? With respect to the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston is a great case study to help clarify these lessons.
Lesson #1: There’s no such thing as a sure thing
The probability of selecting a Pro Bowl player is roughly 60% for a top 5 overall pick and 45% for picks 6-10. Almost every year, a desperate team is convinced that a certain player is a sure thing so it offers much more than the pick deserves (e.g. the Saints trade to get Ricky Williams) or it gives up a lot just to move up one spot (e.g. the Chargers trade to get Ryan Leaf, and the Browns trade to get Trent Richardson). When such an irrational offer is made, the team with the desired draft position should take advantage and leverage it for as many future picks as possible. With more picks, teams have more chances to be right or more chances to recover from being wrong.
With respect to the 2015 Draft, it seems that the team most likely to act irrationally is the New York Jets. Still in position to get the #1 overall pick late in the season, the Jets only secured the 6th position after winning two of its final three games. In the last game of the year, QB Geno Smith led the team to a victory against the Dolphins after going 20-25 for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs (for a maximum Passer Rating of 158.3). When is a victory really a loss? When it results in the team falling two critical spots lower in the draft order. Despite Smith’s performance in that game, his future with the Jets is still uncertain because of inconsistent performances throughout his two-year career. As such, the team may look at moving up in the draft to select either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota (who will be coming out despite his claim that he’s still unsure).
With the #1 overall pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need a quarterback so they are unlikely to make a trade. On the other hand, the Titans may be more willing to entertain the idea of trading their 2nd overall pick assuming that they’re comfortable with Zach Mettenberger as their future QB. In either case, both teams should evaluate any offers because they may be able to get a lot more value from a trade. For instance, either team should be able to exchange draft positions with the Jets and pick up another 1st rounder, as well as a 2nd and a 3th. In that case, they would be exchanging a pick with an expected Weighted Average Value (WAV) of 55-60 (e.g. someone like Alex Smith) for picks with total expected WAV of 160 (e.g. a group of players like Andrel Rolle, Shawne Merriman, Heath Miller and Evan Mathis). Given that neither Winston nor Mariota is a sure thing, either team should make such a trade before the Jets reconsider.
Lesson #2: Draft Offensive Linemen
Whereas Lesson #1 teaches us that there are no guarantees, Lesson #2 teaches us that offensive linemen are the best bets. The most outstanding linemen in college are big and strong, which are traits that translate well to the NFL. The offensive line doesn’t include any so-called “‘skilled” positions, but it’s extremely important for establishing a rushing attack (ask Emmitt Smith) or protecting a quarterback (ask Joe Theismann).
When it looked like the Jaguars or Raiders were battling for the #1 overall draft pick during the middle of the 2014 season, I recommended that either team should exchange 1st round picks with the Jets (plus pick up a few more) and select an offensive lineman like Cedric Ogbuehi or Brendon Schreff. Given that Schreff won the 2014 Outland Trophy as the best lineman in college football, he has separated himself from the other OL prospects. Regardless, the strategy still applies so any of the top four teams should consider a trade with the Jets (of course assuming one of the two QBs is still available) and shore up a key position by taking Schreff (or Ogbeuhi if Schreff is already gone).
Lesson #3: Don’t reach with a top overall pick
This lesson applies to players who didn’t succeed at the absolute highest level in college. It includes picks who were selected for financial reasons (e.g. Kelly Stouffer) or because of their incredible combine results (e.g. Troy Williamson and Vernon Gholston). With respect to the players mentioned in this post (i.e. Winston and Mariota), they both excelled to the point that neither one would be a reach at any draft position. In other words, this lesson doesn’t apply to them.
Lesson #4: Character matters
In my post two months ago regarding Lawrence Phillips as the #6 NFL Draft Bust, I wrote:
Currently, it seems that we are witnessing the self-destruction of a potential NFL superstar. That player, Jameis Winston, is showing many of the same signs that Phillips did twenty years ago. Unlike Phillips, Winston apparently has people reaching out to help. In particular, Bo Jackson talked about his inability to get through to the troubled college football star. On the Jim Rome Show, Jackson said, “Jameis Winston needs to make some changes in his life. . . It’s affecting him now, and it’s definitely going to affect him down the road.” Hopefully, Winston grows up and learns how to be more responsible. If not, he’s sure to be a future inclusion as a Top 10 Bust. Phillips is a lost cause, but hopefully his lesson can be learned by others.
In a positive development, Winston was cleared of charges that he violated Florida State’s Code of Conduct regarding an alleged sexual assault from December 2012. The retired Florida Supreme Court justice who reached the decision basically said that he couldn’t find more credibility in his story or his accuser’s. I guess it was a classic case of “He Said, She Said,” and in this case, He won and She lost. Unfortunately, this incident wasn’t the only one raising a red flag with respect to Winston’s character.
Who can forget the following display of Winston’s arrogance and false sense of entitlement?
JAMEIS WINSTON – CRABGATE
While this photoshopped reenactment of Winston’s petty theft/larceny is amusing, the actual videotape of him shoplifting is disconcerting. During the Final Four in April 2014, Shabazz Napier helped change NCAA rules regarding meals for athletes when he claimed to go hungry at night sometimes. My Spidey Sense for BS was going crazy when I heard Napier’s statement, but it probably helped other “student-athletes” at less elite programs than UConn Basketball, so I was OK with it. On the other hand, Winston nonchalantly walked in and out of the Publix without paying for $33 worth of crab legs. At least he knows how to shoplift food in style. Winston performed community service to avoid criminal charges and got suspended for three baseball games so he learned his lesson, right? No, of course not.
When I read during the past college season that Winston was going to be suspended for the first half of a game for propagating a meme, I was confused because I had no idea what the word meme meant (or how to pronounce it). FYI, it rhymes with deem. After finding out that a meme is a social media induced act of imitation (e.g. the Ice Bucket Challenge), I was curious to find out what inappropriate viral sensation impaired the reigning Heisman winner’s judgment. In this case, Winston was coaxed into yelling the phrase “F#ck her right in the p#ssy!” while in the middle of the FSU student union. After public backlash grew regarding the lenient punishment for the FSU star, Winston’s suspension was extended to the entire game. For unnecessarily putting his team’s season at risk, he lost any chance of winning a second Heisman at that exact moment.
Winston’s behavior reminded me of typical South Park or Family Guy humor. Heck, I remember eating lunch with my friends in fourth grade and progressively saying the word, “P#nis” louder and louder on a dare. We were more excited knowing a taboo word than getting into trouble so we stopped before anyone really heard us. It was stupid to do, but we were TEN! What’s Jameis’ excuse? Does he not realize that he’s in the middle of an audition for a multi-million-dollar job? Or, is he so arrogant that he doesn’t care?
By the way, I still watch Family Guy and appreciate Seth MacFarlane’s cringe-worthy comedy so I laughed at the following video showing a few examples of the “FHRITP” phrase being said at inappropriate times (e.g. in the middle of a live on-air interview). Before you get too upset, realize that the opening clip is a hoax, so the fake reporter didn’t really say it on on-air during a segment about a missing girl. As a Howard Stern fan, I’ve enjoyed hearing “Baba Booey!” repeated incessantly at the end of a fake on-air interview or after a shot during a live broadcast of a golf tournament. This new phrase is just the next evolution of the same awkward social expression (or meme). Again, it’s one thing for an anonymous person to do it and something completely different for someone expected to be the face of a billion-dollar organization.
Lesson #5: Avoid players who may have peaked already
In 2013, Winston had one of the greatest years for a quarterback in NCAA history. First, he ranked in the top ten for the following statistical categories: efficiency rating (#1 for the season and #5 all-time); passing touchdowns (#2 for the season and #25 all-time); and passing yards (#9 for the season). Second, he swept most major awards: the Heisman Trophy (in a landslide); the Davey O’Brien Award; the Manning Award; the Walter Camp Award; and the AP Player of the Year Award. Third, he led the Seminoles to a 14-0 record and a National Championship. Clearly, it would have taken a truly exceptional player to repeat that sort of success.
Even though Winston statistically had a decent sophomore season, he regressed in just about every category. For instance, he threw for 150 fewer yards and 15 fewer touchdowns despite having a 20% increase in attempts. At the same time, he threw eight more interceptions for an increase of 80%. Given the decline in his performance, it’s not surprising that his efficiency rating fell significantly (from 184.8 in 2013 to 145.5 in 2014), or that he was shut out of every award and recognition that he received as a freshman. Winston was good enough to lead the Seminoles to another undefeated regular season, but his team lost in the first round of the inaugural FBS playoffs to Mariota and the Oregon Ducks.
The following table summarizes Winston’s tremendous accomplishments from his freshman year as well as the falloff in his sophomore year.
JAMEIS WINSTON – COLLEGE STATS
|Comp||Att||Comp Pct||Yards||TD||INT||Efficiency Rating||NCAA Awards / Ranking|
Won Heisman Trophy, and Davey O’Brien, Manning, AP Player of the Year Awards
#1 Efficiency, #2 in Passing TDs, #9 in Passing Yards
|305||467||65.3%||3,907||25||18||145.5||6th Heisman voting /#6 in Passing Yards, #2 in Interceptions|
If teams had avoided players who experienced a similar falloff in performance, the following Top 10 Busts (including Honorable Mentions) could have been avoided: Art Schlichter; Jack Thompson; David Klingler; Kelly Stouffer; and Rich Campbell. Will Winston be different than these other players? I say, “No.”
Lesson #6: Avoid quarterbacks who led the NCAA in interceptions
As shown in the table above, Winston’s performance declined significantly from 2013 to 2014. It would have been virtually impossible for him to duplicate his tremendous freshman year, but the regression was significant. He even finished the season ranked #2 in interceptions after throwing 80% more in 2014 than 2013. As a point of comparison, he threw six times as many interceptions as Mariota threw this season. On its own, being ranked in this category isn’t necessarily foretelling because some quarterbacks attempt far more passes than others. However, when this category is combined with a quarterback having a TD/INT ratio below 1.5, then a very interesting dynamic materializes.
In the last 40 years, only one elite NFL quarterback (Dan Marino) was ranked as an interception leader in college while having a TD/INT below the equivalent of 3 TDs for every 2 INTs. Several quarterbacks meeting these criteria had reasonable success (e.g. Vinny Testaverde, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Jeff Garcia, Jake Delhomme, and Carson Palmer), but a vast majority ranged from mediocre/bad (e.g. Ty Detmer, Derek Anderson, Kevin Kolb, Colt McCoy, and Josh Freeman) to really bad/bust-worthy (e.g. Rich Campbell, Cade McNown, Dan McGwire, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen, Art Schlichter, and Jack Thompson).
A quarterback with a tendency to throw picks in the college generally will have a tough time in the NFL given the more complicated defensive schemes and increased speed of DBs. Having confidence is a must to succeed in the NFL, but a quarterback with a false sense of his ability to place a ball in tight coverage is doomed. Does this describe Jameis? I don’t know, but in honor of the other top QB in the draft, “If it looks like a Duck and quacks like a Duck . . .”
Using this lesson as a guide, I would apply the following percentages to Winston’s NFL career:
- Upside Case: Carson Palmer (20% chance)
- Reasonable Case: Derek Anderson (30% chance)
- Downside Case: Jimmy Clausen (50% chance)
Based on these numbers, there’s an 80% chance that Winston is a disappointment and 50% chance that he’ll become a Top 10 Bust someday. Is that profile worthy of the #1 overall pick? I say, “No.”
Lesson #7: Sign the contract and get to camp on time
This lesson was more relevant when rookie contracts were individually negotiated and rookies didn’t fall into a salary slotting system like they do today. In addition, this lesson was aimed more at the players than the teams. If the collective bargaining agreement is modified and reverts back to the old system, then this lesson may become relevant again. In the meantime, it can be ignored for this draft and these players.
When I first identified Winston as a potential future Top 10 Bust during the 2014 college football season, it was purely in reference to him as a person who made some questionable choices in his personal life (Lesson #4). In particular, we knew the following as of September 2014:
JAMEIS WINSTON – CHARACTER LOWLIGHTS
This year, perhaps more than any other, NFL teams need to be hyper-focused on character given the highly publicized embarrassing off-field issues involving Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. With a top ten overall pick, a team should expect to get a Pro Bowl caliber player who also can be a team leader. Ideally, the player eventually will be a positive role model inspiring the team internally while representing the team externally. At a minimum, however, he shouldn’t be detrimental or even a distraction to the team.
Only since FSU’s season ended did I realize that Winston also met two other criteria common for a Top 10 Bust. Specifically, his performance regressed from one year to another (Lesson #5) and he threw a lot of interceptions while having a TD/INT ratio below 1.5 (Lesson #6). In the last 40 years, three quarterbacks drafted with a top ten overall pick met both criteria, and a fourth met the first and barely missed the second. Those four quarterbacks were: Honorable Mention Rich Campbell; #9 Bust David Klingler (who had a TD/INT ratio of 1.7 vs. 1.5); #7 Bust Jack Thompson; and #2 Bust Art Schlicter. In addition to having the same performance issues as these four busts, Winston has displayed questionable judgment at a minimum and serious character flaws at a maximum. In that regard, he is unique (and not in a good way).
Should the cumulative effect of Winston’s missteps and performance regression be enough to cause a team to pause before selecting him? Of course. Does it mean that he’ll be a bust? Of course not. However, the signs are there. If Winston is able to mature quickly, develop some humility, and work hard, he may be fine. Otherwise, I’ll be saving a spot for him.