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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Data Crunch: A "Leap Year" for Winston?

Other young quarterbacks who have started their NFL careers by hitting the same impressive two-year totals as the Buccaneers' Jameis Winston have uniformly enjoyed a superb third season - powered by Jabil.


On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make their belated start to the 2017 season. After a surprise bye week courtesy of Hurricane Irma, it's understandable that Buccaneer players are champing at the bit to get on the field. Perhaps no one is more eager to play than third-year quarterback Jameis Winston, a true football obsessive.

The Buccaneers, of course, are eager to see what Winston can do in his third NFL season, especially after surrounding him with his most promising cast of targets yet. Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who was Winston's offensive coordinator in Year One and his head coach in Year Two, is certain that Winston is ready to take another step forward. He clearly hopes he and the young quarterback will experience that sort of growth together for years to come.

"I think, as I've said many times, Jameis will continue to get better and better," said Koetter on Thursday, three days before the 2017 opener against Chicago. "My confidence in Jameis is as high as it possibly could be, but I'm sure it will go even higher if we go further together – if we go as long as some of those other coaches have been with their quarterbacks, but we will see how that goes."

The question is, what will that next step look like for Winston? We could reference some comparable passers who came before him, but in some ways, Winston is entering into uncharted territory. After all, he's the first player in league history to start his career with a pair of 4,000-yard passing seasons. He's only the sixth quarterback to reach 50 touchdown passes by the end of his second year. He's had at least 175 passing yards in all 32 games he's played; no other quarterback has ever done that through his first two seasons.

Of course, it would be disingenuous to say that Winston is the first quarterback to take the league by storm in his first few seasons. Ben Roethlisberger won his first 13 starts and took the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie. Cam Newton threw for 4,000 yards and ran for 14 touchdowns in his debut campaign. Dan Marino threw 48 touchdown passes in his second season alone. Just a few years ago, Andrew Luck – like Winston and Newton a first-overall draft pick – took the league by storm. Winston has been extremely impressive in his first two years, but it's also fair to note that he arrives in an era of ever-increasing passing numbers across the league. Two more rookies – Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott – topped 3,600 passing yards last year.

So we can find comparables for Winston, and perhaps get an idea of what to expect in his third year, by relaxing our statistical thresholds a bit. For instance, if we look at all quarterbacks who had at least 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdown tosses in each of their first two seasons, we come up with a list of five other players. Those five are listed below in chronological order, followed by Winston's stats from his first two years. We've split their yards and touchdowns into two separate charts to show the progression in each.

Passing Yards:

Player Team Years Season 1 Season 2 Season 3
Peyton Manning IND 1998-99 3,739 4,135 4,413
Andy Dalton CIN 2011-12 3,398 3,669 4,293
Andrew Luck IND 2012-13 4,374 3,822 4,761
Russell Wilson SEA 2012-13 3,118 3,357 3,475
Derek Carr OAK 2014-15 3,270 3,987 3,937
Jameis Winston TB 2015-16 4,042 4,090 ??

Touchdown Passes:

Player Team Years Season 1 Season 2 Season 3
Peyton Manning IND 1998-99 26 26 33
Andy Dalton CIN 2011-12 20 27 33
Andrew Luck IND 2012-13 23 23 40
Russell Wilson SEA 2012-13 26 26 20
Derek Carr OAK 2014-15 21 32 28
Jameis Winston TB 2015-16 22 28 ??

Those are almost unfailingly encouraging numbers. First, it's worth noting that all five of those other passers proved to be great comparisons because four of them were able to start all 16 games in their respective third seasons, while Carr started 15. Thus, those numbers are mostly not thrown askew by time missed due to injury

Four of the five passers – all but Luck – increased their passing yardage totals from Year One to Year Two, as Winston did. All but Carr had their best season yet in terms of yardage in their third season, and Carr almost certainly would have done the same if he'd been able to make his 16th start.

The progressions are similar in the touchdowns table, although only two of the five increased their totals from Year One to Year Two, as Winston did. Two of the five exactly duplicated their rookie mark. Regardless three of the five put up their best TD-pass total yet in their third year, all three by fairly significant margins. Luck made the biggest jump, adding 17 touchdowns from Year Two to Year Three, but Dalton has the line most directly comparable. He went from 20 to 27 to 33. Winston has gone from 22 to 28 and seems like a good bet to at least top 30 in 2017.

We didn't include passer rating in the search for comparable quarterbacks, but if we chart the progress of the same four passers noted above, we again see a steady progression for the group as a whole.

Passer Rating:

Player Team Years Season 1 Season 2 Season 3
Peyton Manning IND 1998-99 71.2 90.7 94.7
Andy Dalton CIN 2011-12 80.4 87.4 88.8
Andrew Luck IND 2012-13 76.5 87.0 96.5
Russell Wilson SEA 2012-13 100.0 101.2 95.0
Derek Carr OAK 2014-15 76.6 91.1 96.7
Jameis Winston TB 2015-16 84.2 86.1 ??

Wilson is the only one of the five who didn't improve from Year One to Year Two and from Year Two to Year Three, and that's essentially because he set the bar so high in his first two seasons. His Year Three passer rating of 95.0 was still the third best among those four quarterbacks.

Taken as a group, the four quarterbacks who were able to make all 16 starts in Year Three improved their passing  yardage total from Year Two to Year Three by 13.07%. They increased their touchdown pass total by 23.52%. If we apply those same percentages to Winston's Year Two numbers, hoping for a similar bump, we arrive at these projections for 2017:

Passing Yards: 4625
Touchdown Passes: 35

In both cases, those numbers are rounded up a bit. Still, it's likely that the Buccaneers would be thrilled with a 4,600-yard, 35-touchdown pass season from Winston, particularly if they are accompanied by a decrease in interceptions. Only three quarterbacks reached those dual plateaus last year – Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans' Drew Brees – and two of those three faced off in the NFC Championship Game. In fact, there have been 35 such individual passing seasons in league history (unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them in recent years) and 29 have been for teams that made the playoffs.

Still just 23 years old, Winston already has two very promising NFL seasons under his belt. By at least one measure, they are the most prolific first two campaigns a quarterback has ever had. However, Winston is far from the first young passer to make an instant impression on the NFL. The fate of some of those other fast-starters offers a great deal of encouragement for those expecting to see Winston take another big step forward in his third season.

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