How much can Jameis Winston improve in 2nd NFL season?
As Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston prepares for his second NFL season, a fundamental question to Tampa Bay's overall success is a simple one: How much better can Winston be compared to his rookie year?
You'll hear about the supposed "sophomore slump" -- and such a thing certainly happens on occasion, in the NFL like any other sport -- but over the last five years, a large majority of young quarterbacks improve in their second seasons.
If you look at quarterbacks since 2011 who threw at least 150 passes in each of their first two seasons, 76 percent -- 13 out of 17 -- saw their quarterback rating improve in their second season. Seven of those 13 saw their rating jump by at least 10 points.
Their average quarterback rating went up about six points -- from a collective 79.4 as rookies to an 85.3 in their second year.
Want the really optimistic stat gleaned from the data? Consider touchdown-to-interception ratio, a fairly telling stat. Those 17 quarterbacks combined to average 1.26 touchdowns for every interception as rookies, but in their second year, that ratio jumped to 1.80 -- that's a 43 percent improvement.
Another way to look at it -- their total touchdown passes went up by 18 percent after their rookie year, and their interceptions dropped by 17 percent. Take Winston's rookie numbers -- 22 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions -- and apply those same average changes, and he would have 26 touchdown passes and 12 picks in 2016.
If you consider the top three quarterbacks from the 2014 draft, the improvements are even more drastic: in Jacksonville's Blake Bortles, Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater and Oakland's Derek Carr, you had three quarterbacks whose touchdowns went from 46 as rookies to 81 the next year, while throwing fewer interceptions (41 to 40). Carr's quarterback rating jumped by 14.5 points, and Bortles' by 18.7.
Again, this isn't every quarterback. The most glaring exception in the last five years is, of course, the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, who had 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions in a spectacular rookie season, then had 16 touchdowns against 12 interceptions the next year, going 3-10 after leading Washington to the playoffs as a rookie. The other three QBs to see their ratings drop, however, weren't generally drafted high -- Tennessee's Zach Mettenberger, Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon (whose rating dropped less than a point) and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden.
Every quarterback changes in different ways -- Andrew Luck cut his interceptions in half his second year. Ryan Tannehill doubled his touchdown passes. Nick Foles had a ridiculous leap to 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in a wild outlier of a second season.
How much does an NFL team improve with a second-year quarterback? The QB is only part of that equation, of course, but Oakland went from 3-13 to 7-9 with Carr, Minnesota from 6-6 to 11-5 with Bridgewater, and Jacksonville from 3-10 to 5-11 under Bortles.
Those 17 quarterbacks won 41 percent of their starts as rookies, then 48 percent in their second year -- it's a modest increase, almost identical to the increase from a 6-10 team to a 7-9 mark.
Winston's rookie QB rating was very close to Cam Newton's in 2011 -- in his second year, Newton actually threw fewer touchdowns, but cut his interceptions from 17 to 12, and the Panthers improved from 6-10 to 7-9. As the last five years show, it's well within Winston to do much better -- or worse -- than that improvement in his second NFL season.