Jameis Winston’s 2019 season was one of the most productive in NFL history. All at once, he placed himself in an exalted company by earning the eighth-highest passing mark of all-time with 5,109 yards, while simultaneously endangering his future starting opportunities with 30 interceptions and seven pick-sixes. Winston himself isn’t necessarily an enigma; everyone knows how polarizing he is. The enigma is the situation Winston has bred for the Buccaneers: Do they give the former No. 1 overall pick another chance? Or should they comp the 2020 NFL Draft quarterback class to Winston, to prepare for his departure?
Winston’s season is worth an ESPN 30-for-30 slot, both literally and figuratively. The strong-armed signal-caller with limitless upside became the first quarterback to throw for over 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 2019. While Winston has the ability to produce rare numbers and inspire with his talent, his lingering inconsistencies are more than enough to sour teams on him just as much. Ahead of a contract year, magnifying this congruent chaos was both the best and worst thing he could’ve done.
Buccaneers’ head coach Bruce Arians has made it no secret that Winston’s pendulum-like variance has disillusioned him. Here are a couple of rather candid quotes from Arians, regarding the Wintson experience:
- “There’s so much good and so much outright terrible.”
- “We can win with this [quarterback], we can definitely win with another one too.”
Ouch. Mind you, Winston is still in the building at this point. Arians isn’t shy about his thoughts on his current starting quarterback. Perhaps the brutal nature of Winston’s unpredictability earns a similarly brutal honesty from those evaluating him.
Arians’ quotes do an excellent job of summating Winston’s profile. He makes the hard throws look easy, and sometimes, the easy throws are his most dangerous. On one play, Winston can be magnificent. Immaculate. On another, catastrophic. That’s not a coin I’d want to flip as a head coach. But Arians is in a unique position. He’s not stuck with that coin.
Arians, as the head coach, has the tools to engrave a new symbol on the coin, if he chooses to do so. He said that the Buccaneers can win with another quarterback if they can win with Winston, but can Winston himself become that other quarterback, and become the Winston comp? Or should Arians seek out a new coin altogether?
Jameis Winston comps in the 2020 NFL Draft
Winston still has upside. But he’s just completed his fifth NFL season, and no marketable progress has been made from when he first entered the league. If anything, he’s become less reliable in big moments and more volatile, to the point of frustration from coaches. Habits become more and more established over time, and Winston has considerably less change potential than he had as a rookie.
Arians has a track record when it comes to fixing quarterbacks with turnover issues. He helped mellow down Steelers legend Ben Roethlisberger early in that signal caller’s career, and he did the same for Carson Palmer when the veteran came to Arizona. But Winston is perhaps the most severe case Arians has seen yet, and in his second year in Tampa Bay, he has a chance to put his stamp on the team, and reset.
Given how much Winston is asking for in terms of compensation, and taking into account Arians’ comments, an incoming separation seems likely. Thus, Arians must turn to the 2020 NFL Draft. Of course, it won’t be easy for him to find Winston’s replacement. Sitting at #14 in the draft, Arians is behind quarterback-needy NFL teams such as the Bengals, Dolphins, Chargers, and Colts, and wild-cards such as the Lions, Panthers, and Raiders may take a quarterback
Arians’ squad isn’t positioned favorably, and he doesn’t have the excess of picks necessary to make trading up in a competitive environment any easier. LSU’s Joe Burrow and Crimson Tide’s quarterback Tua Tagovailoa are undeniably out of reach, and Justin Herbert and Jordan Love have been common mocks to the Chargers and Colts, respectively.
Arians definitely won’t have his pick of the litter, but there is a quarterback who comps favorably to Winston and could be available in Arians’ range. That quarterback is Washington’s, Jacob Eason.
Eason is a risk in his own right, but he has similar upside to Winston and a more malleable profile as an incoming rookie. Eason was a former five-star prospect who transferred from Georgia to Washington after losing the starting job to his injury-replacement, Jake Fromm. Eason went on to pass for over 3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in his lone season with the Huskies, leading them to a bowl game victory over Boise State.
Eason has arm talent in bunches and more. In terms of talent and velocity generation, Eason might be the best in his class. He can cultivate searing velocity with effortless ease, and he can fit the ball into very tight windows. Predictably, Eason leans on his arm talent often and trusts it to a fault in certain situations, which can lead to volatility. But this can be ironed out by Arians.
Elsewhere, Eason has enough athleticism to support solid pocket movement skills at 6-foot-6, and he’s more than serviceable at extending plays. He also shows flashes of anticipation, and the most significant difference between him and Winston might rest in his decision-making. Eason still needs to reel in his physical tools and channel them efficiently, but he’s not as utterly careless with the football as Winston was at times in 2019.
Because Eason has the traits, and because he has the growth potential, he seems like the most tantalizing option for Arians at #14. With Eason, Arians adds a quarterback who has battled through adversity with an injury and a transfer, a quarterback who has successfully made a transition into a different environment, and a quarterback who has through-the-roof physical potential. Supported by a Tampa Bay offense that’s insulated by talent, Eason could show growth sooner rather than later.
Plus, his name sounds like a pirate. That’s as #ForTheBrand as it gets.
If Arians isn’t bullish on Eason, there are a few other options, but the list gets slim after that. Jalen Hurts is a strong competitor and leader with explosive athleticism, but he has some development to undergo as a passer. Fromm, meanwhile, has the look of a Day 2 or Day 3 quarterback, but he’s a safe, efficient quarterback who can potentially succeed in the right structure. If Arians has grown tired of volatility at the sport’s most crucial position, Fromm could be a valuable option later on.
Whatever Arians does, there will be no guarantees. Winston has proven he can produce at the NFL level, but decoupling his dazzling flashes from his crippling gaffes seems like an ambitious endeavor, at best. Meanwhile, the draft is notorious for its promises; coaches can become drunk on a player’s potential, only to be sobered in ruthless fashion years later. There are risks at every turn, and Arians is tasked with somehow, someway, taking the right one.
Ever played Russian Roulette, Bruce? Time to spin the chamber.