The New Orleans Saints have one of the most interesting position battles going on with their backup quarterbacks. Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill are competing for that important spot behind starting QB Drew Brees on a Saints roster that has serious Super Bowl aspirations in 2020.
Prior to moving Mississippi State alum Tommy Stevens to tight end the Saints had four quarterbacks on the roster, but only two prototypical ones. Hill and Stevens are special players in their own right, with the rare ability to make an impact in just about every aspect of the game, but it’s largely Winston that everyone is looking to at this point to snag the No. 2 spot behind Brees on the depth chart.
Can he do that, and hold onto it?
Winston’s rough road to New Orleans
If the past is any indicator of what’s to come in the future, the Saints may as well part ways with Winston now. Winston recorded a bizarre 2019 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, posting a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 33-to-30. The year before that wasn’t tremendously better when Winston’s ratio was 19-to-14.
After five years of inconsistent play, the Buccaneers did away with the former first-round draft pick. Winston underwent LASIK eye surgery this offseason, and the Saints will certainly hope that the procedure leads to some improvement in the future.
To put it simply, Winston has largely been a disappointment up to this point in his career. Just a day after the end of his final season in Tampa Bay, head coach and quarterback guru Bruce Arians had a pointed response for a reporter after he was asked if the Bucs would win with a quarterback other than Winston.
“With another quarterback?” Arians said in a report from the Tampa Bay Times. “Oh yeah. If we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one, too.” On another occasion, Arians described Winston’s play as “so much good and so much outright terrible.”
What do Winston’s OSM and RAS tell us?
Offensive share metric (OSM) purely measures a player’s impact within his offense and is not necessarily indicative of skill or talent. Despite not being widely-touted for consistent success in the NFL, Winston has posted OSM grades ranking near the top of the league for the past four years.
Here’s a look at Winston’s OSM for each of those seasons, and where it ranked among other qualifying quarterbacks:
2016 – 31.35 (QB11)
2017 – 31.11 (QB3)
2018 – 32.00 (QB2)
2019 – 29.96 (QB4)
However, it is also important to look into why his numbers are so high here, because Brees’ numbers are similar. PFN’s Lucas Ellinas offered an explanation of this in an earlier breakdown of the two quarterbacks’ OSM that illustrates the difference in the two perfectly.
“Examining Brees and Winston’s statistics is a fascinating study in the different ways that a quarterback can influence their offenses,” he wrote. “In this sense, both players have been incredibly successful over the last four seasons. Brees with his clinical efficiency, and Winston with constant, often self-destructive aggression. Unfortunately, quarterback efficacy doesn’t always translate into team success, an area in which Brees has a clear advantage over his new backup.”
Winston’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS) also tells us a lot about him. Here’s a definition of what exactly the RAS assesses:
“Athleticism with RAS always refers to measurable talent based on the drills presented in the combine and pro days. It doesn’t take into account arm strength, Wonderlic, or any other abstract that can be used to measure a quarterback. As such, it doesn’t have as large of a correlation as it does for other positions.”
Winston’s score stands at a 4.25 coming out of the draft and 4.1 all-time out of a possible 10. Clearly, that is less than impressive and puts him in the neighborhood of Scott Tolzien, Kyle Shurmur and Mike Elkins.
Winston has had mixed showings throughout Saints training camp
Winston’s had some bright spots throughout camp as he begins to settle into his new offense, and has shown what he can do with his arm strength. Thursday, when he completed an impressive pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey on the sideline and sent a 30-yard touchdown throw to rookie Marquez Callaway in the face of pressure, was one of the best days we’ve seen from him.
However, this doesn’t mean he hasn’t struggled with inconsistency still. We saw some of that come through on Sunday when he was picked off by rookie cornerback Keith Washington Jr., C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Patrick Robinson.
Winston couldn’t be in a better place to try to find himself as a signal-caller. He has the supporting cast and tools he needs. The question is whether he can capitalize on his own abilities and put it all together on the field. He has a more-than-adequate mentor in veteran Drew Brees, and landed in as good a spot as anywhere for quarterback development.
He compared getting the opportunity to an Ivy League education, calling the Saints’ quarterback room “a Harvard education at quarterback school.”
There’s potential for the Saints to work with here, and it’s not an impossibility that Winston could be in the conversation for the starting gig next year, assuming of course that Brees does retire after this season. Best-case-scenario for Winston, Taysom Hill doesn’t beat him out at all this season and that the Saints don’t bring in another passer who beats him out between now and the 2021 season.
There should be added motivation that this could be Winston’s final chance to establish himself as a potential future starter in the NFL. If he can’t get his feet under him in the Big Easy, it’s hard to believe Winston will ever find steady success at the NFL level.