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Are Jameis Winston and Peyton Manning really that similar at age 25?

Winston is putting up statistics nearly identical to what Manning posted the season he turned 25. But a comparison requires more than numbers.
Published Dec. 14, 2019
Updated Dec. 15, 2019

TAMPA — The similarities between Jameis Winston’s passing numbers this season through 13 games — both good and bad — and those of Hall of Famer Peyton Manning through his age 25 season are striking at first glance

Winston already has the same number of touchdown passes (26), interceptions (23), team wins (six) as Manning did in 2001. His five interceptions returned for touchdowns are one fewer than Manning’s. Their passing yards, quarterback ratings and completion percentages are nearly identical as well.

As the Bucs ponder Winston’s future while enduring extreme highs and lows — he leads the league in interceptions, is tied for second in touchdown passes and is second in passing yardage — the numbers comparing his season to Manning’s as the same age should be digested with a grain of salt.

Related: Has Breshad Perriman's time finally come?

Comps make for great water-cooler talk, social media debate and arguments over the value of statistics versus scouting. The Winston optimist sees these surface numbers as proof the Bucs’ fifth-year quarterback is on his way to greatness. They’ll certainly be brought up if Winston heads to the negotiating table this offseason, whether it’s as a free agent or if the Bucs try to sign him to an extension.

But the Bucs have made this much clear: Their evaluation of Winston — and deciding whether to place a franchise tag on him, strike a long-term deal or cut ties with the former No. 1 overall pick — will come from everything that encompassed Winston’s 2019 season. So these numbers, and the comparison to a young Manning, will hold little weight inside Advent Health Training Center.

Rather, the numbers must be put into context regarding where each player was in their career, the obstacles faced throughout that certain season, and their projected future, the latter of which is difficult to determine.

First, Manning entered his age 25 season — his fourth as a starting quarterback in the NFL — having had significantly more success than Winston.

He was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in which he led the Colts to the postseason and recorded top-4 offenses. In 2000, Manning led the league in passing yards (4,413) and touchdowns (33). Like Winston and the majority of No. 1 overall picks, Manning landed on a bad team. He went through a 3-13 rookie season in 1998, but the Colts’ fortunes turned quickly in Year 2 under coach Jim Mora, in part because of an improved defense that complemented a growing Manning.

Winston will finish his fifth season having never been to the postseason. He can record his second winning season only if the Bucs win their final three games. He very well could surpass most of Manning’s single-season passing yardage marks with this year’s total. Manning averaged 4,366 yards over the first 12 years of his 13-year career.

But for Manning, that 2001 season was the most star-crossed of his early career. Take away his rookie season, and it was the only year the Colts did not make the postseason over a 12-year stretch. The Colts were 3-3 in mid-October when they lost top rusher Edgerrin James for the season to a knee injury and went 3-10 without him.

After a loss to the 49ers in Week 11, a game in which Manning threw four interceptions including a pick-six that gave San Francisco the lead, Mora launched into his now-famous soundbite: “Playoffs?? You kidding me?... I just hope we win a game.” In the process, Mora blasted Manning. Manning lashed back on a conference call with out-of-town media that week. “You’re damn right it bothers me,” he told Ravens media before the Colts’ next game against Baltimore.

That team lost eight of its last 10, and Mora was fired at the end of the season. But when the Colts hired Tony Dungy to take over, he retained offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Manning has credited the continuity those two provided as a reason for his success.

Winston, who turns 26 on Jan. 6, has had little continuity. Arians is his third coach in five seasons. Arians’ offense involves more risk-taking than Winston’s previous scheme. And though Arians said he won’t make a judgment on Winston until the season’s end, he acknowledges interception and touchdown numbers spike in a quarterback’s first season in his offense.

Both Manning then and Winston now had scoring defenses that were the second worst in the league, forcing them to often play from behind and take more risks. Both players threw 15 of their 23 interceptions when their teams were trailed. Still, their interceptions — especially those returned for touchdowns — contributed to the deficits.

Winston’s pick-sixes have especially been ill-timed. Three of the five coming with the Bucs trailing by six points or less. Take away the two pick-sixes Manning threw in one game against New England and his other four were when the Colts led, tied or were within a score.

When the passing numbers of those seasons are adjusted to weigh the statistics compared to the league averages in their era, numbers provided by Pro Football Reference, Manning’s 2001 season was better than Winston this season through all relevant categories: yards per attempt, completion percentage, quarterback rating, touchdown percentage and sack percentage. Though because the adjusted era stats compare the numbers to league averages from that season and the one before and after, current season numbers are weighed from a smaller sample size because only the current season and previous season are used.

Still, given a closer look, any comparison of Winston’s season to Manning’s year at the same age shows more of an anomaly with Manning than anything else. He went on to become one of the best players in league history. In fact, Manning’s weighted approximate value is No. 1 among all players since 1960, according to Pro Football Reference.

Despite his struggles in 2001, Manning was still the Colts’ unquestioned franchise quarterback. There was no decision to be made regarding his future. Winston’s future with the Bucs is very much in the air.

There’s really no comparison.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard

• • •

Peyton and Jameis at 25

A raw statistical comparison of Peyton Manning’s 2001 season and Jameis Winston’s 2019 season through 13 games:

Category 2001 Manning 2019 Winston
Age 25 25
Passing TDs 26 26
Passing Yards 4,131 4,115
Interceptions 23 23
Completion Percentage 62.7 61.3
QB Ratings 84.1 84.9
Pick-sixes 6 5
Team victories 6 6

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