Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jameis Winston - 2015 NFL Draft Scouting Report

With the college football season over, the 2015 NFL Draft season immediately starts up to fill that void. I plan to take a look at all of the top quarterback prospects but will also be willing to take suggestions if there are prospects at other positions that you would like to see analyzed. But my bread and butter is quarterback play (a position I still feel is underrated in the draft). Today, I look at the most controversial player in the draft, Jameis Winston from the Florida State Seminoles.

Now, obviously, the biggest questions around Winston involve what he does off the field. You can read my thoughts about that by going here. Today, I just want to look at Jameis Winston the football player by watching his games (thanks to Draft Breakdown) against Notre Dame, Louisville, and Oregon.

The first thing that stands out about Winston is his ability to lead his receivers to maximize their ability to make plays after the catch. Too many people look at completion percentage to judge the accuracy of quarterbacks, but even though Winston had a lower completion percentage than some of the other quarterbacks in this draft, there is nobody that matches his ability to hit his receivers in stride. Here are back-to-back plays that show this.

The receiver catches the ball in stride. He does have to reach out for the pass, but it is not so far out that he cannot maintain his steps and continue moving forward. It is close enough where the receiver can slow down to bring the ball in after the catch without taking a big hit from the safety. The second play does not require as impressive as a throw as the receiver is wide open, but that doesn't mean that the ball from Winston is not just as impressive. Even had there been a defender in sight, it would have taken an immaculate effort to stop this from being a completion.

Winston's accuracy is most valuable in the short-to-intermediate game, but he also knows how to lay out a nice deep ball when the opportunity arises.

This is about as easy as it gets for a quarterback, and Winston is able to take full advantage of his receiver running free.

It is time to address the elephant in the room. Jameis Winston is a black quarterback, but no, that does not mean he is a running quarterback. Still, the guy can move as demonstrated here.

Although he can move, it would be silly to make it a habit. If a team drafts him and starts doing a bunch of read option plays, they are setting him up for failure.

What is more important about Jameis Winston is his pocket presence. He makes subtle movements to maximize his time to make plays. Here, he steps up into a crowded pocket to deliver a touchdown pass.

Anybody can see that this is a great throw, but we've been over the throws. What is more impressive is that Winston can see that there is a big blitz coming and he is not going to have much time to throw. However, he doesn't panic, and he steps into his throw despite his offensive lineman being pushed into him as he releases the ball. It's not a complex read as if Notre Dame is true to what they're showing presnap, he has the slant, but he steps up and delivers a great ball despite not having a rapidly closing pocket.

Decision Making
Sometimes, Winston tries to do too much with the ball. Part of the reason his interception total was so high is that he was always trying to make a play no matter what the situation was. Learning when to push his luck and when to throw the ball away to live another down will be an essential part of his development. Sometimes you can get lucky, but this first example is not one of those times.

Honestly, I really like Winston as a prospect, but you cannot make a dumber pass than that. He throws this ball into a crowd off of his back foot. This is what the big question with Winston is, because he tries to make plays when there is no play there to make. That is a big reason his interception total was so high.

On the previous throw, the pressure was obvious in how it affected what Winston did on his throw. On this throw, it is not as blatant, but it is still very harmful to Winston's accuracy.

The good news for Winston is that he stays solid in the pocket and uses his legs to drive the throw. Unfortunately, he gets sloppy with his upper body mechanics in that he doesn't turn his shoulders to aim his throw. That leaves the ball behind the wide receiver, which gives the defender the chance to undercut the route and make the interception.

Trying to make a play all the time can lead to costly turnovers. However, there is a reason that it has become a habit for Winston -- sometimes it works.

Here, Winston gets pressured up the middle, gets engulfed in a crowd of Louisville defenders but manages to give himself just enough room to flip the ball out to his running back who runs for a first down. These plays remind me a lot of Andrew Luck, another guy who gets grief for trying to make plays when he would be better off throwing the ball away to live another day, but who can also shut up critics when he turns nothing into something amazing.

Along with his decision making is his ability to scan the field quickly on throws. This is something that he will occasionally struggle with, but at times, he can make it look effortless. The following gif is one of the most subtle reads of the field you will see, but it is incredibly effective.
In just a short period of time, he is able to look at the outside wide receiver, realize nothing is there, transition to his tight end who appears to be faking an outside cut before going up the seam (possibly an option route), and then finally checking down to his back who finds space in the middle of the field.

With the way he places the ball, he was consistenly able to carve up man coverage, but he did show consistent struggles with recognizing underneath defenders as shown on this pass against Louisville.

From the sideline view, it looks like that safety is playing the robber technique to break in front of the route and make a play, but this is an area where I did see struggles. I also saw him wisely place balls as he recognized where the holes in the zone were, so I believe that he will become better handling zone defenses with experience. Early on, I think he will struggle against zone blitzes.

Jameis Winston is very solid in his fundamentals. He sets his feet, has his shoulders aimed at his target, and has a quick delivery of the ball. What is even more impressive is how good he manages to keep his mechanics while on the move. This touchdown pass is an excellent example.

This takes amazing work from Winston as he rolls away from the pressure but is still able to flip his shoulders on his final step to make an accurate throw to his receiver. Out of the prospects in this draft, nobody can manage his feel for the game.

NFL Throws
People talk about the lack of NFL throws Marcus Mariota has had to make and how many NFL throws Jameis Winston has to make in his offense. This is an example of what they are talking about.

That is a tight window, and Winston threads the needle and delivers a catchable ball for his receiver. It's not necessarily a bad drop, as there was tight coverage, but it's a ball that you would expect a pro receiver to catch. You can't throw a better ball than that, and the fact that scouts have seen Winston make these throws are the reason that some have him rated as the top quarterback in the draft.

Jameis Winston may have concerns with his lack of composure and maturity off the field, but he has those traits in abundance on the field.

A lot of people made a big deal out of him yelling at Jimbo Fisher, and Fisher threatening to bench him if he didn't cool it. Some looked at that situation and saw a lack of maturity, but it was a guy who was angry that his team was losing, because he wanted to do everything he could to win. It is basically exactly what Tom Brady does anytime that the Patriots struggle in a game.

My ultimate concern with Jameis Winston is not his actions on the football field, but how his actions are interpreted. Perception is reality, and actions that would be tolerated from most young players will be scrutinized because of his past. There's a fine line between a fiery competitor and someone acting like a baby. It may not be fair, but it's also not totally undeserved.

I mentioned Andrew Luck earlier, but the comparison I keep coming back to is the ol' gunslinger, Brett Favre. They both have the arm strength to make any throw on the field. They are not running quarterbacks, but they are mobile enough to make plays with their feet. Let's not forget that before the controversies started with Winston, he seemed like a kid just having fun out there. And finally, they make unbelievable plays, some unbelievably good, and just as memorable are the ones that are unbelievably bad. If a team feels confident in the off-the-field behavior, he's without a doubt a top-5 pick.

Quarterback Prospect Rankings:
1. Jameis Winston - Florida State
2. Shane Carden - East Carolina
4. Garrett Grayson - Colorado State
5. Blake Sims - Alabama


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