The only thing more difficult than trying to predict where top prospects will land in the NFL draft (especially before free agency) is trying to predict how those prospects will impact the world of fantasy football. The simple fact is that there are too many variables to predict not only what teams this year's prospects will end up with, but how they will be utilized on those teams. This article will focus on the draft prospect with the least amount of those variables today: Jameis Winston.
As close to a lock as possible, almost all credible mocks have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Jameis Winston with the #1 pick of the draft. With the release of veteran QB Josh McCown in February, the case for the Bucs taking Winston with the first pick was only strengthened. As the #1 pick, Winston will be expected to have an immediate impact in the Bucs offense. But what does this mean from a fantasy perspective? Can Jameis Winston adjust to the professional level and compete as a viable starting fantasy QB? In order to answer these questions we must take a look at not only Winston, but the Buccs offense as a whole.
Will Winston have the protection needed to succeed?
In 2014, the Bucs replaced four of their five starting linemen from 2013. These drastic changes did little to help the Bucs offensive woes. As a whole, the Buccs didn't fair too poorly in the running game, finishing as the 10th ranked team at run blocking. Unfortunately for Winston, the offensive line also finished as the 26th ranked unit at pass blocking. It's clear that the Bucs need to improve their offensive line if Winston has any shot of achieving fantasy relevance. Even with an offensive anchor in tackle, Demar Dotson, the Bucs will certainly look to add depth to the offensive line through free agency and the draft. One final thing to note about the Bucs offensive line is their discipline. They finished with the most penalties of any offensive line in the NFL which if continued in 2015, will almost assuredly take away some of Winston's big gains through the air.
Will Winston have the weapons needed to succeed?
The simple answer here is YES. Winston will be entering the NFL with a powerful combination of receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Mike Evans, the #2 rookie WR in 2014, finished 10th overall in standard scoring. With Winston's big arm and love for throwing the ball deep down the field, we may be witnessing the beginning of a QB/WR combo that could end up being one of the best in the NFL. In terms of the rushing game, the Bucs will hope that Doug Martin (after two years of being plagued with injuries) can repeat the success he achieved in 2012 (1454 yds, 4.6 avg). Regardless if he can or can't, the Bucs will look to add depth to their RB core this offseason, whether it is through free agency or the deep RB class in this year's draft. Finally, at the TE position, Winston will hope that sophomore TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins can live up to the hype next year. Taken in the second round, Seferian-Jenkins had high expectations after last year's draft. Unfortunately his season was plagued by injuries and we have yet to see just what this prototype TE is capable of.
Does Jameis Winston have what it takes to compete in the NFL?
When looking at Winston, there’s no doubt that the talent needed to compete at the professional level is there. As a natural pocket passer, Winston has a big arm and loves to throw the ball down the field. Additionally, his size (6’4”, 231 lbs) and his decent mobility allow him to keep plays alive and allow his receivers time to get open. When watching film, it’s clear to see that Winston knows his receivers. He consistently places the ball in a spot where only the receivers have even a chance of catching the ball. Combining that with tight spirals and a strong knowledge of the game, Winston has an excellent chance of succeeding at the professional level. Even with all of these positive attributes, there are a couple of major concerns when considering Winston as a fantasy relevant QB. One of course is his off-field issues. Fortunately, Winston has recently addressed these issues and truly impressed both scouts and coaches during his combine interviews. The other more important concern is his interceptions. During his Heisman winning season, Winston threw for 40 TDs and only 10 INTs. Those numbers drastically dropped his senior year, throwing for only 25 TDs and 18 INTs. His big arm doesn’t help him here as he more than occasionally overthrows his receivers and tries to force the ball into tight coverage. We can only hope that the Bucs coaches can help Winston to develop in the preseason and get those big-armed throws under control.
So what can we expect from Winston in 2015?
Winston has all the tools needed to succeed in 2015. As a Heisman winner, we know that the talent is there. As a top priority (especially with a rookie QB), the Bucs will definitely spend the money to improve their offensive line in the offseason. Additionally, the Bucs have a strong receiving duo in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson who both love to catch 50+ yard touchdowns, perfectly complementing Winston’s big arm. Coupling that with a healthy Doug Martin and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs could have a very strong offense next year. Comparing him to current NFL QBs, Winston reminds me a lot of Big Ben Roethlisberger. Between his size, his arm, and surprising ability to move in order to extend plays, the Bucs may have just found their franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston.
-19th QB Overall Standard Scoring