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Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will probably long hold a special place in the hearts of FSU fans.
Including a redshirt year, Winston spent just three seasons in Tallahassee. Over that time, he compiled a 26-1 record as a starter while leading the Seminoles to a pair of ACC titles and a national championship. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Winston led an FSU offense that scored more points than any FBS team ever en route to becoming the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever and leading the Seminoles to a national championship.
Winston would go on to become the first FSU player ever selected No. 1 overall when he was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL Draft, but to this point, his pro career has been a mixed bag. 2019 will be the season that all changes.
Although he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and led the Buccaneers to a winning season in year No. 2, Winston enters his fifth season in the NFL still with something to prove. Despite his early career numbers stacking up favorably with a few legends, he owns just a 21-33 record as a starter and was suspended for three games last season for more alleged off-the-field misconduct.
Tampa Bay has managed just five wins in each of the last two seasons, but most Tampa Bay fans will acknowledge that Winston has not been the problem. Although the interception numbers are high, Winston set new career-bests last season for completion percentage, yards per attempt, passing yards per game, touchdown percentage and total QBR.
Despite making just nine starts a season ago, Winston ranked 12th in passing yards per game, just fractions of a yard behind Tom Brady, 10th in yards per pass attempt and eighth in total QBR. Seven of Tampa Bay’s 11 losses last season were decided by one score.
This season, Tampa Bay made changes on both sides of the ball that are sure to benefit Winston. First-year head coach Bruce Arians is a known offensive mind and a 2-time Associated Press Coach of the Year who has been around talented quarterbacks to include Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer. Arians has not been shy about his confidence in Winston.
“I’ve known him since the ninth grade. Saw the talent, didn’t really know the work ethic. He’s there at 5 o’clock every morning, so there’s no reason he can’t be really, really successful.”
As a head coach, Arians has a 58-33-1 record and has just one losing season in six years. That was a 7-8-1 campaign with the Arizona Cardinals in 2016.
As interim head coach while Chuck Pagano battled cancer for the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, Arians went 9-3 with another No. 1 pick in quarterback and then rookie, Andrew Luck, for a team that finished 2-14 the year before. In his first season as head coach of the Cardinals in 2013, Arians doubled the team’s win total from five to 10.
Clyde Christensen and Byron Leftwich were brought in as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, but perhaps the biggest coaching move was the addition of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Under Arians in Arizona in 2013 and 2014, Bowles’ defenses ranked in the top 10 in scoring both years. Last season, only the Oakland Raiders were worse than Tampa Bay in that category.
As for the Tampa Bay offense, it ranked third last season in total offense and brings back its leading rusher and top three receivers, headlined by Pro Bowler Mike Evans. The Buccaneers also added a potential deep threat in fourth-year player Breshad Perriman.
Calculate Winston’s yards per game and touchdown pass averages over 16 games and he would have finished the 2018 season with 4,352 yards and 28 touchdown passes. While many focus on Winston’s turnover numbers, he was intercepted just three times over his final six starts last season. If those trends continue, observers will certainly notice.
After dropping a number of close games last season, the Buccaneers have made significant changes with a proven coaching staff that their franchise quarterback is sure to benefit from. As for Winston, he’ll enter the season having played well to close 2018 and with the confidence of a head coach, who knows what an elite quarterback looks like. Winston has always put up big offensive numbers, but in 2019, the wins should follow and so should the individual recognitions. Winston will lead the Buccaneers to the playoffs and earn himself a spot in the Pro Bowl in 2019.