Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Charting Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, Week 8: Winston emerges as rookie of the year candidate

Seven games into his pro career, Jameis Winston has emerged as a legitimate candidate for NFL rookie of the year.

That was unthinkable after he threw two interceptions, including a pick six on his first pass, in a disastrous debut against the Tennessee Titans, the ugliness of which was only amplified by Marcus Mariota's near-perfect performance.

Of course the Internet overreacted, declaring that the Buccaneers had made a mistake that they would regret forever and ever and ever. The Titans' 42-14 smackdown was proof. Case closed.

But both quarterbacks played more games, and a new truth has emerged: Winston has been better since — and better overall. This doesn't mean he will continue to be the better quarterback; it'd be just as silly to make that prediction based on seven games as it would be to make it based on one. It's still early.

Winston has been especially strong over his past three games, two of which the Bucs won and one of which they were on the wrong end of "You like that?!" In those games, he completed 64.9 percent of his passes, averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and threw four touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Bucs' failure to find a franchise quarterback is as much a part of their identity as a skull and cross swords. Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Trent Dilfer, Josh Freeman — no Bucs rookie quarterback ever put together a streak of three games of at least one touchdown pass and no interceptions. Winston has. Across the league, only Kansas City's Alex Smith and Indianapolis' Matt Hasselbeck have built longer active streaks (four games).

Winston wasn't flawless in the Bucs' 23-20 win over the Falcons; his 55.2 completion percentage (16/29) was his third-lowest mark of the season and his 6.1 yards per attempt was his lowest. While he skipped a potentially game-ending pass to Adam Humphries in overtime, he came through in other crucial situations.

Here's one: After linebacker Kwon Alexander picked off Matt Ryan with 1:28 left in the second quarter, Winston hit Mike Evans on a third-and-14 and then tight end Cameron Brate deep over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown that extended the Bucs' lead to 13-3.

And when the Falcons rallied from a 17-point deficit to force overtime, Winston did not crumble and led a 15-play, 68-yard drive that resulted in what turned out to be a game-winning field goal by Connor Barth. On the possession, he converted three third downs (the Bucs converted six all game), including a third-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 31-yard line. The Falcons sent five rushers on the play, but the Bucs were able to keep them at bay because three players (Humphries, tight end Brandon Myers and running back Charles Sims) initially stayed back to block. With time, Winston was able to find Evans against the zone coverage and pick up 14 yards.

To win rookie of the year, Winston will have to beat out two very strong competitors in Oakland's Amari Cooper and St. Louis' Todd Gurley. Cooper leads all rookie receivers in catches (38), yards (565) and touchdowns (three). Gurley leads all rookie running backs in yards (575), yards per carry (6.1) and runs of 20 or more yards (seven).

Seven quarterbacks have won the offensive rookie of the year award since it was first handed out in 1967. Six of them have been first overall picks, the last being Carolina's Cam Newton. If Winston continues playing at his current pace, his stat line (58.6 completion percentage, 3,767 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions) will compare quite favorably to Newton and another recent quarterback to win the award, Sam Bradford. Robert Griffin III, the 2012 winner, is in a class by himself.

Player, team (season)Comp %Passing ydsTD/INTQB ratingQBRDVOA
*Sam Bradford, St. Louis (2010)60.03,51218/1576.537.4-15.6%
*Cam Newton, Carolina (2011)60.04,05121/1784.556.20.8%
Robert Griffin III, Washington (2012)65.63,20020/5102.475.616.6%
*Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay (2015)58.63,76723/1685.658.7-2.6%
*First overall pick

Note: Winston's statistics are projections

Source: NFL, ESPN, Football Outsiders

Meanwhile, the Titans have fallen apart since the season opener and have lost six in a row. Mariota sat out the past two because of an MCL sprain but might return to play the New Orleans Saints Sunday. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, however, won't be there. The Titans fired him Tuesday less than two years into his tenure. On the surface, it seems like a rash decision and has spurred speculation that Whisenhunt's handling of the injury hastened his ouster. A 1-4 record, an injury and a coaching change — not an optimal start for Mariota.

If Mariota has missed time, why bother continuing to compare him with Winston? To troll Titans and Oregon fans, obviously. Or … because that's what we've been doing since Week 1.

Passing charts

Before Sunday, Winston had targeted Brate twice all season. He caught both passes, one for 7 yards against the Panthers in Week 4 and the other for 6 yards against Washington in Week 7. Against the Falcons in the second quarter, Winston targeted him twice more, both times deep.

On passes of 20 or more yards, Mariota has just as many completions (three) as interceptions.

Quarterback rating

Winston's passer rating actually ticked down this week, from 85.7 to 85.6. The first eight weeks of Winston's rookie season looks most like Newton's, according to our database of quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980. Even though Mariota's rating has declined after each game he has played, he holds a 7.6-point advantage.

The problem with quarterback rating: It doesn't adjust for situation and treats all completions the same. A 5-yard completion on third-and-15 is no different from a 5-yard completion on third-and-5. Therefore, we've also tracked two other metrics this season that attempt to improve upon traditional measures of quarterback performance.

Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)

ESPN's QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. After the season opener, 90 points separated Mariota and Winston. Slowly, Winston closed the gap and finally passed Mariota last week. Now, Winston ranks 19th out of 32 quarterbacks, while Mariota ranks 28th. Arizona's Carson Palmer leads the NFL with an 84.8 QBR; at 29.6, Philadelphia's Sam Bradford has the lowest.

Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)

Football Outsiders' DVOA measures a quarterback's value on a per play basis relative to the league average. The formula factors in down, distance and situation. Throughout the season, the formula also adjusts for strength of opponent, which QBR does not do. A positive percentage indicates an above-average player and a negative percentage indicates a below-average player. Winston's DVOA (16th out of 32 quarterbacks) has increased after each of his past three games, and Mariota's (29th) has decreased after each of his past four games. Palmer (40.4 percent) also ranks first in DVOA; Ryan Mallett (minus-25.3 percent), who beat the Bucs in Week 3, ranks last. The Houston Texans released Mallett last week.

Thomas Bassinger can be reached at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

Comments
How Baker Mayfield can benefit the Bucs

How Baker Mayfield can benefit the Bucs

TAMPA — The buzz surrounding this year's NFL draft is a class of talented quarterbacks deep enough to challenge the record six taken in the first round in 1983, a group that included future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.Th...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Former NFL kicker Jay Feely, who was born in Odessa and starred at Tampa Jesuit, has apologized for a photo he intended as a joke, showing him holding a gun as he poses with his daughter and her prom date."Wishing my beautiful daughter and her date a...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

TAMPA — Shaquem Griffin wakes up knowing each day will be better than the last and barely able to wait until tomorrow."It's just a whirlwind,'' Griffin said.On Thursday, he will walk the red carpet with his family, including his twin brother, S...
Published: 04/21/18
Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

TAMPA —Wait 'til this year seems to be the refrain at One Buc Place, even though the team was strangled by expectations in 2017. But a solid offseason that has already brought a rebuilt defensive line, new center and place-kicker has renewed th...
Published: 04/21/18
NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

TAMPA — The NFL draft is one big game of Liar's Poker. Deal me out.Even the guys with a seat at the table don't know when someone is bluffing.Bucs general manager Jason Licht knows that the team's No. 7 overall pick this year will be affected b...
Published: 04/20/18
Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

We've seen Jameis Winston and Mike Evans bonding this offseason, going to Texas A&M pro day together, among other events. The two Bucs stars and their significant others double-dated Thursday night, getting courtside seats to watch the Miami Heat in ...
Published: 04/20/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

The NFL did the Bucs no favors with their 2018 schedule, Rick Stroud says, making them open at New Orleans, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Plus, linebacker Kendall Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle, p...
Published: 04/20/18
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Published: 04/19/18
Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

The 2018 NFL schedule won't be released until 8 p.m. tonight, but the Bucs' eight home games were posted early — and presumably accidentally — on the team's site, showing what would be a daunting start to the upcoming season.Multiple outl...
Published: 04/19/18