Fantasy Football: Why Jameis Winston Can Be a QB1

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Join me, if you will, in a little mental exercise.

It’s well past the middle rounds of your fantasy draft. Following the strategy so often touted by Andy, Mike, and Jason, you have yet to draft a quarterback. 

Your face involuntarily grimaces as you contemplate Dak Prescott’s lack of weaponry, Derek Carr’s dirty 2017 big boy pants, and the wild card uncertainty of Patrick Mahomes. You begin to regret skipping out on Aaron Rodgers in the third round. A couple leaguemates start sniping backup QBs. The sweat begins to pool.

Stop. Take a deep breath.

And draft Jameis Winston.

Find out how Andy, Mike, and Jason have projected Jameis Winston in the Ultimate Draft Kit.

The 2017 Numbers

If you look at Winston’s overall finish for 2017, you’re going to be disappointed. He was the QB22 in 13 games on the merit of 3,504 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Not awful production for missing a trio of games, but not worthy of the starting spot on your fantasy roster either.

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So why give him a second look this year? Because of what Winston’s shoulder injury did to his season in 2017. According to reports — mostly from head coach Dirk Koetter — Winston originally sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder in Week 6 (missing most of the game), then “kind of reinjured” it in Week 7, while adding a bruised deltoid muscle. He played through the aggravated injury in Week 8 and part of Week 9, before finally taking the necessary time to heal in Weeks 10-12.

The three missed games put an obvious dent in his season-long fantasy numbers, but it’s the partial games in Weeks 6 and 9 and the miserable performance in Week 8 after the aggravation that really skew his numbers. If we remove those three performances, his numbers in the remaining 10 full, healthy games add up to 3,186 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, and 9 INTs.

Project those numbers out to a full season and you’ve got 5,098 passing yards, 30 TDs, and 14 INTs. That would have smashed the league lead in passing yards (Tom Brady, with 4,577) and put him fourth in touchdowns. Even with the combo of an injured Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bucs finished fourth in the NFL in team passing yards, so we know the yardage is not too much of a stretch.

As for fantasy points? The projection would have him at 295.9 fantasy points, an exact tie with one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. (excluding any rushing totals for either). Of course, these are projections, and they come from a somewhat limited sample. But they also tell a captivating story behind an apparently cloudy season for Winston and foretell a potential revelation in 2018.

Poised for a Breakout

Even in an injury-marred 2017, Winston still managed to post career-bests in completion percentage (63.8%), yards per attempts (7.9), passer rating per Pro Football Reference (92.2), and interception percentage (2.5%) in his third year as a pro. Improvement typically begets more improvement, offering a whole lot of optimism heading into the fantasy season.

Remember, this guy is a former Heisman winner and National Champion at Florida State and was drafted with the number one pick in 2015 at 21 years of age.  Granted, he’s dealt with some maturity issues throughout college and the beginning of his pro career, but age and growth are typically the best tonic for those kinds of issues. Now, entering his fourth year in the NFL at the age of 24, Winston is a small step away from entering the elite ranks among both fantasy and real-life quarterbacks.

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Meanwhile, Winston’s (mostly) young pass-catching corps should also take a collective step forward in NFL development. Former Pro-Bowler Mike Evans had a relatively down year in 2017 — somewhat tied to Winston’s issues — but is one of the best red zone weapons in the game and could easily rejoin the top tier of receivers with a bounce-back season.

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Meanwhile, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin were both highly touted prospects in last year’s rookie class (taken in the first and third rounds respectively), who can only get better in their sophomore seasons. In fact, Matt Harmon and Reception Perception highlighted Godwin as the most underrated receiver in the 2017 draft class, with elite contested catch and route-running abilities.

Along with Cameron Brate, who’s reeled in 14 TDs from Winston over the past two seasons, that’s quite a group of scoring specialists. Plus, the Bucs drafted running back Ronald Jones II in the second round in a concerted effort to support Winston’s arm with a stable running game. From an offensive ammunition standpoint, Tampa Bay is loaded — and Winston is the cannon.

Seeking the Ceiling

As we briefly mentioned at the top, nearly every QB in the latter half of fantasy drafts will come with question marks. For Winston, it’s the turnovers and the immaturity — no one wants to see him “eat” another W. But if age does help with those struggles, as we proposed earlier, Winston has nothing but sky-high upside.

Upside is what you want in a late-round quarterback. Looking for a comfortable floor is essentially pointless in this part of drafts, as you can always pick up a similar guy on waivers if your draft choice busts. You want to find the Carson Wentz or Alex Smith whose breakout is big enough to land you a top five QB.

And that’s exactly what Winston brings. He has the pedigree, the tools, and the opportunity to be an absolute superstar, at a criminally deflated draft stock — currently the QB19 going in Round 12 per Fantasy Football Calculator. Grab Jameis Winston while the early-QB guys scrounge for their WR2 and ride his breakout train to a fantasy championship.

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