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Stop! Jameis Winston is not on track to be the next Peyton Manning

Reality check: Manning’s 2001 was superior to Winston’s 2019, mainly because it’s easier to play quarterback in today’s NFL.
Peyton Manning threw 26 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in 2001, his age-25 season. Jameis Winston has thrown 26 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions through 13 games this season, which is his age-25 season. What does it mean? Probably nothing.
Peyton Manning threw 26 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in 2001, his age-25 season. Jameis Winston has thrown 26 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions through 13 games this season, which is his age-25 season. What does it mean? Probably nothing. [ KEVIN RIVOLI | Associated Press ]
Published Dec. 14, 2019
Updated Dec. 14, 2019

Jameis Winston is the next Peyton Manning.

Such was the implication of a recent CBS Sports tweet that compared Winston’s and Manning’s age-25 seasons.

Touchdowns? The same.

Yards? The same.

Interceptions? The same.

Pick-sixes, wins, passer ratings, completion percentages? Same, same, same, same.

Striking indeed. And accurate.

But also carelessly misleading.

The graphic, accompanied by only an empty “WOW,” was woefully lacking in context. Then again, who has the time to consider such things? Social media certainly isn’t the place. That’s our echo chamber, where we go to confirm our priors.

You, however, have come here for the context, and the context is this: Winston’s 2019 and Manning’s 2001 are not the same because football in 2019 and football in 2001 are not the same. Crazy as it might seem, things evolve over time.

In 2001, two passers gained more than 4,000 yards. In 2019, two passers have gained more than 4,000 yards — but there are three weeks left in the season.

In 2001, the average completion rate was 59.0 percent. In 2019, it is 63.9.

In 2001, the average interception rate was 3.4 percent. In 2019, it is 2.3.

In 2001, the average passer rating was 78.5. In 2019, it is 91.3.

What happened? In the 2003 AFC championship game, Patriots defenders beat up Colts receivers and got away with it. New England defeated Indianapolis 24-14 and went on to win the Super Bowl. Ahead of the 2004 season, the league competition committee enacted rules that limited the contact defenders could make with receivers. Those rules, in concert with increased protections for quarterbacks, changed the game forever.

Simply put: It’s easier to play quarterback today than it was two decades ago.

And, thanks to good, old-fashioned arithmetic, we can quantify the difference. Even better, Pro Football Reference already has done the work for us. The database’s contributors have developed a series of indexed, or era-adjusted, statistics in which they’ve taken a quarterback’s production in any given season and put it on a scale in which 100 represents an average performance. Anything greater than 100 is considered above average, and anything less than 100 is considered below average. A score of 115, for example, represents a performance that is one standard deviation above the mean. A score of 85 is one standard deviation below the mean.

When we look at Winston’s 2019 and Manning’s 2001 through this prism, the difference is stark. It is clear that Winston is not Manning and that Manning is not Winston. Besides their draft status — No. 1 overall picks — they have little in common. (The plus sign in the table below is merely a label Pro Football Reference used to differentiate its indexed statistics from traditional statistics.)

Winston's 2019 vs. Manning's 2001
Winston's 2019 Manning's 2001
Cmp%+ 88 113
TD%+ 105 111
INT%+ 65 84
Passer rating+ 90 107

The only category in which Winston is even close to Manning is touchdown percentage.

In completion percentage, Manning’s 2001 was nearly one standard deviation above the mean. Winston’s 2019 is nearly one standard deviation below.

In interception percentage, Manning’s 2001 was one standard deviation below the mean. Winston’s 2019 is two standard deviations below.

In passer rating, one standard deviation separates Manning and Winston.

You might be wondering why no one wanted to run Manning out of Indianapolis after his 2001 season. Here are a couple of reasons:

• It wasn’t a bad season. It only looks bad by today’s standards, as well as by Manning’s standards.

• By the time Manning had turned 25, he already had produced not one but two MVP-caliber seasons (and he had done so without the support of a good defense).

Winston has not.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.